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In its August issue, GCI magazine asked a panel of seven industry experts where they think things stand with the move toward green. This month, Alban Muller, president, Alban Muller International, and Thierry Cruchon, general manager, SILAB, weigh in.
Where does the beauty industry, in general, stand in meeting growing demands for natural and sustainable products? How effectively is the industry “greening?”
Alban Muller: The cosmetic industry has always been using so-called “natural” products, unfortunately tooting a marketing horn without going more in depth into the efficacy realities of natural actives. Today, the attitude goes well beyond the “natural miracle organically grown plant from the top of the Himalaya, drowned into propylene glycol and preserved with parabens.” Today, “naturals” as such are out. Consumers want more. They are getting more and more concerned by protecting their environment, and show skepticism toward mere marketing claims; they expect more than a superficial “natural” label. No worry, the answer for the market is simple: sustainable development.
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That global and vital approach means that all the ingredients used and the packaging, boxes, inks, transportation, production processes, etc., should be analyzed in detail and precisely revisited in order to first evaluate and then improve their impact on the environment, progressing to zero footprint. This is what we are working toward, beginning with a charter for the “eco-responsible natural cosmetic,” and we are elaborating in the Cosmetic Valley (an association of companies working toward responsible development and synergies between them) competitive cluster.
Greening not only concerns one single ingredient appearing on the label, it includes all the steps leading to the cosmetic products on the shelves of the stores. The idea is to consider the global ecological cycle of the product. Simple to understand, not so easy to set up as it challenges absolutely everything. It requires methods and faith.
Thierry Cruchon: 2006 and 2007 have been years of mergers and acquisitions. In the past years, cosmetic industry actors got involved in greening either by taking over some organic brands or by integrating natural active cosmetic branches in their R&D department. Natural and ethical pressure has become more and more obvious in (consumer) magazines and marketing material, and on beauty shelf space.
What has had the greater impact, thus far, regulation initiatives like REACH and California’s Prop 65, initiatives by retailers or consumer demand?
Alban Muller: I believe it is consumer demand on one side, but also an overall perception from the actors in the industry—global warming, alarming reports in the media, a new high-ranking government minister in France who has a right to evaluate all public spending from a sustainable development point of view, etc.
Thierry Cruchon: Undoubtedly, consumer pressure has had a great impact on the growing demand for natural and ethical products. The consumer, both concerned with his well-being and health and alarmed by the increasing cases of skin intolerance and allergies, has stood as a prescriber. Then, media outlets have taken over consumers’ voices, leading to the beauty industry’s awareness and to the implementation of regulation initiatives like REACH.
How has innovation in both sourcing and marketing been impacted? Is the “greening” a new opportunity or a hurdle to overcome?
Alban Muller: More factors are taken into account in sourcing; more questions are being asked to make sure the final product will be in line with the consumers’ expectations. What is happening is not an eco-fashion trend but a new business opportunity, providing consumers with better products that follow the 3P approach: people, planet and profit.
Thierry Cruchon: As far as SILAB is concerned, greening is neither an opportunity nor a hurdle to overcome; it has just been our core business for the last 25 years, and we have been developing natural products—stemming from naturally sourced raw material and produced by nondenaturing, eco-friendly technologies—since the creation of the company in 1984.
Of course, there is no doubt that SILAB benefits from this new trend of ethical consumerism and taste for natural products. But this has not made us change our strategic pathway. In terms of sourcing, the greening trend requires special attention to the reliability of the material suppliers’ networks upstream. At SILAB, in line with sustainable development and respectful of the Convention of Rio and biodiversity principles, we have always made it a point of honor to check that our networks operate under a code of good bioethical observance and that they are not involved in bio-hacking issues. In terms of marketing, I guess that in a general manner, a new line has to be adapted, but there again, greening has not made us change ours—we have always put the emphasis on the fact that engineering natural ingredients is clearly our job.
How has your company dealt with these changing sensibilities? What have been the challenges in meeting evolving consumer aspirations for natural and sustainable products?
Alban Muller: We already had a sustainable development-oriented policy. Due to our activity and our affinity to nature, this way of working and thinking is actually the very heart of our corporate culture. This has led us to dramatically change the technologies used to produce plant extracts. Today, we use renewable resources: plants, water that we recycle in our Filtering Gardens, and alcohol produced from wheat that grows around our factory; we flash-pasteurize our extracts before drying them with a low energy technology (zeodration) in order to get native extracts that are then blended with glycerin; we obtain petrochemical- and preservative-free liquid extracts.
Thierry Cruchon: Since our core business already deals with greening, we have been looking beyond beauty, and have begun to get involved in concrete actions to measure and control the impact of our activity on the environment. In June, we launched the first edition of SILAB Corporate Social Responsibility charter—a concrete illustration of our commitment toward our employees and the community at large. This charter shows our involvement in terms of social, economic and ecological issues. From an ecological point of view, more specifically, we work on the impact of our activity on the environment by managing a policy of waste recovery as well as water and energy saving.
Where do you see industry-wide efforts being made? Where can efforts be increased?
Alban Muller: The industry is already making a lot of efforts, which haven’t been recognized. We have an excellent safety record, and we take great care to develop safe, effective and innovative products in well-managed factories. Unfortunately, most of our consumers just ignore that we have such an outstanding record.
I think this new eco-responsible opportunity will allow us to communicate better on what we do, on our skills and know-how. Our industry is so creative and one of the safest. As you know, we are submitted to more stringent rules than both the food and pharmaceutical industries. By the way, the REACH regulation don’t apply to these two …
Thierry Cruchon: Concerning the industry, efforts have been made in terms of sustainability. Many of the cosmetic industry actors have established charters, written commitments or actions showing their concerns about ecology and ethics.
Euromonitor International states that 2007 is a year of innovation that pulls together trends to satisfy a broad range of consumer demands and looks beyond the beauty industry for inspiration. Where have you looked for inspiration? What green innovations do you believe have made the biggest impact on the beauty industry? What innovations are you exploring?
Alban Muller: My inspiration comes from my knowledge of and love for nature and from my common sense! As a manufacturer of natural products, it is obvious we need to care about biodiversity.
The biggest impact on our industry is not one innovation, but this new green state of mind which makes you realize you have to take a broader picture into account.
Thierry Cruchon: At SILAB, our main concern is to develop innovative concepts, and our inspiration comes mainly from nature. Indeed, to engineer innovative natural active ingredients, we rely on three main pillars:
- Concerning the concept/product development issue, we ensure an advanced knowledge of what nature has to offer; we keep working on new raw materials, wherever they are coming from. We do study their toxicological profile and know their physio- and chemical properties
- Concerning the scientific issue, we rely on the latest discoveries in the field of dermatological research. We work to warrant the perfect homeostasis of healthy skins and try to solve cutaneous dysfunctions like microbial invasion, skin dryness, loss of elasticity, tissue inflammation and wrinkle appearance.
- Concerning our industrial processes, we apply the good manufacturing practices that are well-established in the cosmetic industry, which have been inspired from the pharmaceutical industries.
Up to now, one of the green innovations that has made the greater impact on the beauty industry is undoubtedly “green chemistry.” Personally, we have set up such means of extraction in water since the beginnings of SILAB.
How has demand for naturals and sustainable products fostered product development? Is it a gradual process or have you been forced to make large and immediate strides? Have innovations had to veer from course, i.e. innovations other than those impacting green trends having to be set aside?
Alban Muller: All our new products are now eco-designed; we take everything into account. Let’s say it has been a constant improvement process, which, today, becomes a clear marketing advantage.
Thierry Cruchon: There again, we haven’t perceived this increasing demand as a trend to satisfy at once. Our product development has followed a gradual process, and our way to grasp new trends has more to do with scientific advances than with marketing ones. As our strategic path has always dealt with greening, we did not have to make immediate strides to change it or to set some projects aside; all of them have to do with green.