The European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit , held in Paris last month, brought together over 180 senior executives from the beauty industry to discuss a range of pressing sustainability issues.

Here, the event’s organiser, Ecovia Intelligence, summarises the key takeaways. 

1. Prioritising sustainability issues. The sustainability remit is now covering a wide range of issues in the cosmetic and personal care industry, encompassing health aspects, ecological impacts, and social issues. A major challenge for operators is to decide what issues to focus on. According to Susan Curtis from Neal’s Yard Remedies, companies should make decisions based on where they create most impacts. The organic personal care company has decided to focus on organic and safe ingredients, energy and climate change, non-animal testing methods, and packaging. 

2. Prominence of biodiversity. Rik Kutsch Lojenga from the Union for Ethical BioTrade showed that consumer awareness of biodiversity continues to rise. Awareness is rising fastest in Asia, with consumers in China and Vietnam having over 90% biodiversity awareness. A growing number of consumers are expecting companies to source natural ingredients with respect for biodiversity and people. 

3. Sustainable sourcing. Originating from natural (agricultural-based and wild- harvested) ingredients, a diverse range of materials are now sustainably sourced in the personal care industry. At the summit, several examples were given of such materials; they included shea nuts, food crops, seaweed, biopolymer feedstock, as well as packaging waste. The development is leading to a new generation of sustainability schemes and standards being introduced. 

4. Widening range of green materials. The palette of green raw materials continues to expand as cosmetic and ingredient firms invest in new feedstock, processes, and novel ingredients. Many new green materials were presented at the summit, including green alternatives to glycols, synthetic preservatives, silicones, petrolatums, lanolin and film formers. Genomatica, DuPont, EFP Biotek, and Covestro are among companies developing such green materials. 

“The palette of green raw materials continues to expand as cosmetic and ingredient firms invest in new feedstock, processes, and novel ingredients”

5. Food waste as an ingredient source. A number of cosmetic companies are now using food byproducts as a raw material source. Richard Blackburn from Dr. Craft showed how it has created a novel range of natural hair dyes using blackcurrant skins, leftover from Ribena drink production. BASF gave details on how it has set up organic gardens in Vietnam to grow rambutan. The waste from rambutan fruit is used to make COSMOS- approved skin care and hair care ingredients. 

6. Traceability of ingredients. The growing use of natural and organic ingredients in cosmetic products brings fraud risks. Aina Querioz from Seqens explained how blockchain technology provides traceability in ingredient supply chains. Initially adopted by the food industry, take-up rates of blockchain technology are expected to rise in the cosmetics industry. 

7. Re-thinking product design. Professor Dr. Michael Braungart, Co-Founder of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, called for a re-think of traditional design theory. The green visionary called for cosmetic firms to create products that make a positive difference to the planet, rather than focusing on reducing impacts. He called for products to be designed for a ‘Cradle to Cradle economy’. 

8. Product impacts. L’Oreal showed how it is using life-cycle analysis to measure the impacts of its products. According to Laurent Gilbert, most environmental impacts are at the consumer use and end-of-life stages. The cosmetics multinational is using Sustainable Product Optimisation Tool (SPOT), which is enabling it to improve the environmental and social impact of its products. Biotherm Waterlovers and Vichy Aqualia Thermal were cited as examples of products that have improved formulations by using SPOT. 

9. Role of retailers. Retailers can play an important role in pushing the green agenda. Yoni van Houten from the Dutch retail chain Albert Heijn gave details of its sustainability initiatives, including the sourcing of ingredients, paper and packaging. The retailer has committed to sustainable palm oil, responsible mica, and shea butter; it plans to reduce the weight of its packaging by 25%, and aims to have 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. It is also actively marketing organic personal care products under its Care private label. 

10. Complexity of packaging. According to Jocelyne Ehret from The Right Packaging, we should not ‘demonise’ plastic packaging because of consumer awareness of plastic pollution. She pointed out that plastic packaging plays an important role in protecting, transporting and storing cosmetic products. She called for better end-of-life options for existing packaging materials and changes in consumer behaviour, rather than simply moving away from existing packaging formats. 

“Jocelyne Ehret from The Right Packaging warned agains ‘demonising’ plastic packaging”

11. Sustainable packaging materials. A number of packaging alternatives to plastics were presented at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit. Thomas Eidloth from Heinz-Glas showed how glass packaging was regaining popularity because it was recyclable and had less impact on ecosystems. Natureworks and Arkema gave details on how their bio-based materials can be used to make product packaging. Arkema is making polyamide from castor oil, whilst NatureWorks is making polylactic acid from corn sugars. Lee Mann explained how The Body Shop is working with waste pickers in India to collect ‘fairly traded’ plastic to use in its shampoo and conditioner bottles. 

12. Going packaging-free. Nick Gumery from Lush urged brands to go ‘naked’ – that’s to say, packaging-free. About half the products of the ethical cosmetics firm were now sold without packaging. Lush is also working with local farmers in Portugal to produce cork to use as product pots. The biodegradable material is carbon positive as it sequestrates carbon dioxide. 

About the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit
Since 2009, the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit has been covering sustainability issues in the cosmetic & personal care industry. The international series of summits now takes place in the major geographic regions of the world. The European edition was hosted at the Paris Marriott Champs-Elysées on 4-6th November. More information is available from