The many layers of sustainable beauty
How a global beauty brand is addressing our depleting resources
In partnership with L’Oréal
By Felicity Bonello
True sustainability in the beauty industry is complicated and a balancing act across business and planetary solutions. And while there are variables to becoming a sustainable brand, the international cosmetics industry – which according to Zero Waste produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year – is undergoing a much needed transformation. With the highest environmental impact – and cause of resource depletion – of beauty products found within formulation, ingredients and packaging, the industry, which is notorious for adding to pollution issues and draining natural resources, requires a detailed roadmap. It’s not a small task.
Naturally, we’re seeing a rise in start-up eco beauty brands; and while developing a sustainable brand from the ground up is not without its challenges, it’s the work of existing brands like global cosmetics giant L’Oréal Group, which are embarking on (and achieving) an ambitious multifaceted sustainability trajectory, that we are cheering for just as loudly.
For L’Oreal in particular, its goals are targeted and their roadmap is clear. For one, you can expect that by 2030, 95 per cent of the ingredients found within L’Oreal product formulas and packaging will be bio-based, derived from abundant minerals or from the circular economy, while 100 per cent of plastics used in packaging will come from recycled or bio-based sources. With the world currently in a resource depletion, we can only hope that other beauty brands stand up and follow suit.
“It’s not the start of the sustainability journey for L’Oréal but we are looking closely today at what we’re doing well, and what we could be doing better,” explains Audrey Noumazalayi Ilounga, Senior Procurement Specialist for L’Oréal. “We’re trying to tackle elements in our operation that actually have the greatest impact as a first step. Because we do so many things and you can’t tackle everything at once, we take it segment by segment and say, ‘right what’s most important here’.”
Creating authentic, sustainable change requires due diligence and analytics. “It’s all about data and that’s where we start,” says Audrey. “We need to be confident that we’re doing the right thing and whatever changes we make we need to determine that they will have a true environmentally positive impact.”
Turning the tide, and educating customers
As customers we play an important part in the puzzle too. We have a big learning curve ahead if we want to be more responsible consumers and it starts with understanding what to do with beauty related items we already own, especially when recycling within the beauty space can be complicated. Of course, suggestions like an easy-to-read ingredients list with terminology people can understand and simple visuals we can clearly identify will help educate customers as to what they’re purchasing; but then there’s the product packaging. Of the packaging we currently can recycle, half of us don’t. Perhaps we don’t know how to correctly dispose of items, maybe the recycling infrastructures are not yet in place. Either way, when we have products such as Garnier’s BB cream set to launch this month with FSC paper packaging, for example, there’s room for recycling progress.
“There’s a lot of innovation being done by The L’Oréal Group around determining what the major generator of waste is for us, we’re already focussed on recycling for the packaging of finished goods (L’Oréal products), and part of it is about communication to consumers. It’s lovely to make all these efforts but if a consumer doesn’t know what to do with their beauty waste, then it might go to landfill anyway,” says Noumazalayi Ilounga. Education and clear solutions prescribed on packaging is key.
Creating sustainable retail, helping resources
Strong partnerships between a brand, their retailers and suppliers have become the cornerstone of a united sustainability journey too.
“In order to be truly impactful, sustainability needs to fit within every chain. For example, if L’Oréal activates a campaign in-store we consider sustainability across the production, printing and finishing, transportation, and end of life of every L’Oréal display,” says Noumazalayi Ilounga. “We work closely with our suppliers on designing and optimising displays that use renewable materials, LED lighting, no magnets, and a number of other sustainable prerequisites. And then we engage with our retailers to determine who will manage the waste in the most sustainable way. Knowing where something will end up, derives our decisions.”
As part of their L’Oréal 4 The Future program, by 2025, 100 per cent of L’Oreal’s new displays will be eco-designed, taking into account circular economy principles for end of life management and 100 per cent of their new Free Standing Stores will be designed and built following our sustainability principles. Additionally, by 2030, “100 per cent of the waste generated on our sites will be recycled or reused,” says Audrey. Now that’s sustainable retail.
Outside influences affecting change
The complexity doesn’t stop with educating consumers and ensuring that brands are speaking the same sustainable language as their retailers and suppliers. Because you can explain to a customer how best to recycle their mascara wand, but at times there are outside influences which just aren’t ready to keep up. “If we look at Australia, business has the capacity to create recyclable products and packaging, however, we’re also relying on what processes the recycling industry can provide at the end of a product’s lifecycle,” says Audrey. “Then, if we look at it from a global perspective the intricacies are more widespread again as every country will have different standards and rules.”
While no one said change was easy, or change would be comfortable or that change was resistant to challenge, thanks to global brands like L’Oreal tackling the critical urgency of our deletion of resources, there is a knock-on effect that occurs. In turn, more beauty brands find ways to minimise the impact they leave on the world, and we all clean up our act, the future of beauty really does look beautiful.
“We’re not there yet but we’re very well on our way. For now, we all need to ask ourselves what small piece of change we can make. It’s about us walking the talk and doing things consistently,” says Audrey. And we couldn’t agree more.
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