The first time Americans rallied en masse to demand that environmental protection become part of the national political conversation was on April 22, 1970. A tremendous oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara had ravaged marine wildlife one year earlier, and public awareness was heightened to the realities of water, air and land pollution. Thus Earth Day was born, and the holiday is now observed on the same date each year. We’ve evolved since the era of environmentalism as an alt-left, social-justice movement; yet, conscientious citizens know that when it comes to defending our planet’s health, the work has just begun.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, containers used to make personal care and beauty products account for 30 percent of landfill waste. Another ugly truth: Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year, eight million gets dumped into the ocean, says the Plastic Oceans Foundation, and over 40 percent of all plastics are created to craft packaging. Such figures are staggering, but beauty companies have taken notice. The latest craze to sweep our industry is tinted green, as stores and brands strive to minimize carbon footprints in significant–and increasingly creative–ways.
BACK TO BASICS
“Ingredient sourcing is where it starts,” says Kristine Keheley, co-founder of Vapour Organic Beauty, a luxury makeup line boasting natural, chemical-free components. “One of our main missions is to support global organic farming, which reduces pesticides in soil, air and water tables and is therefore key to both human and environmental health.”
“Shoppers have been proven to purchase goods from brands that are advocates of ethical issues versus those that don’t value on such points.”
–Katrina Poulos, public relations coordinator, Lush
Moreover, Keheley makes it her personal quest to individually research all ingredients and ensure they are of the purest quality. “It takes detective work and diligence to uncover origins and determine which components are best fits in terms of performance and sustainability,” she notes. Yet, the results are worth the effort. From lotion to deodorant to lipstick, every Vapour item to hit shelves contains a minimum of 70 percent organic plant material–a high, self-set standard.
Kahina Giving Beauty is noteworthy not only for centering its offerings around 100 percent organic argan oil, but also for the fair-trade methods by which its brand founders ethically source this key element. “After discovering argan in Morocco 10 years ago, I wanted to provide the pur- est, most unadulterated and minimally processed version of this amazing plant with a focus on elevating the individuals who do the hard work of extracting it,” explains CEO Katharine L’Heureux. Berber women from small family farms or wom- en’s cooperatives are justly compensated, while their traditional agricultural techniques remain respected and preserved.
In general, consumers are becoming more eco-conscious. “Shoppers have been proven to purchase goods from brands that are advocates of ethical issues versus those that don’t place value on such points,” reveals Katrina Poulos, public relations coordinator for Lush cosmetics. In fact, a 2017 Harris Poll survey found that buying green beauty is important to 59 percent of women over age 35, while a whopping 73 percent of millennial women actively seek out eco items.
Renowned hairstylist Fabian Lliguin tapped into this zeitgeist when founding Amazon Beauty, which heroes rahua oil valued by Quechua-Shuar tribe women of the Amazon for its beautifying properties. The products are also highly concentrated, which further promotes conservation since a little application goes a long way when delivering results.
Other brands focus on the materials used to fabricate tools. For example, Aveda’s makeup pencils have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit promoting responsible management of our world’s trees. Their Flax Sticks blush brushes combine bristles made from recycled office paper, cardboard, plastics, metals and aluminum cans with 30 percent natural flax fiber.
But retailers beware; use of the word “natural” can be misleading. By definition, it means existing in or formed by nature– which may apply to many materials, like petroleum sometimes found in sunscreen or formaldehyde added to nail polish. In other words, “natural” does not automatically translate to “good for you.”
The same goes for misuse of the term “organic.” While the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates such claims made on farm crops, there’s no equivalent federal control standard when it comes to cosmetics. A 2016 Mellman Group poll found that two-thirds of consumers believe cosmetics have been FDA-reviewed for proven safety before hitting markets. The truth is, the FDA runs no such tests and has, to date, banned a total of only nine harmful chemicals. (In comparison, Europe’s no-use list tallies more than 1,300 nasty unnaturals.)
The national Environmental Working Group maintains a Skin Deep database detailing toxicity ratings of commercial skin products, which indicates that over 5,000 items–roughly 20 percent of today’s formulations–use “organic” as a descriptor despite incorporation of risky or hidden additives. So, it goes without saying that the best way for you to determine a truly organic brand remains the simplest: read. The Harris Poll also reports that 55 percent of women over 35, plus 62 percent of millennials, pore over product info prior to purchase to steer clear of unwanted noxious ingredients.
PACK IT UP
Beauty may be only skin deep, but attention should nevertheless be paid to packaging– or lack thereof. For instance, Lush formulates “naked” products including shower gels, body lotions and lip tints that are solid (plus, they’re up to three times more concentrated than their liquid counterparts) and thus require zero wrapping. In similar fashion, last spring, waste-management experts Lauren Singer and Daniel Silverstein launched a New York City-based pop-up shop (now permanently open) called Package Free, which sells sustainable alternatives to standard health and beauty goods. Inspiringly, all the trash Singer has generated over the past five years could fit into a 16-ounce Mason jar, which lands her squarely at the forefront of the green revolution. While not every retailer can aspire to the same goal, it is smart business to take steps to lessen waste.
Companies like Estée Lauder are getting hip with another trend that’s fast becoming an industry norm. Called lightweighting, it’s the practice of slimming the weight and shape of a jar, tube or bottle while still preserving the product’s original volume. Ditto with designing packages expressly for recycling ease. “Opting for environmentally friendly materials that can be repurposed is the second big way beauty can aim to keep its footprint small,” L’Heureux encourages. Glass, paper cartons and PET plastic, the most universally recycled of its kind, are good places to start.
When Ericka Rodriguez launched Axiology, her line of vegan, organic, richly saturated lipsticks, she was committed to the tenet that every aspect of production and distribution be ecologically beneficial. In Bali, Indonesia, the entrepreneur found a female- run company working wonders with trash. “After realizing that their waste-disposal options were ‘toss it in the ocean or burn it,’ these women took it upon themselves to collect used paper from schools, hotels and offices, boil it, lay it in the sun to dry and fashion new paper,” Rodriguez says. Today that cardboard is hand-folded into Axiology’s makeup boxes.
Equally exciting innovation is happening at Vapour, where stick applicators are made from aluminum, one of Earth’s most recyclable materials, and unit boxes are printed with soy ink on post-consumer recycled cartons. “In 2018, we’re thrilled to be moving into glass containers for our bottled liquids,” shares Keheley. The New Mexico-based manufacturing facility also uses solar energy and wind power as integral parts of their energy supply. But here’s where they truly shine: The plant is anhydrous, or waterless. “At an altitude of 7,000 feet, our headquarters are perched in a beautiful desert environment where water is a precious commodity,” Keheley says. “By deciding to be anhydrous, we’re supporting one of our most precious local resources.”
It’s a dynamic time for technological advancement with beauty companies dabbling in the fields of bioplastics and bioresins, wherein packaging is made from compostable substances like sugar and corn. Case in point: Cover FX’s Pressed Mineral Foundation comes housed in a biodegradable corn resin jar. New York-based company Ecovative is also working on a plan to swap plastic foam with materials made from mushroom roots.
CALL TO ACTION
In an effort to turn passive customers into active soldiers in the war on waste, numerous companies now feature programs that reward eco efforts. MAC and Aveda both comp consumers with free product samples in return for taking part in their recycling plans. Lush calls on shoppers to send back their signature black pots containing product like cleanser and shampoo after they’re consumed. For every five containers returned, guests get a free face mask. What’s more, some of the plastic in those pots is made from rubbish floating around the shorelines of Vancouver, near Lush’s North American headquarters. “Together, with nonprofit group Ocean Legacy Foundation, we’re able to collect tons of plastic, which is rigorously tested and converted into high-quality pellets that are combined with other post-consumer waste to make our bottles and black pots,” Poulos says. Research shows that younger Generation Z consumers respond especially well to such inclusive marketing tactics; thus, in terms of sales, it’s a double win for brands.
Amazon Beauty is likewise active in on-the-ground initiatives aimed at preserving the rainforest and its indigenous peoples. “I regularly travel into Amazonian tribal lands to calculate the amount of standing trees our company has helped save and better determine methods of supporting reforestation programs both locally and worldwide,” Lliguin shares. By supporting sustainable trade practices and basic human rights, Lliguin and Anna Ayers, his wife and the company’s co-founder, are not advocating for improvement from afar, but rather hopping into the trenches via guerilla tactics meant to effect real policy change.
The sad truth is that beauty has historically offended as a big polluter. “While non-sustainable farming depletes natural resources and disrupts ecosystems, toxic chemicals, plus plastics that don’t break down, get washed down drains to contaminate our rivers and water systems or threaten marine biodiversity,” L’Heureux points out.
Many consumers discard items and forget them, believing that once tossed, they’re gone for good. But the reality is diametrically different. “Whether in landfills or the ocean, there’s a story to where all trash ends up,” Rodriguez says.
Lliguin believes in the need for a fundamental economic shift: “The financial equation should be less pollution equals more profits.” And on this front, women are leading the charge. A 2017 Green Beauty Barometer poll by Kari Gran Skin Care found that 69 percent of women ages 35 to 54 believe buying eco-friendly products is important, while 37 percent plan to purchase more green beauty over the next two years.
Waste’s alarming facts serve as an eco call to action.
- 254 MILLION TONS: The total amount of garbage generated by Americans each year.
- 38 BILLION: The amount of plastic bottles discarded in the U.S. annually.
- 450 YEARS: The time it takes the average plastic to biodegrade.
- 75 MILLION TONS: The total annual amount of waste from packaging and containers.
- 1 BILLION: The number of toothbrushes tossed in the U.S. yearly–enough to stretch around the Earth four times.
- 2,000: The number of active landfills in the U.S.
- 10 TO 1,000 YEARS: The time it takes for plastic bags to decompose.
- 30 TO 40 DAYS: How often we discard our own weight in packaging.
- 2050: The year by which waste plastic is projected to outweigh the number of fish in the sea.
- ETERNITY: The time needed for Styrofoam to biodegrade.
BEAUTY YOU CAN FEEL GOOD ABOUT
Stock these eco-friendly brands in your store for your Earth-conscious consumers.
Kahina Giving Beauty: Through educational initiatives and proper argan oil extraction, Kahina aims to reduce the burden on Moroccan argan forests; kahina-givingbeauty.com
Vapour Organic Beauty: With high-performing formulas made from organic ingredients, Vapour blends art with alchemy. Combining skin care with makeup, Vapour’s products feature concentrated, moisturizing formulas bursting with antioxidants; vapourbeauty.com
Amazon Beauty: Dry strands spring back to life when nourished with Amazon Beauty’s Rahua Elixir. The serum is ethically sourced from the Peruvian Amazon, bringing sustainable income to local communities; rahua.com
Axiology: Perfect for spring, Axiology's Attitude glides on as hot hibiscus-pink lipstick with blushes of blue undertones. All-natural ingredients keep pucker-ups moisture-loaded, while a portion of annual profits benefit partners like Orangutan Foundation International, dedicated to the conservation of animals and their rainforest habitats; axiologybeauty.com