Combating biodiversity loss through ethical ingredient sourcing

By Cassandra Stern

- Last updated on GMT

"It is worth pointing out that biodiversity risks in the cosmetics industry are mainly associated with sourcing of raw materials, [as] the dangers are that raw materials (usually plant-based) are not sourced ethically, and the benefits are not shared from the source country and indigenous communities," said Amarjit Sahota, Founder of Ecovia Intelligence. © apomares Getty Images
"It is worth pointing out that biodiversity risks in the cosmetics industry are mainly associated with sourcing of raw materials, [as] the dangers are that raw materials (usually plant-based) are not sourced ethically, and the benefits are not shared from the source country and indigenous communities," said Amarjit Sahota, Founder of Ecovia Intelligence. © apomares Getty Images

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The climate crisis continues to impact biodiversity loss. As a significant materials consumer and waste producer, the beauty industry has the potential to significantly impact preservation efforts by implementing sustainable processes in ingredient sourcing.

Biodiversity, short for biological diversity, is defined as the variety of life on Earth and includes all species, ecosystems, and their genetic variants in a given area. It is crucial to sustain human life by maintaining the delicate balance of the biosphere or global ecosystem. 

Climate change, including rising sea levels, increased global temperatures, and extreme weather events, are some of the greatest threats to biodiversity loss. Still, human activity is also a significant driver of climate change. Pollution, deforestation, power generation, and manufacturing are all ways humans contribute to the current climate crisis. 

As detailed by social justice platform TRVST​, the beauty industry produces approximately 120 billion units of trash annually, most of which comes from packaging like plastic, paper, glass, and metals. As a result, as a significant materials consumer and waste producer, the beauty industry is responsible for addressing biodiversity loss and making substantial efforts to be more sustainable. 

To learn more about the dangers of an industry like beauty and personal care continuing to ignore the importance of biodiversity, the best steps being taken by industry members to address biodiversity loss through sustainability, and which brands are already making a more significant effort towards biodiversity preservation, CosmeticsDesign spoke to Amarjit Sahota, Founder of Ecovia Intelligence for his insights and experience with these issues. 

The dangers of ignoring biodiversity loss 

"After climate change, biodiversity loss is the biggest sustainability issue the planet faces,"​ said Sahota, and "according to WWF's Living Planet Index, the global wildlife population (including mammals, bird, fish, amphibians and reptiles) has declined by almost 70% between 1970 and 2022​." As a direct threat to the biosphere's health and the sustainability of human life, "biodiversity loss is a major issue that needs to be addressed,"​ he explained. 

Because the climate crisis is such a visible and tangible issue for consumers and manufacturers alike, Sahota said there are "many dangers of ignoring biodiversity​" as a beauty industry member. For example, ignoring biodiversity preservation efforts could result in a company "falling foul of regulations and international protocols; these include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Nagoya Protocol​," he explained.

Further, he shared, "it is worth pointing out that biodiversity risks in the cosmetics industry are mainly associated with sourcing of raw materials, [as] the dangers are that raw materials (usually plant-based) are not sourced ethically, and the benefits are not shared from the source country and indigenous communities​." Additionally, there are also "risks associated with deforestation e.g. palm oil and soya bean oil; such raw materials maybe sources from agricultural land that has been deforested​," he added.

Addressing biodiversity as an industry 

Sahota advised that to address these issues as an industry, "the best way is to undertake ethical sourcing of cosmetic ingredients​." To do so, "cosmetic and ingredient firms need to ensure that raw materials are sourced with respect for the environment and social communities​," he explained. 

For example, he illustrated, "During the R&D process, operators should ensure that plant-based or other materials are not endangered and their use will not have a negative impact on the environment and social communities​." He added that this is particularly significant for wild-harvested ingredients because "large-scale use of such materials can lead to supply shortages and affect the livelihoods of collectors​."

Cosmetic and personal beauty care manufacturers and suppliers can also work to address biodiversity loss by adhering "to international protocols like CITES, CBD, and Nagoya protocol, and joining organizations like the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT), which encourages operators to source ingredients with respect for biodiversity​," he said. UEBT aims to "' contribute to a world in which all people and biodiversity thrive​,' "and the organization maintains a "certification scheme for ingredients that are sourced with respect​," he added. 

Industry pioneers in biodiversity 

Many beauty industry brands are already making great strides in sustainability efforts across the supply chain. For example, "in 2018, Weleda and Natura Brasil were the first beauty brands to adopt UEBT's ingredient certification​," said Sahota. As a result, "the Ekos range of Natura Brasil is certified; the products contain Amazonian ingredients, such as açaí, andiroba, castanha, and murumuru, and the certification assures the ingredients are ethically sourced and the rights of indigenous people are respected​," he explained. 

He added that two other ethical brands that stand out by integrating sustainability into their business ethos' are Lush and Neal's Yard Remedies, as both source their ingredients ethically and have invested in biodiversity preservation. For example, he shared, "Lush actively looks at biodiversity and bird migration zones when sourcing its ingredients​." Further, "Neal's Yard Remedies is a large buyer of certified organic and fair trade raw materials, and in the UK, it is actively campaigning to save bees with its 'Stand By Bees' campaign to support nature-friendly farming​," he stated. 

Another pioneer in its biodiversity preservation efforts is L'Occitane Group, which "put biodiversity at the heart of its sustainability strategy in September 2021​," said Sahota. "As part of its vision of a 'nature-positive' world, the group has pledged to produce 100% of its key raw materials according to regenerative and sustainable agriculture by 2025​," he explained. The brand "has been highlighting the importance of biodiversity in pop-up stores at various international airports through its 'Gift of Nature' campaign, which is educating customers about key ingredients and their link to biodiversity​."

What happens next 

"At last year's UN Biodiversity conference ​(COP15), 196 countries signed a deal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, including the protection of 30% of land and water by 2030,"​ said Sahota, and "the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework will encourage operators to ethically source plant-based materials​." 

However, as questions about when and how this framework will be implemented remain unanswered, "it is up to individual operators to follow the lead of pioneers like Natura Brasil and L'Occitane and make commitments to ethically source ingredients and protect biodiversity​," he concluded.  

Looking ahead to 2024, one of the best ways to address biodiversity loss as a member of the beauty industry remains firmly in educating employees and consumers on the importance of sustainable actions across the supply chain. Interested industry members can attend events like Ecovia's Sustainable Cosmetics Summit for up-to-date information on these issues, encouraged Sahota. 

Next year's North American edition will take place in New York on June 4-6, the European edition will be hosted in Paris on October 28-30, and both Summits will provide attendees with updates regarding ethical ingredient sourcing and biodiversity. For more details and to register, visit here​. 

Want to learn more about Ingredient Sustainability and other Next Generation Beauty Consumer Trends? Register now​ to listen to our free Beauty Forward Summit, which will be broadcast between January 29-31, 2024. 

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