The 2nd Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit drew to a successful close in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago. A major outcome is that the Asian cosmetics industry needs to raise the bar for sustainability. The region is lagging in many ethical and ecological areas, such as alternatives to animal testing, ecological packaging, green formulations and consumer education.
The growing importance of Asia to the cosmetics industry was highlighted by Sam McKay, CEO of Jurlique. In his opening keynote, he declared: “Asia has become our number one focus as a region.” The Australian organic skin care brand is expanding across the continent, acquiring several of its distributors to build a direct presence. However, a challenge is growing competition: “All the big brands are looking at Asia, making it difficult for us to get listings and build distribution,” stated McKay.
A major challenge for Western natural and organic brands in Asia is low consumer understanding of green issues. Many brands are resorting to opening concept stores so they can engage directly with consumers. Perfect Potion, an Australian naturals brand, is focusing on the Japanese market where it currently operates 10 stores. The cofounder and managing director, Salvatore Battaglia, said the company uses the stores to educate customers about aromatherapy, natural products, as well as green issues. Also speaking at the summit, Nikos Koutsianas, founder of Apivita, stated the Greek natural cosmetics brand is promoting a Mediterranean holistic way of living via its 18 concept stores in Asia.
With some ethical cosmetic brands unable to enter the Chinese market because of its animal testing methods, alternative methods were extensively discussed at the summit. Anthony E. James from the Chinese University of Hong Kong stated that China was falling behind many Asian countries that are now using a range of alternative testing methods. International trade—rather than pressure from NGOS and consumer groups—could force China to accept alternatives to animal testing methods. According to Nick Palmer from Cruelty-Free International, Chinese authorities will be under pressure to change their stance when the EU implements its ban of animal-tested ingredients and cosmetic products in 2013. Chinese companies could lose their international competitiveness as they develop separate product lines for the European market.
Sustainable packaging of cosmetic products is another area the Asian cosmetics industry needs to address. Very few Asian brands are taking steps to reduce the environmental footprint of their packaging. Grace Culhaci from Pure and Green Organics shared her difficulties in finding sustainable packaging solutions. She stated most packaging companies are disinterested in supplying sustainable materials. Pure and Green Organics is using PLA bio-plastics, cardboard, as well as eco-design to makes its packaging more environmentally friendly.
Availability of green raw materials for cosmetic formulations is another issue for Asian companies. Azusa Annells from Jasmin Aromatique Organics stated such difficulties have been a reason for her company to start growing organic lavender, rosemary and a range of other herbs at its Hokkaido farm in Japan. Asia has a rich abundance of native plants, herbs and raw materials for cosmetic ingredients, however ethical sourcing is often ignored. Using neem as an example, Arunasiri Iddamalgoda, R&D director of Ichimaru Pharcos, showed how Asian companies can adopt the principles of biodiversity conservation and share benefits with local growers.
Ethical issues pertinent to the Asian cosmetics industry were also discussed at the summit. Papers on the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine in cosmetics, and growing popularity of the Halal labeling scheme underscored the influence of culture and religion on Asian consumer behavior. Although green issues are becoming important in Asia, they appear to be somewhat lower in consumers’ hierarchy of needs.
The next Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit will look at ways of raising consumer awareness of green and sustainability issues in the region. The summit will once again take place in Hong Kong on Nov. 11 to 12, 2013.