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Eco Values: Truly Reaching Green Consumers

By: Sara Mason
Posted: August 28, 2012, from the September 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Especially in the U.S., packaging is a growing environmental concern as well. Weleda launched four new body lotions featuring organic botanicals from organic farms in Sicily and Turkey. The unique, recyclable bag-in-bottle design and airless pump protect preservative-free formulas from oxygen and pollutants and extends shelf life. “We didn’t invent the technology, but we’re the first to use it on a global level and at this scale,” says van Brakel.

Weleda is one brand also trying to play a pivotal role in harmonizing certifications, mainly in the interest of the consumer. Van Brakel has teamed with competitors to see if they can establish a common denominator in better green labeling. “There are three or four serious initiatives, but we need to get together and make it one,” he says. “We don’t think the government should regulate, but if the FDA would get involved, that might help the consumer.”

For the international market, there has been progress with these certification and labeling initiatives, but it has not been easy. “It’s slow. I would like to see that happen faster,” notes van Brakel. “Education is key, for the sake of the consumer and the planet and the industry.”

Community Cares

Being a natural brand also means thinking outside ourselves. “People are starting to realize more and more the impact of their purchasing decisions,” says Sapothecary’s director of operations John Bailey. Sapothecary, a private label manufacturer based in California that provides handmade soaps based on organic, food-grade extra virgin olive oil, is pursuing USDA organic certification. While this certification is not designed for cosmetics, Bailey feels it’s going to help show the integrity of the products. His advice is to go for the strictest certification you can.

All of Sapothecary’s soaps are cold processed, meaning the oils and lye are combined at 105°F or less. The low temperature keeps the delicate ingredients from degrading, because at high temperatures, the high-quality oils can become rancid. It’s also a slower process that allows workers to give attention to the custom artisan process used to develop the products.

Sapothecary’s soaps also utilize controversial palm oil. Bailey was involved previously with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), so he knew about the negative side effects harvesting palm oil can have on the environment as well as the indigenous people and animals. He soon discovered the most serious problems came from commodity palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia, where tropical forests were being cleared to make way for plantations.

So, he started looking for certified, sustainable organic sources. RAN pointed him to Agropalma in Brazil, which has a variety of fair trade and organic certifications. The company only plants palm trees on previously degraded ranch land. “Rain forest isn’t being cleared to source the palm oil and no pesticides and herbicides are used,” notes Bailey.

In addition, there was an opportunity to address social impact. Agropalma has established partnerships with the government and local communities to contribute source income and job creation in the region. Currently, the program assists 185 families of small farmers who own six to 10 hectares of palm plantation. This type of palm production has led to a significant rise in families’ income and lifestyle improvements, and socio-environmental studies have shown, within benefitted communities, the family agriculture program has improved environmental performance as a whole, including activities not directly related to palm cultivation.

Business and brand principles such as this that align the company with fair trade practices and organizations that give back allows consumers to feel good about purchasing and supporting a brand.

Transparency and Integrity

No matter where your brand focuses its values, transparency and integrity are important when reaching the natural and organic consumer. “You really need to be upfront and honest about what is in your products and where it comes from,” says Bailey. Consumers are intelligent, and they are not afraid to ask questions.

Present clear information on your website and in the depth that consumers need and want. For Sapothecary, retail sites must clearly present basic information that avoids bogging down the loyal consumer with endless hype, but links that allow those who are interested to dig deeper must also be included. “With a complete website, first-time consumers have the confidence to place an order,” explains Bailey. It’s also important to be available. “People are frustrated with the vast scale and impersonal nature of corporate entities,” he adds, and beauty brands can take advantage of this by intimately targeting your local area or niche and being upfront about your eco values.

“People can tell the difference between brands telling a story and when they are doing something real,” says van Brakel. In being committed to the real natural deal, companies such as Sapothecary, Weleda and Juice Beauty not only offer a quality product but one with meaning. “It’s not just a fancy marketing story, but reality,” van Brakel explains. “With that, the product sells itself.”

Sara Mason is a freelance writer based in the Chicagoland area. She was previously managing editor of GCI magazine.