Tuesday, November 18, 2014Congress reports

Cosmetics and sustainable development: everyone wins!

© Thinkstock/L'Observatoire des Cosmétiques

Beauty and Society: this was one the themes dealt with at the 28th IFSCC congress held on 27-30 October 2014 in Paris, with a whole day of conferences ending with a symposium organized by L’Oréal on the same topic… Or how the cosmetics sector is becoming aware of its responsibility regarding the planet’s sustainable development, and is working out solutions to face its related challenges.

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The issue is the same for all the speakers who took part in this day of conferences: the planet Earth’s population is growing exponentially, while its available resources are constantly depleting. If nothing is done, or too late, it will be a catastrophe.
And as an industry, the cosmetics sector bears some of the responsibility, both in the current situation and in the effort to elaborate strategies to improve it. Sustainable development is a concept no one can afford to ignore anymore, whether it be as part of the global philosophy of a company, or in the actions it should take to make it take shape.

Sustainable development? To Thomas Welss, of Henkel, it is ‘the conjunction of the satisfaction of today’s needs without jeopardizing that of future generations.’
To William Russell, Professor at the University of Columbia, USA and one of the directors of the Transitioning to Green consulting firm, who was in charge of the opening conference on that day, it is a pressing need: ‘Every year, we consume 50% more resources than we produce’, he said.
Then he reminded everyone of the challenges of sustainability.

Sustainability and suffering

What is the situation right now?
For this former chemist, now a green apostle to the point he made his commitment his new job, today there are several listening and knowledge levels when it comes to our planet’s call for help.
One can simply choose not to hear it or listen with a narrow mind (and accept to hear the messages or not), listen with an open mind, no preconceived ideas, and empathy, or listen, hear, and take action.
One can also not know they do not know (and thus be unconsciously incompetent to solve problems), know they do not know (and be consciously incompetent), not know they know (and be unconsciously competent), or know they know (and be consciously competent).

To William Russell, consciences are urging to be awakened, because the great majority of us are still ‘consciously incompetent’: ‘We are actually going beyond the Earth’s limits by acting powerless and withdrawing, we keep consuming more and more, and we keep wanting to have more to become someone else; business is profitable, but not fair. The paradigm must be reversed: we should be present and watchful, we should act out of passion, and only with a view to live a better life’.

However, things are changing, according to this expert, who describes the awakening to sustainable development as a journey with different stops: pre-awareness, awakening, intention, action, commitment, continuous improvement, until transformation.
‘The change is coming’, William Russell asserted, ‘in particular with the emergence of the “Business for good” movement, which is replacing “Business for profit”’. The change is coming, but not fast enough’.

And the consequences can be measured in terms of climate change, harm to ecosystems, impacts on resources, food insecurities, depletion of energy resources (especially oil) and water, population increase, accelerated urbanization, deforestation…
All this has and will have a strong impact on business, William Russell warned as he listed price volatility and increase (of raw materials in particular), the negative consequences of the lack of resources on production, changes in consumer preferences, and the implementation of new regulations.

Sustainability and opportunity

But the expert meant to be reassuring and not indulge in defeatism. Indeed, all this can be seen from the angle of risk, but also of opportunity! ‘The industry can develop efficient strategies to take into account the risks while taking advantage of opportunities’, he declared. As for risks (if nothing is done): restrictive laws, destabilized markets, social impacts, legal procedures, and a soiled reputation… As for opportunities (if we commit to sustainable development): a better brand image, a driver for innovation and more knowledge, the emergence of both new products and services and new markets, a cost reduction…

And to William Russell, companies will inevitably change: he reminded that ‘in 1975, 82% of the value of a company was based on its financial results, 18% on its reputation. Today, things are reversed, tangible and financial data only account for 20%, while brand image and responsible positioning weigh 80%!’
Some companies in the cosmetics sector have understood that perfectly well, he added, before mentioning the sustainable commitment of leading groups such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, or L’Oréal.

Sustainable development can rhyme with prosperity for a company, he insisted, in particular by means of a new approach to innovation, such as the Cradle-to-Cradle strategy, according to which it should be possible to produce the same manufactured product after the original one was recycled. William Russell thus recommends drawing inspiration from a tree which grows, produces oxygen, creates a habitat for animal species to live in, stores carbon and fixes nitrogen, distils water, produces a fertile soil, uses solar energy to produce food, refreshes the atmosphere through evaporation phenomena, adapts to seasons, and plants its seeds to reproduce itself.
‘Sustainable development is at the crossroads of three fundamentals for an industry: individuals, the planet and its resources, and profit. And everyone wins, with health, well-being, equity, happiness, and a future’, he commented.
‘We should take into account the Earth’s call’, he concluded. ‘Now’.

Sustainability and practice

As for the how, the industry’s speakers came to talk about their own experiences. For example, Thomas Welss, of Henkel, presented the concept of Sustainovation. What is the principle? Do more with less: less water, less waste, less energy, for more progress, life quality, and value. The objective: be three times as efficient by reducing the carbon footprint.
In practice, he explained, each phase in the life cycle of a new product is considered in terms of its environmental impact: a cold process during production, a leave-on product for the use phase, reduced packaging to decrease both the need for raw materials and transport costs, improved galenics to gain naturalness without losing efficacy…

Henkel has developed a dry shampoo under the Syoss brand and compared its environmental footprint to that of a liquid shampoo. The result? A bit more impact with its raw materials, but much less when it is used, as it requires no water or energy to warm it up, contrary to a standard shampoo. So on top of being considered by consumers as convenient and economical, the environmental balance of this product is absolutely positive.

Thomas Welss concluded his presentation on the importance of educating consumers, who also are actors and polluters and who have the power to considerably reduce the environmental impact of a shampoo or a shower gel with simple gestures like turning down the water temperature or flow in the shower.
Henkel has produced a series of short films, such as the one entitled Water for the Penguin, which stages a man in his shower and, on the other side of the planet, a thirsty penguin. When the man understands his long, strongly flowing shower prevents the animal from drinking, he changes his behaviour, stops the water when soaping, and replaces his shower head by a smaller one… and the penguin can start drinking again!
It is simple, almost a child’s play… but above all, it is very efficient. ‘We chose to touch people’s hearts to be able to reach their minds’, Thomas Welss explained. No doubt this is also very efficient to improve their brand image.
And these images also illustrate William Russell’s premise: everyone wins!

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