Breaking Down Sustainable Beauty
Sustainable beauty is an incredibly large and complex topic. While there is no official definition of what constitutes sustainable beauty, we like to think of sustainability as a direction of travel.
Sustainability in the beauty and cosmetics industries will continue to dominate 2022 as conscious consumers continue to make better lifestyle choices. While it's always at the back of our minds, we'd like to really deep-dive into the grey areas of various environmental and social issues affecting our industry, and to shed light and inspire change where we can.
So let's take a deeper look at what sustainable beauty entails.
Breaking It Down
Many of us are now, happily, more aware of what we put on our skins and into the environment, and are choosing to use more natural ingredients and products. However the conversation has moved past merely 'natural', 'green' or 'clean' and onto the more complex 'sustainable'.
The gold standard of any cosmetic or beauty product or brand used to be efficacy; how well the product worked. Now it's about a whole lot more than that. The beauty industry is a large contributor to global warming, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, unethical labor practices, toxic waste and a whole host of other evils. To stand out from the rest the modern beauty brand needs to be contributing positively not just to great skin, but also to the environment and to social causes.
Sustainability is crucially both an environmental and social issue. Factors to consider that are sustainability issues are biodegradability, unethical labour practices, deforestation, resource-intensive practices, organic practices, any chemical processing, manufacturing practices, water and energy use, transportation, the carbon footprint, and the list goes on.
We also like to think of sustainability affecting the entire supply chain, from start to finish, of all aspects including the ingredients themselves, packaging, transportation and logistics, and of course what happens to the product afterwards such as method of disposal, biodegradability etc. It's really about seeing the whole, and being aware of what is going on and how we can make improvements.
Measures Of Sustainability
Since sustainability covers such vast and complex areas, how do we measure whether something is sustainable or not? There is no single answer to this, and a lot of the time it will come down to a personal measure of whether we feel something is more sustainable in comparison to another thing, ie. a direction of travel: we always want to be moving towards being more sustainable now and in the future, than we were.
There are various ways to measure or say something is sustainable. One such way could be to make use of the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which cover broad environmental and social issues. You can read more about them here. We've broken down some of the major sustainability measures below:
Carbon emissions, electricity usage and water usage are some basic environmental measures of sustainability. Making sure these are all as low as possible throughout the supply chain is important.
Manufacturing: intensive or not. A less intensive manufacturing process is obviously better - lower power and water usage, and a lower carbon footprint.
Nontoxic ingredients: this may sound obvious but nontoxic ingredients are better!
Take note of farming and harvesting processes: these include fertilizer usage, soil quality and ease of growing (requiring little water and fertilizer etc), water intensity, labour practices, etc.
Source location and transport: a local source equals less transport required which equals a lower carbon footprint.
Upcycled from another supply chain: eg. coffee grinds in a body scrub, recycled paper/glass as packaging, etc. Upcycling means keeping something in the cycle to reuse and repurpose, and ultimately have less waste.
Packaging: glass, paper, aluminium and bioplastics are all great because they can be recycled, reused and kept in a closed loop system (which equals little to no waste/zerowaste). PET plastics are also acceptable because they are the most widely recycled plastics.
Grey water footprint: the amount of water required to disperse the product into amounts that are not toxic to aquatic life, soil and the environment. Fats and oils prominent in skincare products - although natural - are not easily dissolved in water.
Fairly paid employees, ethical labour practices, community empowerment initiatives, upskilling, education, inclusivity, etc
Understanding these measures of sustainability all require the user to truly know the product, know its source, its farming and/or manufacturing method, and essentially its lifecycle - which leads into the next topic: sourcing sustainable ingredients.
Sourcing Sustainable Ingredients
Sourcing sustainable ingredients will come down to the measures of sustainability mentioned above. Here are some tips:
Source locally: buying local is always good. It supports local farmers and producers, supports other local businesses and the local economy, and there is a lower carbon footprint associated with buying local. Local companies are also often far more open and honest about their product then large multinational suppliers for example; this will allow you to get to the the product better.
Purchase in bulk: this can help reduce more carbon emissions from multiple purchases.
Look for accreditations: vegan, Leaping Bunny/cruelty free, recyclable, Fair Trade, organically farmed, palm free or alternatively RSPO certified, Cosmos/Ecocert/Natrue, etc. Religious certifications such as Kosher or Halal often have one or more of the above requirements, plus they are holistically produced as they have to take the entire supply chain into account and have to meet religious obligations.
No one expects brands or individuals just starting out to be fully sustainable (not that that's even a thing) from the beginning. But all we can and should be making positive moves in the right direction such as recycling, reusing, replacing, and embracing circular beauty where possible (more on this in a later post). We need different solutions for different problems. One thing isn’t better than another, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Challenges can be turned into opportunities:
Upcycled ingredients: cosmetic ingredients derived from other industries, eg food waste like coffee grinds can be used in body scrubs; packaging can be reused.
Products with refill options and refillable packaging: refills are a great way of using less packaging.
Punting glass packaging as reusable not just recyclable: glass is well known for being endlessly recyclable. But let's continue to reuse and repurpose our glass containers so fewer need to keep being made.
Aluminium is a great packaging option as it is easy to reuse and recycle.
After harvesting: encourage biodiversity, and replant/reforest the area.
Avoid purchasing over harvested and endangered species.
In the past biodegradability was the holy grail of sustainability but the more we begin to understand the process and the greater sustainability issue, the more we realise that less product needs to be produced in the first place. Biodegradable substances can't keep up with the amount of new products being produced. We need to use less, reuse more, and not rely on biodegradable products (they're still great but not the ultimate solution).
Don't pour something down the drain that is meant to go in the bin. Water can't dissolve everything, and it is a precious resource. Waste plants are there for a reason! For example, oils and butters used in cosmetics cannot dissolve in water and pouring them down the drain will result in clogged systems and fatty, unusable soils. If you can break them down with surfactants first then do, otherwise dispose of them in the bin.
Niches That Fall Under Sustainable Beauty
Beauty niches such as skinimalism, zero waste beauty, circular beauty, conscious beauty, waterless beauty, etc all fit under the sustainable beauty umbrella. We will be tackling them in upcoming blog articles so look out for them in Green Beauty Conversations.
The movement to zero waste and circular beauty are probably the best of the best here. Here are some of the key things that make them work so well:
Refillable products/packaging: a really great option over single use packaging.
Waterless cosmetics: uses no water in the manufacture of the end product.
Solid shampoos/conditioners/lotion bars etc: requires little to no packaging, is lightweight and has a lower carbon footprint; and can often be made waterless.
Concentrate products: similar to solid products, they use less water in manufacture, but are meant to be diluted with water as an end step.
Multipurpose products: multipurpose means fewer products required for the same number of purposes which is a huge win for sustainability!
Plant based products: plants are renewable resources and can be managed in sustainable and effective ways, making them desirable over animal products (which involve animal cruelty).
Keep in mind that no product or ingredient is going to be 100% sustainable though!
Ways Essentially Natural Is Contributing To Sustainability
Here at Essentially Natural we are constantly critiquing ourselves and looking for ways to better our business, our service and ourselves. We're certainly not perfect and we have so much room for growth and improvement, and that's an exciting thing!
Our #1 pillar and the main reason the company was founded was to provide non-toxic, natural ingredients. We believe wholeheartedly in our products, and really strive to provide the best quality, 100% natural ingredients. We will continue to strive to source innovative and natural ingredient solutions.
Our Essentially Natural Brand range of products is proudly vegan and certified cruelty free.
Plastic free packaging in our shipping boxes. We absolutely do not tolerate unnecessary plastic packaging!
We're working on getting rid of all our plastic packaging and converting to glass wherever possible and sensible (for example glass is heavy to transport so for bulk items it makes better carbon footprint sense to rather use something lighter such as a plastic bucket which can then be reused).
Supporting community outreach programs with our One Percent Movement.
Achieving carbon neutral deliveries by purchase of carbon credits and supporting carbon sequestering programs and other initiatives. We are working to expand this massively.
Our employees are well looked after and we offer upskilling options.
Currently we are not importing ourselves - everything is purchased from local suppliers.
Promoting free educational content, inspiration and ideas, and DIY recipes. Because doing it yourself has an infinite smaller carbon footprint than purchasing mass-marketed products, and is vastly more sustainable!
We're constantly trying to find ways to improve wherever we can, and if you have any ideas you'd like to share with us, please do!
We hope this topic got you thinking - we know it certainly got us thinking!
At the end of the day sustainability is a movement to a more pro planet, positive beauty future. Its a direction we must all travel in to save our beautiful blue dot.
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