"Authenticity" Theme of Sustainable Cosmetics Summit

"Provide greater authenticity" was a primary theme at the New York edition of Organic Monitor's  Sustainable Cosmetics Summit (March 24–26, 2010), which tackled industry issues such as ethical marketing, technical and formulation hurdles, eco-labeling and standards, practical sustainability initiatives and investments.

The first conference session explored different pathways to sustainability. The Estée Lauder Companies' Liliana George looked at the use of green chemistry to reduce the environmental impact of beauty products. Her key message was that "using natural and organic ingredients does not make a product green." She highlighted the need for a life cycle assessment, stating that consumers look at recyclability, pollution and packaging when considering sustainability.

One key aspect of sustainability is ethical sourcing of raw materials. Brazilian ingredient supplier Beraca shared its experiences in setting up sustainability projects at the edge of the Amazon basin. It showed such projects can protect biodiversity, support local communities as well as meet the ingredient needs of cosmetic companies. The subject was further explored by the presidents of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Canaan Fair Trade. The two companies have partnered to ethically source organic and fair trade olive oil from Palestine. Robert Bennett from Burt’s Bees showed how some natural personal care companies have embedded sustainability into their corporate culture. Sustainability goals are set for each employee at Burt’s Bees; the company has also undertaken numerous initiatives such as using ecological packaging, reducing waste and energy efficiency. Other papers looked at practical sustainability initiatives and global industry challenges. An update on eco-labels and regulations was given in the second conference session. The Personal Care Products Council outlined the legal framework and loopholes in labeling and marketing beauty products.

Greenwashing and natural claims were the subject of the opening key note of the second day of the conference. John Marshall Roberts, professional speaker and psychologist, commented that greenwashing was a result of corporate cynicism that served to create negative energy in consumers. Later in the morning, his paper on social media gave examples of companies that are successfully deploying this new communication tool to strengthen relationships with consumers. Dr. Hauschka, Aveda and Seventh Generation were demonstrated as brands with a strong social media presence. According to Roberts, "empathy is the number one business skill in the 21st century …whereas cynicism is the major barrier."

Green marketing without crossing the line of greenwashing was further explored by Darrin C. Duber-Smith. The ethical marketing session also had papers from Kiss My Face, Jurlique and Sustainable Youth Technologies. Tim Brasher, CEO of Jurlique, stated that consumer appeal for its organic skin care products stemmed from product performance, safety and the value preposition. Authenticity was again cited as a critical success factor. The brand has gained an international following partly because of its green and clean image (the company grows organic ingredients on its Australian farms).

Investment and technical issues were the focus of the final conference session. Armajit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor, stated the natural personal care industry is ripe for consolidation because it has a high concentration of small-medium sized firms. Mergers, acquisitions and investments are expected to lead to a two-tier market that has large companies occupying the first tier. Alexander S. Panos, managing director of private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners, provided details on how personal care companies can access capital. Prospective companies should have a clear business plan, target profitable customer segments and consistently meet targets, according to Panos.

In the final session, Judi Beerling of Organic Monitor hosted a seminar on the technical hurdles companies face with natural and organic personal care products. Details were given of emulsifier, surfactant and preservative systems for natural and organic beauty product formulations. A key finding from the seminar was that the efficacy of such products was becoming on par with conventional cosmetics, however natural and organic products were losing out on aesthetics.

Organic Monitor has made Sustainable Cosmetics Summit presentations available for a fee.

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