Can cosmetics consumers change for sustainability's sake?

Can cosmetics consumers change for sustainability's sake?

Consumer behaviour is a major barrier to sustainable development of the cosmetics industry. What can the industry do?

Consumer behaviour needs to change for sustainability. This was one of the key messages from the European and Asia-Pacific editions of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. More than 150 senior executives convened at each edition in Paris and Hong Kong to discuss key sustainability issues affecting the cosmetics industry.

A number of speakers suggested that consumer behaviour was becoming a major barrier to sustainable development of the cosmetics industry. Although operators are implementing a raft of sustainability initiatives, consumer education and recognition of such remains low. Furthermore, lack of consumer demand for green products and ingredients was discouraging brands to make greater commitments.

In its paper, the Union for Ethical BioTrade showed that awareness of biodiversity (and green issues) is rising in Asia. Over 70 percent of Chinese and Korean consumers state they are aware of such issues, however awareness was not translating into demand. Organic Monitor, organiser of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, stated that the Asia-Pacific comprises less than 10 percent of global green cosmetic sales. Furthermore, there remain many ethical questions about cosmetics in Asia. As well as the use of animal ingredients in cosmetics, animal-testing methods remain common.

Consumer awareness is also a major issue in Europe. L’Oreal said that it started giving environmental data on some products in accordance with the Grenelle law, however it was discouraged by despondent consumers. The multinational has decided to halt environmental product labelling because consumers could not relate to footprint data. With companies spending thousands of dollars on life-cycle analyses, panellists asked if it was worth it considering consumers showed little concern.

Lack of consumer awareness was also cited as a factor behind the low take-up rate of sustainable palm oil. Although the industry is calling for more sustainable production, demand is not keeping with supply: Only half of RSPO palm oil is sold as sustainable palm oil. Higher consumer awareness of sourcing issues could put pressure on companies to ethically source the vegetable oil, especially in Asia where palm oil plantations are causing deforestation and air pollution.

Discussions also centred on marketing and consumer issues related to green cosmetics. According to Havas Media Group, 88 percent of European consumers are hungry for information about how cosmetic companies source natural ingredients. However, 45 percent of consumers believe natural and organic claims by cosmetic brands are not credible. The media agency called for brands to inspire consumers by communicating their sustainability efforts more effectively.

Mei Mei Song of Plaza Premium Lounge called travel retail the “neglected channel” for natural andd organic cosmetics in Asia. In her paper, she said that the growing middle-classes and increase in travel time in Asia made airport lounges the ideal platform to educate consumers on such products. She stated that over 65 million people travelled through Hong Kong International airport in a year; her company has set up Wellness Spas at the airport where organic skin care products are marketed to travel passengers.

In another paper, the ayurvedic brand Baidyanath stated distribution was the major hurdle for green brands targeting the Indian market. Jasmin Aromatique suggested green brands take a “customised approach” when targeting Asian country markets. The Australian brand is opening concept stores across Asia to educate consumers on how organic skincare is linked to health and wellness. Coop Switzerland stated it is focusing on its Naturaline private label to inform consumers about sustainability and green issues. It relaunched natural cosmetics under the private label earlier this year.

The European and Asia-Pacific editions of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit raised many questions about sustainability in the cosmetics industry. With growing interest in environmental footprints, how should metrics be effectively communicated to consumers? What can be done to encourage sustainable consumption—as well as sustainable production—of cosmetics and ingredients? Will new sustainable processing and production methods be the answer to green cosmetic formulations? With Asia growing in economic power, when will sustainability and green issues rise in importance? The 2014 editions of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit aim to address such questions.

 

 

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