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Sustainable Cosmetics Summit recap

Sustainable Cosmetics Summit recap
Major discussions covered sustainability best practices, green ingredients and the impact of new technologies.

The European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit brought together about 150 senior executives from the beauty industry to discuss sustainability issues. Hosted in Paris on Nov. 21 to 23, major discussions were on sustainability best-practices, green ingredients, and the impact of new technologies.

Nikos Koutsianas, founder of Apivita, kicked off the summit with a keynote on the growing complexity of the sustainability challenge. Koutsianas stated the current financial crisis was a result of consumer excess and that lessons should be learnt from ancient Greece. Quoting Hippocrates: ‘everything in excess is opposed to nature’, Koutsianas encouraged cosmetic companies to use green formulations as they enabled customers to connect with nature.

A number of companies shared their experiences in implementing sustainability programmes. Inken Hollmann-Peters gave details of the Beiersdorf ‘We Care’ initiative. By 2020, the cosmetics company plans to reduce its product carbon footprint by 30 percent, generate half its sales from products that have a significantly reduced environmental footprint, and help give education to half a million children in developing countries. Hollmann-Peters stated the success of a sustainability programme hinges on top management commitment.

Similar views were expressed by Fiona Wheatley of Marks & Spencer. Five years after introducing its Plan A strategy, the company has met 94 of its initial 100 goals whilst recording nett benefits of over EUR 200 million. In the cosmetics arena, key challenges for the UK retailer are access to the Chinese market because of its animal-testing stance, as well as availability of sustainable palm oil and wild harvested materials.

The growing use of marine ingredients in cosmetic products was extensively discussed at the summit. Bloom Association urged cosmetic companies to scrutinise their squalene supply since the industry was the largest buyer of shark liver oil; Claire Nouvian believed many companies were unwittingly buying shark liver oil thinking the squalene was derived from plant materials. The German natural cosmetics brand Ocean Basis showed how algae can be cultivated in certified farms for cosmetic applications. In another paper, Heliae encouraged cosmetic companies to consider micro-algae materials because of their abundance supply. The American company is using marine biotechnology to develop algae-based cosmetic ingredients.

The major challenges faced by natural & organic beauty brands were covered in the marketing developments session. Organic Monitor stated brands need to raise their game as the competitive landscape was changing with many multinationals launching natural / organic lines. According to Simon Duffy of the UK brand Bulldog, third party accreditation was important to combat greenwashing that was rife in the industry. Another paper from Harriet Kingaby of Ogilvy Earth explained that truthful communications was at the heart of a successful social media strategy.

The impact of new technologies on the sustainable development of the cosmetics industry was featured in the final session. Apperian stated that mobile devices were changing the way beauty brands connect with consumers; using the example of Estee Lauder, he showed how interactive kiosks in retail outlets can undertake skin diagnostics and raise product sales. In her paper on biomimicry, Professor Monique Simmonds of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens called for cosmetic companies to innovate from nature, stating plants had a rich reservoir of actives as they had evolved over thousands of years. She believed the opportunities were endless considering a tiny percentage of plants were currently utilised for cosmetic raw materials.

The sustainability advantages of plant stem cell technology were highlighted by Dr. Roberto dal Toso of IRB. He showed how the environmental footprint of such actives was significantly lower than those derived from traditional methods. Mibelle Biochemistry gave details of the PhytoCellTec technique, which can be used to source ingredients from rare plant species. Using the example of a rare old apple variety, Mibelle showed how the technique promotes biodiversity and can protect rare species from extinction. In the final paper, Yogesh Solanki of CP Kelco highlighted the growing use of biopolymers as rheology modifiers in cosmetic formulations.

The European summit was the 10th edition of the international series of summits. It capped a successful year for the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, hosted in the major geographic regions of the world for the first time. By tackling ecological and ethical issues pertinent to each region, the summit aims to encourage sustainability in the cosmetics industry. Further editions are planned in 2013 for North America (New York, May), Latin America (Sao Paulo, September), Europe (Paris, October) and the Asia-Pacific (Hong Kong, November).


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