Allure Is Curtailing Its Use Of Sustainability Buzzwords. What Eco Buzzwords Do Brands Want Reconsidered?
Last week, Allure revealed it’s prohibiting the word “recyclable” to describe plastic, being very circumscribed in its use of the words “biodegradable” and “compostable,” and banning the words “earth-friendly,” “eco-friendly” and “planet-friendly” in connection with packaging, among other sustainability verbiage changes. In light of the magazine’s decisions, we asked 37 beauty brand founders and executives the following questions: What sustainability buzzwords do you think have issues?
- Ericka Rodriguez Founder, Axiology
This may be an unpopular opinion, but all buzzwords are problematic. While they're essential for helping consumers to narrow choices in a crowded marketplace, none can be taken at face value because buzzwords don't have legal definitions unless we're talking USDA certified organic and, even then, there are shades of use and meaning. Because brands and individuals can have their own interpretations of even the most popular buzzwords, we each need to dig deeper to see that a brand's definition aligns with our own values.
So, if you're looking for a plant-based formula, sure, start with the green beauty buzzword, but also carefully check the ingredients list. If you're looking for sustainable packaging, find out what the packaging is made of, if your city can recycle that size and material, and decide if you're willing to do the cleaning prep work and/or to take it to a specialty recycling or service. It's extra work, but the only way to navigate buzzwords effectively is to look for ourselves and ask questions.
- Victor Casale Co-Founder and CEO, MOB Beauty
At MOB Beauty, we avoid ambiguous language and back up our comments with facts such as industry-acknowledged certifications and efforts such as publishing our PCR material composition percentage on site, with the promise to continually improve and update the customer along the way. Clear, stripped-down education is a key focus for us.
“Recyclable” is a term that has recently come in to question in the media and industry circles. Our components are in fact recyclable, as they are PET, a No. 1 resin, which is widely accepted at local municipal facilities. We’ve taken additional measures to ensure their recyclability such as adding CarbonX, an additive alternative that ensures black plastic can be seen in infrared optical sorters, and we designed our components with a single material as mixed materials are very hard to recycle.
While our small pieces like our refills can be 100% recycled from a material perspective, they are not home recyclable because of their small size due to the current process at municipal recycling facilities. Items smaller than a yogurt cup cannot typically be recycled as they are too small to be sorted and fall through the cracks of the system.
Regarding industry verbiage that can be problematic, less ambiguous language, and more specificity and education is needed for clarity and trust with consumers. For example, “compostable” is a word that is often overgeneralized because many “compostable” materials must be commercially composted versus home composted. Further, materials that need commercial composting to break down can disrupt your home composting if discarded there and are often not recyclable materials and, therefore, should not go in your blue bin.
For materials that need to be commercially composted, the end of life requires a very specific facility that are not readily available in all cities, and many bioplastics fall into this category. We were originally planning to use one of these materials, PLA, in MOB packaging, but pivoted away once we understood the complexities of the material and the restrictions for the average consumer to be able to effectively recycle this material.
- Melodie Reynolds Founder, Elate Cosmetics
Words are incredibly powerful and, depending on how we use them, we can create opportunities for clarity or misunderstanding. When it comes to sustainability words, there is so much misinformation that gets thrown around that I think that we all need to be exceptionally careful in the words that we use as well as the descriptions of those words. Our communities trust us to be the experts and, if we are all saying different things about a topic, often unintentionally, it is so confusing to our communities.
I would say that the word “sustainable” as a whole is something that I have issues with. It is used in so many different ways and not explained. People see the word sustainable, and they just automatically assume that it is good for the planet, but there are so many facets to sustainability that need to be addressed. When we use sustainability in our language, we always take the opportunity to clarify what that means
There's also a big trend right now with waterless products. I have an issue with this because, in order for me or a product to be actually waterless, it would take so much effort that I don't know that anyone could actually do it.
As well as the term “zero waste.” There is absolutely nothing being produced right now that is zero waste. I am not saying that we won't ever achieve it, but there is no way that you can produce a product and get it to your customer without producing at least a little bit of waste along the way even if it's just wasted energy.
As always, I think that standardizing definitions within the industry would go a long way. If companies come together and agree upon what these words mean and agree to speak to these topics in the same way, then we would go a long way to educating, empowering and inspiring our customers to help us change the world.
- Jonatan Funtowicz Co-Founder and CEO, Skin Actives Scientific
Allure is definitely on the right track. I would go further, I would love to see "natural" and its dirty cousin "naturally derived" disappear. They are not synonymous with beneficial for the consumer or the environment. There are amazing companies that focus on social welfare and on the prevention of damage to unspoiled wilderness. We should do what we can to ensure their complex stories can be heard.
- Tiila Abbitt Founder, Athr Beauty
I actually think this is great and a step in the right direction. I see so many brands jumping on the sustainability marketing bandwagon without any real change. Plastic is only recycled about 9% total, with black plastic never being recycled at all because there is no secondary market for it. Glass is also less recycled than most people think at only 30%, while paper and aluminum is recycled at 65%.
It would be great if publications would focus more on brands that are utilizing 100% recycled materials, especially plastic. Brands that are sprinkling 15%, 25%, 50% PCR, are simply adding to the greenwashing of doing better with their packaging because the only reason they are not using 100% PCR is simply because they don't want to pay for it. It's cheaper to still make virgin plastic and sprinkle in a touch of PCR and call themselves sustainable.
- Irena Loloci Founder and CEO, Rena Roots
Buzzwords can be vague and confusing, but the issue for me is not necessarily the words per se, but the fact that the focus is often diluted. As a UN humanitarian worker, sustainability is something I am passionate about, and it’s frustrating when its meaning and complexity are used lightly simply because it is trendy. I see little mentioning of benchmarks such as using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to measure our steps towards sustainability. Further, when it comes to the beauty industry, sustainability often refers to improving packaging and reducing plastic waste. Although important, we cannot overlook the fact that agriculture is one of the main contributors of greenhouse gas emissions.
What can we do to make change beyond buzzwords? Reevaluate ingredient sourcing and demand transparency in the supply chain. Dig deeper into policies, demand innovation and alternative solutions from the big players, too. Get to know the “elephants” that contribute to the root cause of the problems. Education is empowering and an important step towards real change. We also need to focus more on partnerships across industries. The challenges we face are too big to be tackled alone. We need to partner more for real change and the trends, hopefully with real impact, will follow.
- Conny Wittke Founder, Superzero
We believe in transparency and that, when using sustainability verbiage, it is essential for brands to very clearly define the meaning and the commitment related to it and, then, to fully live up to that. That is especially important since there is a lack of regulation and clarity of definition for many frequently used buzz words from natural to biodegradable to sustainable to compostable, etc. At Superzero, we are always fully transparent in what we mean when we talk about sustainability. When we talk about sustainable packaging, we clearly define that as packaging that is 100% plastic-free, as cardboard packaging that contains at least partially recycled board and is fully recyclable with the paper recycling stream and as using non-toxic inks, water-based adhesives and avoiding all laminations with hidden plastics in folding cartons.
When we talk about sustainable ingredients, we define that as vegan ingredients and ingredients that are always free of microplastics with microplastics defined very widely as all polymers that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and/or toxic and not readily biodegradable in all environmental departments—so much, much wider than just microbeads. What we find very concerning is the inappropriate use of the word “sustainability” itself by many beauty brands. E.g., brands who use plastic bottles for packaging and ingredients such as dimethicone in their formulas call themselves sustainable, which I believe is very misleading and causes misinformation.
- Victoria McAbee Co-Founder, Whimsy Official
In a country where even our organic vegetables contain nanoparticles of plastic (how even?!), it's extremely difficult to be 100% eco-friendly, especially as an e-commerce brand. I do feel that brands should be more conscious of the language they use when describing their products and company operations, starting with the packaging. Just as the FDA requires evaluation to become certified organic, the FDA should also consider developing a criteria that brands must meet in order to become certified eco-friendly. In my opinion, eco-friendly doesn't mean perfect, but it does mean that a company is trying to be less harmful to the environment, which is a great place to start. However, there should certainly be regulations and requirements.
Another buzzword to look out for is “organic.” It's one thing to list organic ingredients, so long as they're truly organic, amongst non-organic ingredients, but to claim that the entire product is organic just because one to two ingredients are organic is misleading. Greenwashing is also a huge problem in the beauty and wellness space.
- Evelyn Ginossi Founder, Marine + Vine
Sustainability is a continuously evolving standard, so definitively calling something “sustainable” can be problematic. As technology evolves, so does our ability to create more sustainable solutions, but what we may see as “sustainably sourced” or “sustainably packaged” today may still require an energy output creating a carbon footprint or other significant environmental impact that we might not immediately see, so is that solution truly “sustainable”? I would actually prefer brands use words such as “earth-friendly” or “eco-friendly” with transparency and facts to support their assertion as it reflects efforts and progress towards making better environmentally minded decisions.
- Emmanuel Rey Founder and CEO, Yuni Beauty
Any buzzwords that do not correspond to measured data can be misleading or, at best, unclear and, in this regard, it is a good idea not to use them. However, that also means that the press has to educate its readers to what more complex expressions mean (think PCR, bio-resin, FSC, PLA, etc.). That might not be the easiest way to capture readers’ attention and interest."
- Siddharth Somaiya Founder, Organic Riot
There are so, so many words that are more nuanced than we think, but I wanted to start with a word which many brands use, including me. “Organic certified” is more nuanced and complicated than we think. For example, in Indonesia, due to the planting of “organic” palm for palm oil, it has led to large-scale deforestation due to which around 100,000 Bornean orangutans were killed. So, on paper, you might think you’re buying something beautifully grown, but in reality, this “organic certified” ingredient has led to the death of multiple animals, destruction of the biodiversity of a region and, on top of that, absolved itself of responsibility by adding an “organic” certified logo on the product.
I think the best way for a transparent future is to buy “organic certified” ingredients, which we know is intrinsically part of the biodiversity of the region it is grown in and not led to large-scale deforestation. Ideally, even buying “wildcrafted” ingredients, which would be the ultimate benchmark of a well-sourced raw material. So, I think, when we buy “organic” products, we should ask ourselves if those ingredients are part of the natural biodiversity of the region or not and start from there. Basically, there are no right or wrong answers, no silver bullets. It is only a matter of transparency.
- Amanda McIntosh Founder, Take My Face Off
I really like the Allure list. “Compostable” has been an incredibly misleading term, since almost everything it applies to isn’t compostable in the sense that people assume.
Specific material names are often used in a misleading way. Something I see a lot of people getting confused by is when something is labeled as “containing” bamboo, or cotton, or some other natural fiber. Especially with wipes, I see people assuming that this means the wipes are entirely composed of the fiber (when it usually means there’s a token amount of natural fiber, and the rest is spun plastic).
Another issue is actually bamboo or cotton itself—most bamboo and cotton production is quite wasteful and toxic (for people and the planet). It’s depressing to see people assuming they’re “green” and buying single-use products made of those.
Anything is better than a single-use plastic package, but the single-use bamboo and paper packages out there aren’t recyclable. They’re still ending up in a landfill.
This isn’t a buzzword, and this might seem crazy, but I’m not loving many of the refillable beauty products right now. The problem is that beauty consumers are not usually loyal to many of the products promoted as refillable. So, is the refillable aspect just a marketing ploy? If brands wanted to be more green, I see a lot of other ways those brands could reduce waste.
I’ve bought a lot of these products, and it usually amounts to even more primary and secondary packaging, and more volume, and more weight (all of which translates to greater shipping volume and fuel use). There’s one refillable moisturizer I bought that represents a net increase in waste—the initial package is huge, the volume of liquid product it contains is low, and the refills have about as much packaging as other “normal” products. This is a famous brand with resources—I was disappointed.
- Allison Teasdale CFO, Unwrapped Life
We steer clear from "natural, “all natural” and “100% natural.” They're ambiguous terms used quite often to greenwash products leading consumers to believe that chemicals—even safe chemicals—are dangerous, thus furthering fearmongering among the beauty industry. Often used to describe a plant-derived ingredient, the term "natural" is mislabeled for ingredients that are, yes, plant-derived, but also created in a lab and considered a chemical. When the term is used incorrectly, it creates an illusion of safety and is misleading as it's simply not true.
We often get questioned whether our products are "all natural" and, in our opinion, no they're not. We formulate our products with safe and effective ingredients derived from plants that provide amazing results and, yes, with ingredients created in a lab! A great step forward and something we're working towards is clearly defining our terms and what they mean to our brand, bringing more transparency through the use of our brand terms.
Disposing of waste is also a big one for us. We clearly identify how to properly dispose of all aspects of our packaging, be it recycling or composting, and when each would apply. We feel it's our responsibility to ensure all aspects of our products' end of life components—packaging, shipping materials, etc.—do the least amount of harm to our environment when being disposed of as well as how they were originally produced.
- Amber Makupson Founder, Meraki
The sustainability buzzwords that are the most misleading to me are "green," "eco-friendly" and "environmentally friendly." I think these words are too vague, and can be very misleading and confusing to the consumer. Brands should be willing to clearly articulate their initiatives towards the sustainability of the environment. This can be achieved by educating their customers on their packaging, brand websites and social media platforms. In turn, this will build confidence and trust with the brand and their products.
- Shari Siadat Founder, TooD Beauty
The word “sustainability” in and of itself is a complicated topic. If you ask 10 people what that word means to them, most likely there are 10 different versions and, to date, there are no standards or ruling authority to verify if a brand or object is sustainable. Sustainability to me is not just about maintaining current conditions, it’s about regenerating and growing back the resources so they become stronger than they were before.
We must invest in a shared responsibility, considering the environmental, economic and social impact of what we do. By committing together, we’re creating a culture together. Beyond the buzzwords and marketing gimmicks, that collective mindset is our only way of saving the planet.
- Amanda Chantal Bacon Founder, Moon Juice
The word “sustainable” itself has issues. I don’t think any brand that’s out there selling something is really sustainable. For true sustainability, we need to move into a non-capitalistic world.
As a brand that is selling stuff, we take sustainability very seriously. We put a lot of time, attention and energy behind it, but we won’t use broad strokes like “sustainable” and “earth-friendly” because they are really vague. We think it's best to focus on tangible examples. For instance, we just released compostable refill pouches for our Supers, which eliminates the use of hundreds of thousands of glass bottles and lids per year.
Everyone should be pushing their favorite brands to come from a more responsible and conscious place. The best way for companies to do this is to ditch the overarching terms and really show your work. Be transparent with what you hope to improve. Consumers have to recognize that the path is a long one and will take iterations. It can’t happen overnight.
- Efiya Asabi Founder, Iyoba
At Iyoba, we totally understand why Allure is shifting their language. As sustainability-focused buzzwords cycle in and out, we've noticed that some of the terms driving the most sales ensure the least real-world progress in our environment. Conscious consumption is only a small part of a larger eco-conservation effort and, at Iyoba, we feel responsible to paint a realistic picture with our labels.
- Shannon Davenport Founder, Esker Beauty
I'm noticing that the word “compostable” is getting thrown around a lot lately without a very clear definition of what that means and how one would actually compost packaging. Because every local handling system varies by city and state, most of the time, packaging that is labeled as compostable is most likely going to end up in the landfill with the rest of plastic waste.
Biodegradable plastics can eventually break down, but only in a special industrial facility that has very specific conditions that will allow the material to break down, and these are pretty specialized facilities. I'd love for the industry to work towards more transparency around this word, for example, helping to define biodegradable versus industrially compostable versus home compostable, which is also not the same as recyclable. To me, home compostability is the most interesting option because you can actually witness it disintegrate and become indistinguishable within the compost mix in a matter of months.
- Chase Polan Founder, Kypris
I don't have any words that I want to ban, but I do agree with limiting the use of overgeneralized or commonly misunderstood words and terms in order to make room for nuanced conversations around the many facets of sustainability that more clearly illustrate what is being accomplished.
- Beatrice Dixon Co-Founder and CEO, The Honey Pot Company
The one that I find problematic is the term "green" to define something that is implied to be better for you and better for the planet. Because of it's vague nature and ability to be applied across multiple verticals, it truly doesn't qualify as an actionable word to describe the efforts of sustainable practices. I find it to be relatively reductive and meaningless.
- Tiffany Buzzatto Founder, Dew Mighty
As quickly as we change a buzzword, three more generate in their place. Progress is occurring as beauty consumers now want to learn about “clean” ingredients largely led by retailers and brands creating no-no categories and blacklists. I have high hopes this will translate to product packaging as well as authentic company practices and values.
Some common words I find misleading are “vegan” because many assume it is plant-based when in reality the product can be synthetic or often plastic. Similarly, there is also the term “zero waste” that leads consumers to believe the product does not end up in a landfill after its completely used. These products still come in bottles, jars and tubes, so they all have pieces destined for the landfill or not meant to be easily refillable (foam seals, droppers and tamper wraps).
Educating customers to learn more on a company and making thoughtful essential purchases would be the most impactful outcome to supporting sustainability. Dew Mighty spends a lot of time creating educational information on our social platforms and website to provide transparency to our consumers, but we still fight against the 8-second attention span that fuels these buzzwords. At the end of the day, the solution that works best is to dig a little deeper, take a pause to ask questions and learn a little more before hitting the purchase button.
- Alee Cao Founder and CEO, CAO Cosmetics
The use of any sustainability buzzwords has become more of a marketing talking point rather than a true change. As brand leaders, we have the power to make choices and take action that will impact our planet positively. Our brand has made the choice since day one to use more paper materials rather than plastic and use more organic and plant-based ingredients rather than chemical and animal byproducts. Our commitment is to learn and do more each day for the world we live in.
- Arpeeta Oberai Founder, Beauteani
Sustainability buzzwords are often overused and misused when marketing products and/or services. The popularity of using these words to appeal to consumers has grown rapidly year after year. Over time, several words have gotten lost in translation because of the way we consume, relay and apply them. I find the term "eco-friendly" to be concerning, “not environmentally friendly” is an extremely vague definition, which is a reason it is not regulated. With no set standards or regulations in place, using the term "eco-friendly" to sell products/services should be discouraged. Stepping away from using common sustainable buzzwords will allow us to engage in discussions and practices that are actually environmentally focused and driven.
- Serena Rogers Founder, Curata Beauty
Sustainability is a huge concept and a challenging one to tackle—for brands big and small. Just as end consumers have to sift through false advertising and misleading claims, so do brands and their founders. Most of us know what should be done, and I believe that the vast majority of brands truly do want to have as little impact on human health, animals and the planet as possible. That said, dealing with the specific constraints and limitations of current cosmetic packaging options can make getting there all at once a tall order!
As greenwashing abounds, we applaud Allure for their stance on buzzwords like "earth-friendly," "eco-friendly" and "planet-friendly”in relation to packaging. The friendliest products are those that can leave more quietly than they arrived, by ultimately doing good for us and our home, planet earth. Here’s to all the brands out there doing their best to make beauty better one tough decision at a time! Regardless of the buzzwords, take the time to read product labels, understand logos and whether a given brand really aligns with your core values.
- Stephanie Hon Founder, Cadence
I completely agree there are issues with the words "recyclable," "earth-friendly," and "planet-friendly" because their lack of specificity gives brands the opportunity to market sustainability without being soulfully sustainable. "Recyclable" is a problem because this is an end of life excuse to use virgin material and not make lifelong quality products as opposed to innovating at the beginning of a product's life. The best defense against this is by asking questions and hoping the brands we all love can come back with transparency.
- Chris Cabrera Founder, Naturally London
I definitely think certain words should be retired like "green," "recyclable," "eco-friendly" and "environmentally friendly," which all can be too vague. Any words that can easily confuse or mislead customers should be taboo when used by brands. I think upcycling, reusable and sustainable are keys to a successful future.
- Degelis Tufts Founder, TribeTokes
When it comes to packaging, all of the buzzwords are a problem. The only thing earth friendly is no packaging! There aren’t truly earth-friendly packaging options, just less worse options. Resources are still used in processing recycling, and there are fossil fuels used in the production and transport of even recycled packaging.
We have needed packaging for our vapes because they are heat and UV light sensitive, but have held off on boxes for most of our beauty products and pain creams. We’ve been told to be a premium brand, we need boxes, but it’s just seemed like such a waste, and we are doing just fine without them. Strict cosmetic labeling requirements are an issue, though, so we’re looking into small business card-sized inserts to include instead.
Many consumers want to use their buying power to have a positive environmental impact. Therefore, simplification is key, which is why we applaud this move by Allure. The words Allure is removing are too open to interpretation. Direct-impact messaging such as “removing packaging” or "eliminating boxes" is more impactful in consumers’ minds and better for the environment.
- Josh Gordon Founder, Noyah
We hear a lot about the positive sides of sustainability efforts, but no technology is perfect, and there are no perfect solutions to sustainability issues. Each "solution" has its advantages and disadvantages. Take refillable packaging, for instance. While it certainly has its benefits both in terms of waste reduction and encouraging a more environmentally conscious mindset, it still requires extra packaging in order to be shipped, and the shipping process—from the carbon footprint of trucks right down to the calories being consumed by the drivers of those trucks—still has an environmental impact.
Similarly, just because something says it's recyclable or compostable doesn't mean it's actually going to be properly recycled or end up in a perfectly managed industrial composting plant. The vast majority will not. Even terms like "natural" have become used for greenwashing so much—usually by implying that natural means healthy, even though there are plenty of harmful natural ingredients as well as safe synthetics—that we've started to deemphasize them in our product literature and, in 2021, are gradually shifting away from the use of marketing terms that feel good towards things that provide a good balance, including acknowledging the pros and cons of our sustainability choices.
- Eli Halliwell CEO, Hairstory
Clean beauty: As was revealed at our recent Sustainable Beauty Summit, the term “clean beauty” can cause issues, and this is because there are no set regulations. Every brand has their own definition of “clean,” and it’s difficult for consumers to decipher what this means. If we look at the core distinction between “clean” and “sustainable” beauty, it’s that “clean” usually refers to a formula with exclusions. Sulfate-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free and, in our case, also detergent-free, something that adds a whole new level of healthfulness. But a brand that has formulas free of X,Y and Z doesn’t necessarily mean they are sustainable. Sustainability requires new/different actions. It is about doing things differently. For example, in order to reduce plastic consumption, we launched a refill system and switched entirely over to pouches for New Wash. Each pouch uses about one-third as much plastic as a similar sized bottle.
Zero waste: Zero waste feels like the latest hot greenwashing term because it is simply impossible for any company—or person for that matter—to function without producing waste. Unless you are a subsistence farmer or a hunter/gatherer, you generate waste and impact the environment, and to claim otherwise is entirely disingenuous. All economic activity consumes resources, impacts the environment and creates waste. Putting the most positive spin possible on the term, I guess “zero waste” could mean that the company is investing in offsetting their impact as much as possible, but there is no way to offset landfill or many other effects of economic activity. Feels like an important term to avoid.
Carbon offsetting/carbon neutrality: Carbon offsetting to achieve carbon neutrality is certainly better than not doing anything to offset, but the main goal should be the reduction of carbon footprints in absolute. Carbon offsets are just paying for the right to pollute. If the cost of pollution is ultimately passed along to the consumer, that’s a good thing because it gives the customer the incentive to choose lower carbon alternatives to save money themselves. Toward that end, what we really need is a carbon VAT.
Plant-derived: “Plant-derived” essentially means nothing. If you go back far enough, you can say plastic is plant-derived. It comes from petroleum, which comes from crude oil, which comes from decayed plant matter. When it comes to beauty, an ingredient that is “coconut-derived” has been so processed that it has just as much to do with a coconut as plastic has to do with primordial forests. It isn’t to say that ingredient is inherently bad—it may be a perfectly healthful, safe ingredient—it just has nothing to do with the plant from which it was “derived.”
Vegan: “Vegan” is less of a specific term than one may think, but that’s a rabbit hole unto itself, and people who choose to be vegan generally do so for very noble reasons. As it applies to ingredient safety, however, it is generally irrelevant. Animal protein production is a massive contributor to environmental degradation. So, in terms of environmental impact, veganism reduces one’s impact on the earth. That said, I don’t believe beauty products generally rely heavily on animal-derived ingredients, and most certainly those ingredients that are derived are byproducts from animals that were raised for other purposes.
Natural: “Natural” is a perfectly good word, but it is also very confusing to consumers in the context of beauty products, particularly when contrasted to the term “synthetic.” The core definition of natural is “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.” In a beauty product, that could take the form of vitamin C from an orange. Well, it turns out that vitamin C can also be synthesized in a lab, the exact same molecule can be created chemically. The synthetic vitamin C is called “natural identical” by chemists, but it is clearly synthetic. Is the synthetic molecule less good than the natural one? No. It turns out many synthetic molecules are perfectly safe for humans and the environment, and many natural molecules—take arsenic as an extreme—are not. The punchline here is that maybe we should apply less value (positive or negative) to both terms and recognize them as simply descriptors of provenance.
- Anne Beal Founder, AbsoluteJOI Skincare
The real problem with sustainability in the beauty industry is not with specific words, but is with the lack of standards and specifications for what those words mean. At the end of the day, we as brand owners want to offer sustainable packaging to our customers because it is good for the planet, and many customers want that option. Rather than banning specific words, I would love to see Allure provide leadership and challenge the industry to consider different factors in our production that impact the environment.
Issues like recyclable components, use of post-consumer recycled plastic and compostable components are important, but so is local sourcing of ingredients and components to reduce CO2 emissions, benefits of dropping same day or 2-day delivery to support loading full rather than partial trucks for delivery and simply reducing the amount of packaging of our products all play a role. Having informed guidance on how brands can make a difference would help us to present a check list to our customers of what we can—and cannot—do to support the environment with our manufacturing and business practices. You can’t do it all, but you can be conscious and make informed decisions that add up to make a real difference.
- Anna Priadka Founder, Fiils
The phrase "made from recycled ocean plastics" has issues, and I have seen it being very overused. I’ve seen some companies back this claim up well with full transparency on the manufacturer they’ve worked with to source the ocean plastics and others with no explanation or traceability at all. Using third-party verification to back up sustainability claims is a good way forward. There are businesses in the U.K. emerging to support companies with these claims. Furthermore, getting a B Corp certificate ensures companies are working towards the highest standard environmentally and ethically, which holds companies responsible. Finally, companies should be conducting a full lifecycle analysis of their model, and having the statistics and report visible on their website is key.
- Veronica Pedersen Co-Founder and CEO, Timeless Skin Care
Buzzwords like "eco-friendly" can be an issue because they’re so vague. It could be applied to a product that uses a few natural ingredients in a formula alongside harsh chemicals or because the container is biodegradable, but only under very specific conditions. At Timeless, we’re trying to be transparent, authentic and specific about our sustainability efforts!
There is definitely a grey zone when it comes to plastic and recycling and, wherever we can avoid plastic, we do. Most of our packaging is glass. But, where we can’t, such as the airless pump container for ensuring the shelf life of our best selling 20% Vitamin C + E Ferulic Acid Serum, we have proudly partnered with TerraCycle, an internationally recognized leader in waste elimination.
Just like our approach to skincare has always been simple, clean formulas that are effective and affordable, so is our approach to sustainability. We’re proud to offer our customers a practical, accessible and free program to divert our plastic packaging from ending up in a landfill or incinerator through our TerraCycle program.
- Lisa Brill Founder, Qet Botanicals
Clean: A simple word and a subjective word. On skincare labels, “clean” can mean that it's not only safe and natural for us, but also for our surroundings and the environment. Often, a brand will not only say that they're “eco-conscious” about the environment, but that they also use clean ingredients that cause no harm to the earth or to our bodies.
When a “clean” ingredient list contains additives such as propylene glycol, EDTA, phenoxyethanol, dimethylaminoethanol bitartrate and tetrasodium glutamate diacetate, it raises an eyebrow. In certain amounts and to some, these ingredients can be hormone disruptors, cause known skin irritants, induce muscle twitching and even cause immunotoxicity concerns.
When it comes to the “cleanliness” or “earth friendliness” of a brand, it's often only shown with words and beautiful packaging. Unfortunately, when we dive into various ingredients lists, there may be dozens of harmful synthetics that aren't clean at all, but are actually pretty dirty.
- Sally Malanga Founder, Avegan Beauty
There are many sustainability buzzwords that have issues, starting with “sustainable” itself. “Sustainable” technically means being a method of using a resource so that it is not depleted or permanently damaged. Brands have to do a lot to truly be environmentally friendly, and it can’t be done by simply claiming sustainability while continuing to use ingredients that are in no way sustainable such as collagen from marine animals or bovine, which severely depletes our oceans and land use. Animal agriculture and the fishing industry are not sustainable and can never be despite the claims, and using ingredients sourced from these industries automatically make products unsustainable.
A lot of companies like to use the word “green” to label their products in an attempt to keep up with the growing demand for sustainable products, with most not doing enough and sometimes just simply greenwashing. Greenwashing is the act of claiming to benefit the environment, when one is not doing so or when one may even be taking actions that harm the environment. An example of greenwashing in cosmetics is when companies overstate the percentage of organic ingredients in a product by utilizing floral waters or list herbal extracts first on the label, which is not allowed by law.
The term “clean” is also very vague and makes the consumer question: Is this clean for me and the planet? Some products might have clean ingredients, but be packaged in plastic, making it not a clean product for the planet. The ingredients used are also labeled by the company as to whether they are considered clean or not. It’s entirely up to the brand to decide, so how do you really know?
Allure is correct in banning the words “eco-friendly, “earth-friendly” and “planet-friendly” as they are extremely vague with no regulations or tracking methods in place to ensure the verifiability. Certain “green” terms need to be regulated or backed by reliable certifiers or trusted regulatory bodies, and some already exist. If a brand does not have these certifications or endorsements, consumers should be aware that their green claims might not be true. More information needs to be available for consumers so they are aware what sustainability words are unreliable and what to look out for when trying to make smart purchases. That is why it is so important for more publications to be bringing this issue to light. Consumers need to look beyond branding, check for reliable endorsements, and research production methods, ingredients and their sources.
- Nicole Brown Co-Founder and CEO, Conscia
“Sustainability” has itself become a buzzword that people use broadly for marketing purposes without a proper definition and without proper evidence supporting it. A brand can claim “sustainable" practices without considering the full impact that their product has on the earth and its resources, specifically when it comes to water use. Many products unnecessarily contain water, which requires more packaging and is expensive—both in terms of dollars and carbon footprint—to ship around the world.
We think, in order to be truly sustainable, every brand must look at all facets of their sourcing, formulas, manufacturing and packaging. Change can only come from a place of intentional awareness, honesty and transparency. And once that awareness and change exists, brands must be able to clearly communicate the steps they're taking to be truly sustainable.
- Kate McLeod Founder, Kate McLeod
I think all buzzwords are dangerous! When it comes to sustainability, buzzwords lull not only consumers, but also companies into the complacency of feeling good about a product or purchase without understanding why. As consumers, we can do research and, as companies, we can provide transparency, but there's still an information gap that can't be filled by phrases like "eco-friendly.”
As a small brand, I feel grateful that, from the beginning, I've been hyper aware of what that means when it comes to our ingredients, packaging and process. I started the Body Stone in my own kitchen because I no longer felt I could trust that products being sold as good to me were good for me and for the environment. Buzzwords blur the line between what is real and what is trustworthy without clearly defining that murky inbetweenness.
To me, regulation is the only way for this gap to be closed in education and awareness. And that's why I feel so strongly about MADE SAFE certification. MADE SAFE holds us to a standard with every ingredient we use, so we know and our customer knows exactly how safe we are for their skin.
- Barbara Paldus Founder, Codex Beauty Labs
Conscious: This is a new buzzword that encompasses sustainability, zero waste and carbon neutral. The word really means “aware of and responding to one's surroundings; awake.” OK, so you have a pulse and aren’t asleep. However, it can also mean that you are overfishing and overharvesting because you have a market need—consciously, of course. It is often coupled with “environmentally conscious.”
It should imply “recycling, reusing, repurposing,” but that means that one foregoes the latest fashion trends and keeps wearing clothes that are still perfectly good, one minimizes beauty products in the routine, one foregoes makeup—do you really need it? —and one is active about recycling used containers.
A truly conscious consumer is one who buys very little because they repurpose most things. That also means a truly conscious brand doesn’t have growth and profit at its guiding principle. Now, explain that one to investors.
Zero waste: Anything in a container—i.e., not a solid bar in a carton where you use up the bar and the carton is compostable—is not zero waste. People use the term for plastic containers citing PCR. Well, that PCR is not 100% recyclable nor will it be, and most containers are only 50% to 70% recycled and 50% to 30% virgin plastic, so again not zero waste.
Clean: There are so many issues with this term, from nontoxic to sustainable. It is so overused that it means nothing. Go back to it meaning “free from dirt.” And do your PET to make sure your product is safe.
Sustainable: Again, this word is so overused that it is common in greenwashing. Go back to the definition “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Pushing a ton of products out to consumers and convincing them they need all of them is neither maintaining the level of their bank account or the amount of garbage produced. It is an antonym of growth, so any company bragging about their growth is actually not sustainable.
Carbon neutral: A lot of companies use this term without publishing how they get there. Without quantifying their carbon footprint through the entire product lifecycle as well as their own carbon footprint in operating, they can’t meaningfully offset their footprint with tree planting or funding activities. With carbon credits around $20/ton, companies can go on operating like they normally do and just buy their way out. How does this help reduce waste and the actual carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? It doesn’t, but it makes us all feel like saints.
Fairtrade: Overused as a buzzword to make people feel good about sourcing. Really means “change in the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fairer deal for farmers and workers in developing countries.” But do any companies dig into their supply chain to the raw materials level of every single SKU in the product for full traceability? Really? Why not? Because it’s a lot of real work, and blockchain isn’t there yet.
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