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Eco-labels: Environmental Marketing in the Beauty Industry

By: Margaret H. Whittaker, Elizabeth Engimann and Imogen Sambrook
Posted: August 11, 2009, from the August 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

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A reputable eco-label is generally one that is substantiated by a third-party verifier and allows rigorous and scientifically pertinent evaluation criteria to be applied to products and ingredients. Consumer confidence is gained through a sound understanding that an objective, expert and professional body has assessed and certified the eco-label before it is sanctioned. There are currently hundreds of third-party eco-labelling organizations around the world, and more are sure to come. However, the abundance of eco-labels available in the market, when considered in conjunction with the lack of transparency of certain standards, could introduce a further element of confusion and mistrust among consumers. Therefore, it’s important that marketers do their homework to find a highly trusted, highly recognized eco-label.

Predominant and Upcoming Beauty Eco-labels

Germany’s BDIH (Bundesverband deutscher Industrie-und Handelsunternehmen) Certified Natural Cosmetics mark and France’s Ecocert Ecological Cosmetics and Ecological and Organic Cosmetics marks are the eco-labels* that currently globally dominate the beauty market. These have been in the forefront of the beauty eco-label movement, and others—such as GreenSeal, the Natural Products Association’s “The Natural Seal,” NaTrue and Cradle-to-Cradle—are relatively new to the beauty industry, but are poised to make significant inroads into the North American eco-label market.

Sustainability and Safety-focused Eco-labels

BDIH and Ecocert focus on the total sustainability and safety of a product, as well as the use of natural and organic ingredients. Cradle-to-Cradle Certification (U.S.) is a broad evaluation of eco-intelligent design that is applicable to a large variety of retail goods, and has garnered the respect of many companies because it involves a comprehensive set of criteria for sustainably designing and manufacturing products that incorporate environmental and human health effects in their evaluation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) label focuses on human health and environmental preferability criteria, and has the added benefit of having the U.S. EPA’s name on the eco-label—though it does not currently evaluate a broad range of cosmetics and personal care product types.

Organic-focused Eco-labels

There are eco-labels geared solely toward promoting the use of organic ingredients, and these have developed standards that a product must meet to be labelled as “organic” or partially organic. There are a number of organic eco-labels offered worldwide—including Organic Farmers & Growers (U.K.), Soil Association Certification Limited (U.K.), Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA), NaTrue’s Organic Cosmetics label (Europe), NSF International’s “Made with Organic” Personal Care Products standard (U.S.), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (U.S.), Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS) (U.S.), and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

Natural-focused Eco-labels

Eco-labels that concentrate on natural rather than organic ingredients require a minimum content of ingredients that are sourced from a renewable or plentiful natural source. These labels also require that the products contain no petroleum-based ingredients. These eco-labels include NaTrue’s “Natural Cosmetics” label and the Natural Products Association’s “The Natural Seal.”

Attribute-specific Eco-labels