Gay Timmons has been in the agricultural business for decades. Twenty-one years ago she founded Oh, Oh Organic, selling organic ingredients—including palm oil—to cosmetic companies in North America.
“The chemical industry is complacent,” says Timmons, a scientist herself.
Many chemists may wish to stick to petroleum-derived ingredients instead of using plant-based sources. Yes, it’s expensive to test something new, to reformulate and use new technologies, but Timmons also believes that creativity is lacking and finding new solutions is important.
Change is on the horizon, though, with more manufacturers demanding clean and green ingredients. Timmons has seen the demand for organic palm oil and other ingredients growing, especially from medium and small sized businesses with a mission to be earth-friendly.
Finally, some large cosmetics companies, for instance L’Oréal, have committed to switching to ingredients from renewable plant sources and adopting a green sciences approach to research and innovation.
A strong push toward ingredients from plant-based sources is coming from a new generation of cosmetics brands. Founded upon a clear mission and a set of strong principles, the owners of these brands want to work with plant-based, vegan and preferably organic ingredients.
More and more, these businesses are built selling products direct to consumers, skipping conventional retail structures. Examples include, Kari Gran, au NATURALE and Uviña Skin, to name but a few. Online retailer Grove Collaborative, focused on the direct sales of clean beauty products, launched their own vegan, plant-based skin care brand, Superbloom, earlier this year.
Brand owners pushing the shift toward plant-based ingredients demand full traceability to the sources of their ingredients, as well. They realize that the only way they can make sure they create the positive impact they’re seeking is by knowing the farmers and communities behind the ingredients. Commitment and market claims require full transparency.
According to Timmons, who’s serving a growing customer base of cosmetic manufacturers seeking organic, traceable ingredients, “the value has to be inherent in the ingredient.”
Consumer trust is built to a large extent by providing that full transparency to sources. “And,” says Timmons, “when it comes to the small and medium-sized brands selling direct to consumer, it is all about trusting the brand owner to do the right thing.”
We’re All In Agriculture
With the shift to using ingredients from renewable plant sources, we need to recognize that “we’re all in the agriculture business.” according to Timmons. “Even producing derivatives in the chemical industry is part of agriculture.”
Timmons points out that manufacturers and brands making a commitment to using more plant-derived ingredients, are basically stepping into the agricultural sector. They are not just a cosmetic company anymore as they, too, are impacting agriculture and the way we grow the crops for the ingredients we use.
They need to establish a strong relationship with their growers to protect their supply, and need to understand the transparency growers and supply chains can provide.
“They need to start looking at a cosmetic product as an agricultural product,” says Timmons. “It is really, really important that people start to understand that relationship.”
Two leading brands that understood that connection early on and have been taking that responsibility seriously from the start of their business are Dr. Bronner’s and Dr. Hauschka. They began growing their own ingredients many years ago.
In the recently launched book “Honor Thy Label,” Gero Leson describes how Dr. Bronner’s developed its own supply chains to ensure their production of clean, green and ethical ingredients, while at the same time generating positive impact for farming communities.
The brand has gone to great lengths to ensure transparency and fairness to benefit farmers, workers, as well as their families and communities.
In the book, Leson also recounts the company setting up their organic palm oil operation in Ghana, and how producing palm oil using fair and regenerative organic practices makes it one of the more expensive, yet one of the most impactful palm oils on the planet.
Invitation to Collaborate
There is still much to explore in adopting a green sciences approach.
“In order to adapt to the pressures of climate change and what’s going to happen to the petrochemical industry, we’ve got to innovate, and innovate more creatively, than we have done so far,” says Timmons. “That requires more collaboration,even more than we’re currently seeing. We need chemists to understand the impact of their actions on the environment.”
The industry can see this as an invitation to collaborate based on the leadership of both small and large companies that are paving the way for a transition to more plant-based ingredients.
Disclosure statement: Monique van Wijnbergen is director of sustainability and corporate communications at Natural Habitats, a supplier of organic and fair-trade palm oil. She is also a spokesperson for Palm Done Right.