Sustainability cosmetics sector not fit for beauty contest
For the first time, in cooperation with StoereVrouwen (translated as ‘Tough Women in a powerful way’), Rank a Brand took a look at the sustainability performance of 30 cosmetics brands. For 10 years, StoereVrouwen has been a Dutch platform and campaign agency that has encouraged consumers to realize the power of their purses by spending their money on brands and companies who they can endorse. StoereVrouwen puts sustainability on the agenda with campaigns like Natural Beauty Case, Strip for Fair Fashion, and Fair Valentine.
For this research, we looked at the performance of cosmetics brands on multiple issues in the areas of climate, environment, animal welfare, health, and labour conditions. The full report can be found here. The general finding was that, just like in most sectors, the great majority of brands still perform poorly. Luckily, there are multiple exceptions for ethical consumers.
The best performing brand is Weleda, receiving 17 out of a possible 26 points, which results in a score of 65%. With this score, the brand receives a B label, meaning it is on track towards sustainability. Weleda performs especially well in the area of environmental and health policy. The brand only uses natural ingredients for its products, and does not use possible harmful substances like synthetic fragrances. Weleda also refrains from animal testing; uses mostly renewable and/or organic ingredients; and has thorough policies in place to reduce its water footprint, material footprint, waste, and packaging.
With a score of 58%, Dr. Hauschka, Logona and Santé also receive a B label. Just like Weleda, they perform well in the area of environmental and health policy. This is achieved by initiatives including limiting the use of hazardous substances, not using petroleum-based ingredients at all, and minimizing waste (including reporting on its annual waste materials footprint). Four other brands perform reasonably well: Botanique (54%), Lavera, Living Nature, and Zao (all three with a score of 46%). For this level of performance, they achieve the C label, meaning they are on their way towards sustainability, but still have plenty room for improvement in terms of more specific reporting.
The general trend
The general performance of the industry is not something to be proud of. Out of the 30 brands, 22 received a score lower than 30%. Of these brands, 9 received the lowest possible label, the E label, meaning responsible consumers should avoid buying these brands until they show better performance. Among these worst performing brands are well-known names like Estée Lauder, Rimmel London and Aveda.
A positive note is that all brands have published some sort of policy to reduce their carbon emissions. Unfortunately, this policy is the only initiative many of these brands have undertaken in regards to climate change. About a quarter of the brands disclosed their carbon footprints. However, concrete reporting on the use of at least 25% renewable electricity was only reached by one brand: Botanique. Other brands state that they are using renewable energy as well, but reporting on type of energy as well as its sources and additionality of supply are not yet clear enough to receive full points for this criterion.
Another area where a lot of ground needs to be covered is labour conditions. As many of the ingredients come from low wage countries, brands need to take responsibility for the ethical treatment of workers in these countries. Although all of the brands scored poorly on three of the four criteria in this area (no or insufficient information is published), the majority of the brands (77%) already purchase tropical ingredients from plantations that are socially certified to have no child and/or forced labour, and provide a better living standard for the farmers, at least to some extent.
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