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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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There are a number of eco-labels that have a very specific focus, such as allergen content or a product’s carbon footprint. The Allergy UK Seal of Approval, for example, focuses on reducing allergen content in personal care products, while the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offers an eco-label for those companies using carbon-neutral packaging. The Leaping Bunny label, created by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, signifies that the marketer adheres to a corporate standard of compassion for animals.

Which Eco-label is Best for Your Product?

Beauty marketers should avoid greenwashing at all costs. Greenwashing is defined as the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. The careful selection of an eco-label will go a long way in helping to stay clear of greenwashing. That being said, recognition/certification of a product should not be considered insurance against misrepresenting or exaggerating claims on the significance of an eco-label.

The current diversity in beauty product eco-labels allows a marketer to select an eco-label based upon the specific product, intended audience and region of sale. Table 1 outlines the predominant beauty product eco-labels to choose from. Some eco-labels, such as the EPA’s DfE label, are currently focused on only surfactant-based personal care products, such as soaps and shampoos, rather than decorative cosmetics. Other eco-labels may not be widely recognized by the consumers in your region of sale.

Geographically, the Natural Products Association and GreenSeal marks are widely recognized in the U.S., and the EcoLogo mark is predominant in Canada. In Europe, BDIH is highly recognized for its Certified Natural Cosmetics program, and Ecocert’s Ecological Cosmetics and Ecological and Organic Cosmetics certifications are the most widely represented worldwide. Companies that do not focus on the use of organic raw materials may not qualify for some of the most distinguished eco-labels, such as BDIH, but could still qualify for other well-regarded programs, such as the EU Eco-label or Ecocert.

If considering application for an eco-label, there are a number of aspects to consider. First, assess the product, its raw materials, its packaging and the means by which it is manufactured to determine if it is truly eco-friendly. Once an eco-label that best represents the product and has the most credibility for the target consumer and region has been selected, read the certifier/reviewer’s standard carefully. Most organizations make their standards available on their Web sites. It is important to understand the rules of the review scheme to determine the level of continuous effort required on your company’s part. Many organizations require third-party reviews, laboratory testing and/or auditing before initial approval—as well as annual re-evaluations once the eco-label is awarded. BDIH and the Natural Product Association also have a 60% rule, which requires that at least 60% of products in a brand meet the certification standard before the brand may use their eco-label on any one product.

The Future of Third-party Beauty Eco-labelling