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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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The growing number of beauty eco-labels could potentially cause confusion among consumers and reduce the impact of the eco-label movement as a whole. It is now recognized that harmonization of eco-label standards is an ideal way to increase transparency to the consumer and promote growth in the eco-label network. Seven of the leading manufacturer associations, certifying bodies and organic consumer organizations in Europe united as the European Cosmetics Standards Working Group to develop a harmonized cosmetic standard, termed the “Cosmetics Organic and Natural Standard” (COSMOS-standard). Members of the European Cosmetics Standards Working Group include BioForum (Belgium), Ecocert (France), COSMEBIO (France), BDIH (Germany), ICEA (Italy), and Soil Association Certification Limited (U.K.). The final standard—due to be published September 2009, with the first certified products anticipated spring 2010—will establish a standard covering all aspects of cosmetic production under either organic or natural certification that will be transparent to the consumer. The intent of the COSMOS-Standard ( is to promote the use of organic ingredients, introduce green chemistry into the beauty industry, restrict and prohibit the use of synthetic ingredients such as preservatives, and to apply the precautionary principle to any cosmetic ingredient in which insufficient scientific evidence is available to substantiate its safety.

Marketers can elect to be certified under organic or natural certification. There are no organic content requirements for products receiving natural certification; however, the standard does propose a means by which all beauty products, whether or not deemed organic, can calculate and identify organic content on the product’s label.

The introduction of the Cosmos-Standard will unite many of the prominent European certifiers. Additional organizations from around the world are invited to apply to use the standard as well. Participating organizations will have the option of certifying directly to the COSMOS-Standard, or may incorporate the standard’s basic requirements into their own eco-label. Therefore, the European Cosmetics Standards Working Group’s goal of creating a harmonized, consumer-transparent standard will be achieved without the need of forming a single certifying body. In addition, the European certifier NaTrue, has entered into an agreement with NSF-owned Quality Assurance International (QAI), which certifies to the NSF “Made with Organic” standard. The intent of this agreement is to streamline certification, so a cosmetics firm manufacturing products certified by NaTrue in Europe will not have to go through the full certification process when it enters the U.S. market.


The eco-friendly sector of the beauty industry continues to grow to keep up with consumers’ demands. The use of a widely recognized eco-label is an excellent way to entice the green consumer and tap into the market. The European certifiers BDIH and Ecocert have been leaders in the eco-label movement, but relatively new players such as MBDC, DfE and NPA are seeking to become leaders in the eco-label market, particularly in the U.S.

Marketers must select the most applicable eco-label for their brand based on their intended audience, claims, region of sale, and cost of certification and licensing. Transparency to the consumer is another aspect to consider. Developing standards that are easy for consumers to understand will improve eco-label recognition and boost sales. There is, however, still a great degree of debate within the industry and consumer groups as to what is a truly perfect standard for cosmetics, particularly in the organic sector.