Sustainable is word that gets thrown around a lot in the beautysphere. We talk about sustainable packaging, sustainable manufacturing processes and sustainable ingredients all of the time. In fact, you’d be hard done to find a beauty brand that isn’t calling itself sustainable in one way or another in 2021.
But the truth is, use of the word sustainable isn’t actually regulated. Yep, that means beauty brands can claim anything they please as sustainable without having to prove it. Shocking, right? And while there is no doubt that more eco-friendly beauty products are coming into the space (especially in terms of recyclable packaging, zero-waste products and plastic alternatives), there is still one very large issue looming.
You see, when we talk about sustainable practices, what we’re mostly talking about are ways to help save the planet from the devastating effects of climate change, most notably by reducing our carbon emissions. You see, carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) produced by us on the planet, trap radiation in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in climate change.
And while the small steps the beauty industry is making to help tackle waste (processing waste through recycling, burning and shipping to landfill is a huge contributing factor to emissions) are no doubt commendable, as the world gears up for net zero emissions by 2050, experts are warning that not only is that goal unachievable should we carry on at our current rate, but also that 2050 is likely too late.
Alok Sharm, president-designate of the United Nations Climate Change Conference recently said: “Our message to every country, government, business and part of society is simple. The next decade is decisive for climate action. We all need to follow the science and embrace our responsibilities.” Scientists are now warning we do not have the luxury of working towards gradual reduction of emissions, but instead need to focus on a drastic reduction in the immediate future.
And with statistics showing that the beauty industry produces 120 billion units of packaging across the globe each year, you better believe it’s got an important role to play in hurrying the net zero target along. In fact, supply is still yet to catch up with the recent surge in demand for beauty brands trying to locate sustainable manufacturers, meaning that a lot of our seemingly ‘sustainable’ products are actually being shipped for faraway shores. This raises the question: how sustainable does the packaging have to be to justify the shipping emissions?
It’s important here to fully comprehend what the term ‘net zero’ means. It is virtually impossible for us to live modern life without contributing to carbon emissions – nature cannot, as a rule, give us something for nothing. The term ‘net zero’ refers to the concept of removing equal amounts of carbon for the atmosphere as are being produced. Sounds good, right? Only, it’s a lot easier to understand than it is to carry out.
The good news is that some beauty brands are already certified carbon neutral. By joining carbon neutral schemes, beauty brands are turning to clean energy supplies or offsetting their footprint through partnering with programmes that work to plant trees and ‘soak up’ carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Although it’s worth nothing it is still a shockingly small number of brands – and brands that make up a tiny piece of the beauty pie. The IPCC (a body of scientists convened by the UN) has produced a report making it clear that science will inevitably dictate how effective efforts are at combatting climate change – making the marketing of sustainability defunct. The crux of the issue, it warns, is emissions.
And while carbon neutrality is certainly the next step for the majority of beauty brands out there, those already doing their bit are now working towards carbon negative practises, and it could be the change needed to help hasten the net zero target. Carbon negative brands are actually working to offset more carbon emissions than they are responsible for producing. In fact some brands are going as far to double offset their emissions.
To celebrate these efforts (and do the planet a favour while we’re at it), here are the brands working towards becoming carbon negative, as well as those that are already there: