The cosmetics industry is quickly catching up to the trend of sustainable development. Unfortunately, without a sustainability roadmap, their efforts are often piecemeal, misguided, and even counterproductive. Below is a close look at whether it makes sense for SMEs in the cosmetics industry to become more sustainable along with some examples of how to do it right.
When the concept of sustainable brands came to prominence, it was not uncommon among corporations to view it as a barrier rather than a desirable destination to follow. Since then, it has become apparent that going sustainable is actually beneficial for business in many ways, from reduced costs of operations to increased employee engagement. However, in the case of the cosmetics industry, there are two unique considerations that need to be taken into account.
First, a significant amount of cosmetic products on the market rely on chemicals made from non-renewable resources, which poses risks to both customers’ health and the environment. In fact, cosmetics are known to have several adverse environmental effects, from deforestation to CO2 emissions – clearly not a sustainable way of doing business.
Second, brand image is a key component of success for regular as well as sustainable beauty brands, which puts the former at a severe disadvantage. In this light, a sustainability business roadmap is both a necessity and a potential competitive advantage.
One of the main challenges of creating sustainable beauty brands is the sheer scope of the undertaking. This might look especially intimidating for SMEs, to whom global-scale goals may appear insurmountable.
Fortunately, some organizations have already come up with sets of guidelines to aid the procedure. For example, Cosmetics Europe offers a ten-step framework for companies that aim to become top sustainable brands:
Find out what sustainable development is
Understand its advantages
Appoint a sustainability leader
Seek external support
Assess your company’s impact
Identify feasible directions
Create short- and medium-term strategy
Create an action plan
Implement the plan
As can be seen, none of the steps above require sizable investment or specialized knowledge of any kind and can be used by both large corporations and small enterprises.
In support of the proposed guide, Cosmetics Europe also provides several examples of companies that work to reduce their environmental impact. One of the largest sustainable skincare brands is building sustainable supply chains by measuring the impact of ingredients and coming up with formulations that prioritize biodegradable materials.
Another business strategy roadmap example is the independently validated Earthwards framework that covers seven aspects of product manufacturing:
For a product to be certified, the improvements need to be made in at least three areas. Such an encompassing approach means that improvements are visible throughout the product’s life cycle rather than in one area highlighted by a recent trendy article.
To be fair, using more natural components and recomposale packaging is not the only path to sustainability. In fact, it only covers one of the three components associated with the concept – care for the environment. For long-term growth, businesses also need to make sure that they build sustainable supply chains and their economic development is not achieved at the expense of their audience’s social capital.
Many cosmetic products are marketed as a way to delay aging, often at the cost of chemicals with dangerous side effects. Not only does it undermine the trust of consumers in the industry, it also creates a harmful public image that erodes the quality of life of the ageing population, both psychologically and physically.
While sustainable perfume brands double down on unrealistic portrayal of eternal youth, there’s already a noticeable interest in how to promote healthy aging among forward-thinking SMEs. The most feasible direction to fulfill the social aspect of sustainability is to offer products for health protection while also not shying away from aging in promotional materials.
A less obvious, yet equally important aspect is the cultivation of the sustainability mindset among the company’s employees. This can be done in a number of ways, from encouraging waste reduction in the office to reporting about the success of the sustainable supply chain to organizing thematic corporate activities. While this might seem unrelated, it actually creates a workplace culture conducive to sustainable solutions and ideas and ensures a lasting effect.
Sustainability is still not a requirement in the strict sense. However, it is already so important for success that skipping on it is more costly than taking action. In this light, an SME with a sustainability roadmap not only gets a headstart by winning the public sympathy but also establishes the foundation for long-term efficiency.
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