Thought Leadership

‍Climate-friendly beauty: 5 ways brands can cut carbon emissions‍

Published on
September 15, 2022
Tim Slater

Last year, as the build up to COP26 ignited public interest in corporate climate action, Harper’s Bazaar cited ‘carbon neutrality’ as “the new green beauty frontier.” Terms like ‘net zero’, ‘carbon negative’, ‘climate positive’ have also quickly become part of the lexicon both within and beyond the beauty and wellness world. However, whilst we’re not short of terminology, many brands still lack clarity on both why and how to address their carbon footprint. In this article, we’ll touch on the need for action before digging into 5 practical strategies that beauty brands can use to reduce their emissions. 

What are carbon emissions and why should beauty brands care?

Greenhouse gases – including carbon emissions – produced by human activities are the most significant driver behind climate change. In order to prevent the worst excesses of the climate emergency, we need businesses to radically reduce their carbon emissions. 

The beauty industry may not be the worst offender, but it nevertheless has a responsibility to tackle its impact on the climate, and we’re seeing brand groups like L'Oréal and Estee Lauder Companies respond by making bold pledges.

How beauty brands can reduce their carbon footprint

Today, a growing number of beauty brands avoid the use of palm oil – an ingredient that’s infamous for emissions as a major driver of deforestation. But beyond avoiding especially carbon-intensive ingredients like palm oil (or substituting for responsible palm oil) what can beauty brands do to reduce their emissions? 

Read on for 5 practical solutions for beauty brands to implement to reduce their impact on the climate.

1. Switch to more climate-friendly packaging

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, packaging is a key lever at businesses’ disposal, not least because it’s an area where many brands still have direct control.

By using recycled materials in their packaging, for example, brands can use less energy in manufacturing. Beauty brands can also reduce their emissions by minimising packaging and avoiding unnecessary secondary packaging.

Plenaire is driving down emissions with recyclable packaging

Which brands are doing it well?

Plenaire is a certified carbon neutral beauty brand which has reduced its emissions in part by designing their packs to be compact, as well as eliminating liners where possible to limit emissions in delivery. Beyond this, Plenaire’s shipper materials, cartons, liners and board are fully recyclable. Check out their Droplet Lightweight Moisture Gel and click on their Carbon Neutral and Widely Recyclable Packaging Proof Points to learn more.

2. Embed positive farming practices

Brands can hugely reduce their carbon footprint by addressing the farming and cultivation practices in their supply chain, and specifically by moving towards organic and regenerative farming methods.

Considering how far removed farming practices might be from product manufacturing, certifications like Soil Association Cosmos Organic are often the safest way to ensure positive practices. 

Which brands are doing it well?

Evolve Organic Beauty’s range includes 60 certified organic ingredients, which helps to sequester an average of 3.5 tonnes of extra CO2 per hectare when compared to conventional farming methods. Check out their Gentle Cleansing Melt, which is certified COSMOS Organic by ECOCERT.

Natural skincare brand Emma Lewisham are implementing regenerative farming as part of a wider strategy to reduce emissions throughout their supply chain. They are now working with two farms in Switzerland who implement regenerative, organic practices. Take a look at their Illuminating Exfoliant, which is certified Toitu Climate Positive.

Investing in organic farming methods is helping Evolve reduce their carbon footprint

3. Consider upcycled ingredients

Brands are increasingly turning to upcycled ingredients as a way to reduce their products’ footprint. From orange peels to coffee grinds, this approach turns waste ingredients into new functional ingredients, thereby minimising resource consumption and emissions. 

Which brands are doing it well?

Graydon Skincare’s raspberry seed oil, blueberry seed oil and oat oil are by-products of the juicing industry. This means seeds that would otherwise have been discarded are extracted from the pulp and pressed to extract oil. Check out their Berry Rich Face + Eye Cream, which features their upcycled raspberry seed oil.

4. Develop waterless products

Most traditional skincare formulations contain between 60% and 80% water, but waterless products are rapidly growing in popularity and are a highly effective way for brands to reduce carbon emissions. 

Put simply, these lighter and more compact products require less energy and fuel in transport. They also require less packaging, leading to further emissions saving opportunities. 

SBTRCT skincare is one of a growing number of brands reducing their climate impact with waterless products

Which brands are doing it well?

Waterless products now account for an impressive 23% of the personal care market in the US, with interest growing in the UK and Europe. One leading player is SBTRCT, whose foaming bars are made of less than 0.5% water. Their solid Moisturising Facial Balm emits less carbon than liquid equivalents thanks to lower emissions at the production stage as well as its minimal packaging.

5. Cut carbon from your operations

Tips 1-4 were ways in which brands can reduce emissions generated in the upstream and downstream value chain (or ‘Scope 3’ emissions). Although tackling these Scope 3 emissions provides the biggest opportunity for brands to reduce their carbon footprint, it's important to minimise emissions at an operational level too. 

This includes emissions from direct operations (‘Scope 1’) and indirect emissions from the energy they buy (‘Scope 2’). Brands can make these reductions by increasing energy efficiency and sourcing renewable energy sources.

Which brands are doing it well?

Davines uses 99.7% electricity from renewable sources in their production plant and all commercial offices worldwide, except for Mexico.

Haeckels uses 100% Renewable Electricity at their Margate headquarters, production facility and shop. Learn more and see the evidence by clicking the Renewable Energy Proof Point on their Bio+ Energiser Shampoo.

Switching to renewable energy sources is another way for brands to cut their emissions

What about carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is where brands remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. The common example of this is planting trees, but other offset examples include providing communities with clean cooking solutions or developing renewable energy projects. 

Brands should be careful not to treat carbon removal as a substitute for reduction – it should always be the final part of a carbon management plan. That said, offsetting has a valid role in the fight against climate change. 

Beauty and wellness brands that are offsetting their carbon emissions include Tropic, who measure and offset the carbon emissions caused by their operations and corporate value chain, including double offsetting their company emissions by funding projects in Brazil and Indonesia. Elsewhere, Pukka Herbs are backing offset projects alongside their carbon removal strategy. 

Why climate conscious beauty brands will reap the rewards

Today’s beauty and wellness brands have an opportunity to lead the fight on carbon.

Recyclable packaging, vegan and even organic claims are becoming standard practice in the beauty and wellness space. But when it comes to carbon-related claims, the beauty industry as a whole is moving comparatively slowly. Provenance’s own Proof Point data clearly shows that climate-related claims are much rarer than claims about waste, nature, workers or community impact.

However, the climate emergency is widely recognised as the most pressing issue of our generation and shoppers will increasingly be looking to brands to take a lead on the issue. This represents a huge opportunity for differentiation and leadership. Brands who do the work to tackle their carbon emissions today will surely reap the commercial rewards in the near future.

For brands that are already making progress, find out how Provenance can help you market your carbon strategy in a way that shoppers understand and love.

Tim Slater

Tim Slater is the Marketing Lead at Provenance. He works closely with our Impact team to translate their expertise into actionable content that helps brands minimise their impact on people and planet and avoid greenwashing.

The Provenance Team

Provenance powers sustainability claims you can trust. The global leader in sustainability marketing technology, Provenance helps brands and retailers share credible, compelling and fact-checked social and environmental impact information at the point of sale. Provenance’s technology is already increasing conversion rates, brand value and market share for customers including Cult Beauty, Douglas, GANNI, Napolina, Arla and Unilever

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