Special Interview

Ethical ingredients sourcing - greenwashing or a step in the right direction?

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fair trade

Consumer pressure has led many of the leading players in the
industry to publicise their plans to practice ethical and
sustainable ingredients sourcing, resulting in a number of critics
accusing companies of simply jumping on the green bandwagon to
attract an increasingly important consumer group.

Nonetheless, amidst the cries of 'greenwashing' the head of the ethical buying team at Lush, Simon Constantine, told CosmeticsDesign.com that any move to this effect is a step in the right direction.

However, he did emphasise the difficulties involved in assuring the reputable nature of ingredients suppliers especially for companies that use ingredients from all over the world.

The movement is consumer led For Constantine the movement is without doubt one led by consumers who are demanding reassurance that the products they purchase are both ethical and environmentally sustainable.

"The customer is the key.

If the customer wants it, companies will have to jump to the tune" he said.

"Now the trend has started no one wants to be shown up.

Everyone has to take notice."

"Traceability is now a very important part of the product" he added, explaining that consumers want to know where their products have come from and who or what is involved in their creation.

This is driving companies to publicly announce their ethical and environmental initiatives often focusing on three key areas - new 'green' product releases, ingredients partnerships that hope to ensure ethical and environmentally sustainable sourcing, and greener production methods.

Lack of certification However, there is as yet very little in terms of independent certification and consumers are essentially required to trust the integrity of individual cosmetics firms.

Constantine does note the existence of a few organisations offering certification such as the Fair Trade Foundation.

However, as the burden for registration falls on suppliers in these cases he suggests getting involved may be difficult for some of the smaller companies and cooperatives.

Therefore, for Constantine, ensuring the reputable nature of suppliers falls to the manufacturer.

"It is down to the company investing money to make sure its project is reputable" he said.

For example Lush sources cocoa butter from the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica where a successful project has been running since the 80s.

Although the project does have internationally accredited organic and fairtrade certification the company still sent representatives to see the project and build up a relationship with participants, explained Constantine.

Nevertheless, he did note that ensuring the reputable nature is not always easy even for companies willing to spend significant time and money on the initiative.

Lush's involvement with a project supplying fair trade Shea butter from Ghana ended when the company found out the project accountant was pilfering money from the co-operative, forcing the buying team to withdraw from the project.

Any move is a step in the right direction Despite these difficulties and amid criticisms of 'greenwashing', for Constantine any move by companies towards ethical and environmental goals is positive.

Although he said that for companies who have been working to these values for some time, other industry players jumping on the bandwagon could be frustrating, he maintained that any move was a step in the right direction.

For Constantine the increasing involvement of the private sector in such efforts is a necessary step to success.

"The marketing power of the big guys is great, so if they decide to get involved some real progress can be made," he said.

"NGOs and charities can only go so far" he added, explaining that the involvement of the private sector could render fair trade and environmental projects more dynamic.

Businesses and investors expect returns, he explained, therefore a partnership entered into would be expected to deliver or it would be abandoned, perhaps providing a clearer incentive to those involved.

For Constantine, an example of successful private sector involvement is the Roundtable Convention on Sustainable Palm Oil created in 2002 by conservation charity WWF in collaboration with a number of industry players including Sainsbury's and Unilever.

Related topics Market Trends

Related news