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Organic Monitor Looks to Kickstart Better Sustainability Practices in Asia

Posted: October 29, 2013

Sustainable sourcing of raw materials continues to gain popularity in the beauty industry; however, Organic Monitor finds Asia is lagging behind when it comes to seeking out sustainable ingredient alternatives for product development.

Although Asia has become an established source of beauty ingredients, questions hang over the ecological and social impact of raw materials. Currently, Western beauty companies and ingredient firms are setting up ethical sourcing programs in the region, with relatively low involvement from Asian firms. Some companies are looking to get more involved, however.

The Asia-Pacific has 30% of global surface area, yet houses 60% of the world's population. Growing economic affluence and urbanization are putting a strain on natural resources and threatening biodiversity. The region has lost 95% of its primary, uncut forests, while individual countries have lost up to 90% of their natural habitats. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the region has the highest number of threatened animal and plant species.

Deforestation and draining of wetlands are associated with agriculture for beauty raw materials. Production of palm oil, the most widely used vegetable oil in beauty products, has been directly responsible for destruction of tropical rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia. And, as well as releasing greenhouses gases, palm oil cultivation has contributed to animals such as the orangutan and Sumatra tiger becoming critically endangered.

There are also concerns about the sustainable supply of many beauty ingredients such as fragrances and natural actives thatare indigenous to the region. Sandalwood, native to India and Sri Lanka, is now mainly produced in Australia because of high incidence of illegal logging. There are also ethical issues concerning animal-based ingredients in beauty products; for instance, Asian companies are large users of shark liver oil.

As will be stated at the upcoming Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, the beauty industry needs to encourage ethical sourcing and biodiversity in the region. With the Asian cosmetics market poised to become the largest in the world, Asian consumers have potentially a greater influence by green purchases then their western counterparts.

According to Organic Monitor, a major challenge for the beauty industry is to convert sustainable supply to sustainable consumption. The Asia-Pacific region houses almost half of global organic farmland, yet it has less then 5% share of international organic product sales. Similarly, over 90% of RSPO sustainable palm oil is produced in Asia; however, the bulk of demand is from Europe and North America. A recent UEBT survey shows over 60% of East Asian consumers are aware about biodiversity, but rising awareness is not translating into green product sales.

One reason is the low priority given to sustainability by Asian beauty and ingredient firms. Very few Asian companies have sustainability programs, with most focusing on CSR and some environmental issues. Biodiversity, ethical sourcing and encouraging sustainable consumption are not high on the corporate agenda for Asian companies. As Asian countries become more prosperous and take the stage in world issues, there are growing calls to ensure the cost of economic development is not sustainable development.

Ethical sourcing and biodiversity is a focal theme of the third Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. Taking place in Hong Kong on November 11–13, 2013, the summit will bring together leading organizations involved in sustainability in the Asian beauty industry.