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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 upcoming release of the COSMOS-Standard will provide some harmonization and transparency as to what is natural and organic, particularly in Europe, but there is a great deal of work to be done by the industry to create a universal definition.

Consumers feel confident that buying a product with an eco-label is truly reducing their impact on the environment and, potentially, their health. However, the introduction of more eco-labels without any apparent harmonization could introduce an increased element of confusion and mistrust. Until greater harmonization is achieved, the best approach for marketers is to select the eco-label to which they and their target consumer group are most comfortable.

Consumers assume that an eco-labeled product is both safer for health and the environment. In fact, research has shown that consumers are primarily drawn to eco-labels because they believe that such labels indicate that a product has a safer health profile than the product’s conventional counterpart. An eco-label that does not incorporate environmental and human health effect components into its screening criteria is probably not the best one to select, as consumers want to know that they are purchasing a product that has a “healthier” profile than a conventional product.

General References

  • A Beaton, Role of Standards in Making Environmental Choices, GC3 Conference July 10, 2008 A Beaton, (Accessed June 29, 2009)
  •, What are Eco-labels?
  • Europe Says ‘Oui’ to Natural Personal Care, 2008, Nutrition Business Journal
  • European Cosmetics Standards Working Group, COSMOS-Standard, Consultation Draft, Nov 3, 2008
  • Natural & Organic Personal Care Report 2008, Nutrition Business Journal
  • NPA Definition of Natural, (Accessed June 29, 2009)
  • N&OPC Products Continued to Ring Up New Sales in 2008, Nutrition Business Journal The North American Market for Natural & Organic Personal Care Products: Market Assessment & Forecasts, Organic Monitor #3001-60 2007
  • J Saunders, “The war over eco-labels,” Apr 28, 2009

Lead author Margaret H. Whittaker has more than 15 years of experience evaluating the safety and regulatory compliance of cosmetics and personal care products. She earned a doctorate in toxicology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and an MPH in environmental health from the University of Michigan. Whittaker is currently the managing director and chief toxicologist at ToxServices LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that provides toxicology and risk assessment consulting services to private industry and the Federal government, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Formulator Program. In addition, Whittaker is managing director of the Linden Consulting Group Ltd., a U.K.-based energy and environmental consulting firm that specializes in carbon footprinting, sustainability and resource efficiency services.