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What about cosmetic sustainability?

More than 35 years have passed since, in the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland Report), the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. A concept based on three pillars - economic development, environmental protection, and social responsibility - and which has never been so current. 

All activities and products that we use in our daily lives have an impact on planet sustainability and cosmetic products are no exception, from their conception to their disposal. Fortunately, the concept of sustainable beauty is increasingly rooted in company policies and in the minds of consumers with a growing demand on the part of manufacturers for more sustainable raw materials, manufacturing processes and packaging solutions, and on the part of consumers for products whose impact on the environment is reduced.  

As far as the cosmetic industry is concerned, we have been witnessing the implementation of a broad range of strategies to improve the sector's sustainability, as reported by Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association for the cosmetics and personal care industry, in its Environmental Sustainability Report

  • Environmental and social criteria are increasingly considered when sourcing ingredients and packaging materials. Example of this is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), formed in 2004 to minimise the negative impact of palm oil production on the local environment, wildlife and communities, and the Responsible Mica Initiative (RMI), a global coalition of organisations committed to establishing fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chains. Deforestation is being minimised and steps are taken to ensure that biodiversity is conserved.
  • Efficient processes and technologies are progressively being used during manufacturing to reduce the consumption of energy and water and to minimise emissions, pollution, and waste. Where possible, energy is derived from renewable sources. In terms of pollution, plastic marine litter has been one of the most discussed topics in recent years but data gathered from Cosmetics Europe members showed that between 2012 and 2017, 97.6% of plastic microbeads used for cleansing and exfoliating in wash-off cosmetic and personal care products were phased out. 
  • To reduce the emissions from transport, cosmetics companies are adapting their distribution practices by shifting their transportation from road to rail and from air to sea or introducing hybrid or electric vehicles. Using larger container trucks and introducing new ‘compact’ products has also helped to reduce the total number of journeys required.
  • Given that a large share of the environmental footprint of many cosmetic products arises during use and subsequent disposal, the cosmetics industry is increasingly looking at ways to engage consumers, also via digital media. Many companies’ websites provide suggestions and tips for consumers on ways to reduce household water use, for example.

The most recent industry action towards cosmetic sustainability also came from Cosmetics Europe, which launched on December 7, 2022, the Commit for Our Planet initiative, with the goal to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint in Europe. This initiative encourages all cosmetics and personal care companies to take part in a joint industry effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve packaging solutions and act for nature.  

Many efforts are also being made in terms of regulation, within the scope of the European Green Deal and, particularly, the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability whose pillars are based on the protection of citizens and the environment and on the promotion of innovation for the development of safe and sustainable chemicals, which led to the revision of the regulations that legislate chemical and cosmetic products. On August 2022, a Draft Implementing Act to restrict intentionally added microplastics under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation has also been published by the European Commission. 

From the selection of raw materials to managing the impact on the distribution chain, through the choice of renewable and biodegradable packaging and waste management, cosmetic companies have been showing an increasing interest and commitment towards sustainability but it is also our duty as consumers and inhabitants of our planet, to make responsible choices, be more conscious in our actions and guarantee the future of the next generations. 



Cosmetics Europe. Driving Sustainable Development 

Cosmetics Europe. Environmental Sustainability: the European Cosmetics Industry’s Contribution. 2019 

Cosmetics Europe. Commit for Our Planet – Press Release. 7 December 2022, Brussels 

Cosmetics Europe. Commit for Our Planet 

Bom, S. & Jorge, J. & Ribeiro, Helena & Marto, Joana. (2019). A Step Forward on Sustainability in the Cosmetics Industry: a review. Journal of Cleaner Production. Volume 225, Pages 270-290 

Cosmetics Europe. Good Sustainability practice (GSP) for the cosmetics industry. 2012 

Personal Care Products Council (PCPC). 2021 Sustainability Report: Creating a more beautiful world. 2021 

British Beauty Council. The Courage To Change. 2020 

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