“Green isn’t a trend, it’s mandatory”

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

“Green isn’t a trend, it’s mandatory” - Amarjit Sahota of Ecovia

Related tags Personal care Cosmetics

At this month’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in New York City, environmental responsibility took center stage. But the priorities of individual personal care brands and industry stakeholders vary widely.

In his opening remarks at this year’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, Amarjit Sahota, founder and president of Ecovia Intelligence (previously Organic Monitor), the group behind the conference, insisted that “green isn’t a trend.”

It’s a sentiment shared widely, by SCS attendees, presenters, sponsors, and plenty of other industry insiders as well; but it’s a sentiment riddled with challenges. Nonetheless, over the course of the conference presentations, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions, a few themes and shared objectives did emerge.

Cultivating naturals​ 

Natural ingredients are in limited supply and sourcing them to a scale necessary for formulating personal care, cosmetics, and fragrances for the global market is likely to put a strain on ecosystems where the ingredients in question grow.

All the same, ingredients derived from natural sources (e.g. squalene or palm oil) have become staples and in other cases, with more consumers seeking out natural beauty products, demand for new or novel natural inputs is on the rise.

To meet just this sort of demand, DSM is cultivating herbs and flowers native to the mountains of Switzerland. The indigenous plants are difficult to grow even in their native ecosystem, explains Sonia Dawson, regional marketing manager for DSM’s personal care division in North America. But by working in partnership with local farmers and carefully refining organic techniques, the company’s ALPAFLOR subsidiary has established a robust network of alpine fields that is the source for a DSM line of bioactives.  

Taking a different approach to cultivating ingredients, SynShark is researching and developing a way to up the squalene production of tobacco plants, with the aim of producing enough of the ingredient agriculturally to perhaps one day replace the supply from shark.  This project is a work in progress. As Jason Ornstein, executive director of SynShark notes, this year the project will cultivate 13 acres of modified tobacco. But, he anticipates that in five years’ time 1,000 acres will yield enough squalene to supply 6% of the personal care and cosmetics market.

Innovation via imitation

Another approach to greening the cosmetics industry is to borrow best practices from nature. This was the topic of biomimicry chemist, Mark Dorfman’s presentation. Dorfman works for Biomimicry 3.8, a consultancy firm that specializes in biological intelligence.

Nature, he emphasizes, has had a very long time to refine processes and practices that are by necessity sustainable, and that people would be wise to borrow liberally from nature. “Nature uses additive manufacturing,” ​says Dorfman, “and nature’s chemistry is shaped-based,” ​which he contracts to collision-based chemistry of industry. According to Dorfman, “living organisms have already solved for virtually every function desirable in commercial products.” ​Read more on his approach to green beauty here​.

Ethical sourcing

Besides environmental concerns, sustainability for cosmetics and personal care companies commonly includes aspects of social responsibility too.

FairTrade USA is a non-profit that acts as a third-party certifier of products whose manufacturers ensure that the people at the start of the supply chain are paid fair prices, have safe working conditions, and can access community and healthcare resources, according to group’s site.

FairTrade is driven by consumer choice, says Angie Crone, business development manager for FairTrade USA. She goes on to say the organization “seeks to correct a key failure of the market place: the ineffective allocation of goods and services.” ​The program continues to grow, according to data Crone shared during the SCS, the group “launched over 900 consumer products with FairTrade certification in 2015.” ​(She noted that the complete 2016 figures aren’t in yet.)

The Global Shea Alliance is another group focused on ethically sourcing raw materials. Though public-private partnerships, the GSA is dedicated to sustainably sourcing shea for both the food and cosmetics industries, explains Joseph Funt, managing director of the non-profit. Centered on one natural ingredient, the group has similar goals to the FairTrade program: paying harvesters and processers fair prices, delivering quality products, and increasing transparency in the supply chain, to name a few.

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