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Steps Without Footprints

By: Steve Herman
Posted: December 9, 2009, from the December 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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One way the industry can lessen its impact, and which illustrates the potential of small changes, was provided by T. J. Lin—a regular contributor to GCI magazine’s sister publication, Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine—years ago: low-energy emulsification. Something as simple as heating less water to make an emulsion contributes directly to reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing. From his first publication in 19782 to a paper delivered at the 2009 Society of Cosmetic Chemists annual scientific meeting, Lin has been a pioneer on advocating environmental awareness in emulsification processes.

Industry Efforts

Counting carbons is a broad-brush way to quantify the sustainability of personal care chemicals. Many companies have a version of this procedure. Stepan, for example, calls its version the “biorenewable carbon index.” It is the biorenewable carbon divided by the total carbon expressed as a percentage. But more than carbon atoms are at stake in the beauty industry. Croda, for its part, has installed a wind turbine at its Hull, U.K., site.

Packaging is a major focus for environmentalists. The basic premise is “less is better,” and whatever packaging there is should at least be recyclable or biodegradable. Some new materials, such as Ingeo from Natureworks and Mirel from Telles, can be composted. The industry is off to a good start in environmentally friendly packaging, but there are still challenges. For example, Mirel’s Web site (www.mirelplastics.com) offers this statement: “The rate and extent of Mirel’s biodegradability will depend on the size and shape of the articles made from it. Mirel is not designed to effectively degrade in landfills. Industrial composting facilities may not be available in your geographic area.”

Evaluating

The GoodGuide evaluation of cosmetic products at www.goodguide.com offers an outline of what consumer groups are now looking for in products and the companies that manufacture them. One of their highest-rated skin care products is Dr. Bronner’s Patchouli Lime Organic Lotion. A GoodGuide rating of 8.6 is a combination of a health rating of 10, environmental rating of 7.6 and society rating of 8.4.

There are extensive details on the GoodGuide rating, and a shortened form of the social and environmental ratings are shown in this column’s sidebar, and the areas included are indicative of how deeply consumers are now willing to delve into the ethical and eco leanings of a company. Once upon a time, a company had to be caught importing from a sweatshop using child labor to get bad press; now, philanthropy and community engagement are scored and posted online.