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What Do Ethical and Sustainable Mean to Today's Beauty Consumer?
By: Imogen Matthews
Posted: December 10, 2008, from the December 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.
Increased media focus on sustainability, provenance and the environment is striking a chord with consumers of all types of products; cosmetics and toiletries is no exception. The trend for organic and natural food has spilled over into beauty as consumers start to question what they are putting on their bodies. “The upward trend in the natural personal care market has been carried from natural food products,” affirms Carrie Mellage, director of personal care products for U.S. research company Kline*. “Natural personal brands are considered to be more trustworthy and do not harm the skin.”
Not only does this mean taking a stance on natural/organic ingredients, but also reflecting on whether it is ethical to use a product that has been flown thousands of miles across the world or includes ingredients that may endanger the environment and people’s livelihoods. “It’s great to have exotic ingredients, but not if they are destroying rain forests,” maintains Nica Lewis, head consultant for GNPD Cosmetic Research, Mintel*.
Recently, Greenpeace published a report titled Cooking the Climate that implicates personal care companies, including large multinationals, in the purchase of palm oil from suppliers who are actively engaged in burning forests and draining peat lands in Indonesia to satisfy Western demand for consumer products.
As the media draws attention to environmental and sustainability issues, consumers are questioning the ethics of companies that may mislead in their “green” or “fair trade” positioning. As consumers become more knowledgeable and critical about these issues, they are increasingly sensitive to issues or claims that can be considered “greenwashing,” a term used to describe unfounded or irrelevant environmental claims.
However, few beauty companies are moving quickly to address consumers’ growing questions on sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. “The production facilities of some natural manufacturers have shifted to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, but so far, very few companies are doing this,” says Mellage. “Some marketers are looking to source their ingredients via more renewable and environmentally friendly methods.” The brands she cites includes The Body Shop, Dr Hauschka, L’Occitane, Aveda, Weleda, Lavera and Primavera.