Carbon Neutrality Is Becoming More Popular For Consumer Brands. Here’s How It Works.

In today’s beauty industry, green is becoming the new clean. The climate debate brands are having isn’t over the causes of rising global temperatures, but what specific steps they should take to save the planet. After scrutinizing virgin plastic in packaging, they’re turning to carbon neutrality programs, vegan formulations and circular design to offset the environmental costs of consumerism. They realize shoppers don’t want to harm the earth for a moment of self-care.

In Germany, where the concept of carbon neutrality is gaining momentum across several product categories, consulting agency ClimatePartner, and independent beauty brands I+M Natural Cosmetics and Pure Skin Food are forging ahead by emphasizing carbon-neutral principles alongside efficacy and modern wellness concepts. True carbon neutrality addresses every stage of a product’s use, from cradle to grave.

We have noticed a large increase among companies that launch more carbon-neutral products on the market,” says Tristan A. Foerster, managing director of ClimatePartner since 2011. He attributes the interest to a rise in public awareness about the impacts of production on the environment and calls for change. “Climate protection is finally getting the attention it deserves.”

The first order of business for ClimatePartner is to identify clients’ complete corporate carbon footprints. They then drill down on the climate protection costs for every single product. The entire life cycle of a cosmetic product is measured, including production, delivery to consumers and disposal.

The goal is to identify where carbon dioxide emissions can be avoided or reduced. Long-term measures such as finding a green electricity supplier for the entire company may have greater equalizing potential than rethinking particular production processes. When it comes to producing cosmetics, though, Foerster maintains ingredients used like water, oils and fragrances aren’t necessarily the biggest drags on making manufacturing climate-friendly.

“Climate protection is finally getting the attention it deserves.”

What’s the major source of emissions? Foerster singles out packaging. If a skincare cream is housed in a glass jar closed with a plastic lid and wrapped in secondary packaging, there’s a lot of carbon dioxide release that goes into it. Even glass containers, which brands are moving to as sustainable alternatives to plastic, earn their green reputations based on being recycled several times. Glass production requires a large amount of energy at high temperatures, and the transportation of glass requires more energy because its weightier than plastic. Recycled glass must be reforged after use, another energy factor that ClimatePartner works into its calculations. 

Foerster and ClimatePartner evaluate whether a brand’s packaging can contain less materials or rely on greener possibilities for those materials such as thinner or recycled glass, biodegradable replacement plastic and recycled cardboard. After the final tally, it assesses all emissions that can’t be sidestepped in the process to address them with compensatory steps. There are several options. Companies will often invest in climate protection projects proven to save carbon dioxide, often in developing countries, like afforestation projects, renewable energy projects to replace coal-fired power and clean cooking stoves to decrease wood consumption. 

Brands are awarded ClimatePartner’s carbon-neutral seal when their carbon dioxide emissions are reincorporated into an eco-social project. Many brands start small. They try to achieve carbon neutrality for one product or one product range rather than their full merchandise arsenal. Foerster emphasizes that starting off with carbon-neutral packaging is a major step forward in terms of climate protection since the packaging industry accounts for a large proportion of emissions.

For indie beauty brands in a competitive market, a carbon-neutral product could give them a competitive advantage. Without entrenched businesses, they’re in a better position than legacy brands to experiment with an offset item to test its reception before gradually onto the market before gradually rolling out an entire carbon-neutral line. Of course, without extensive track records, Foerster acknowledges that it’s difficult to determine whether carbon-neutral products sell better than their conventional counterparts. Certainly, carbon-neutral products won’t sell better if consumers don’t know about their earthy-friendly stance. That’s why it can be crucial to secure credible seals to communicate carbon neutrality. 

By producing a high-end line while striving to be carbon neutral, i+m Natural Cosmetics Berlin sees itself as a source of inspiration for sustainability in our society.
By producing a high-end line while striving to be carbon neutral, I+M Natural Cosmetics sees itself as a source of inspiration for sustainability in our society.

Carbon neutrality, of course, isn’t the only element eco-conscious consumers will consider in their purchases. Foerster notes, “Carbon neutrality is only one part of sustainability.” A carbon-neutral product isn’t the same as a natural product. Natural products aren’t always vegan, and vegan isn’t the same as organic. Seals for these various attributes can complement each other, but they have distinct values. Even the best organic product emits carbon dioxide during production, often more than non-organic products. A company touting it purveys organic products can have substantial environmental impacts. If it desires to claim to be sustainable as well as organic, offsetting carbon dioxide output could be a worthwhile tactic. 

The German brand I+M Natural Cosmetics and Austrian label Pure Skin Food are examples of indie brands with ambitions to put the planet on par with sales. I+M views itself as a political actor pushing for a sustainable society. “Change requires a holistic approach that does not selectively focus on one aspect such as organic or vegan, but takes a comprehensive look at and integrates the issues of ecology, animal welfare and social economy,” says managing director Jörg von Kruse. The brand’s certifications demonstrate its holistic approach. To show it’s organic, cruelty-free and vegan, I+M is emblazoned with the seals of Cosmos Organic, Leaping Bunny and Vegan Society, and all of its products have been certified to be carbon-neutral ClimatePartner.  

Sustainability is imperative to I+M. The importance of sustainability to its customers, however, varies widely. The brand’s market research has found sustainability factors into the purchasing decisions of a majority of its customers, but product quality and fragrance are greater influences. Are customers willing to pay a premium sustainability? Perhaps up to a point. For I+M, the calculation doesn’t boil down to extra dollars. “As a matter of corporate philosophy, sustainability is our highest priority over profit,” says von Kruse. “For us, the question is: If we do everything possible to maximize sustainability, can we still survive in terms of economic viability? So far, we can answer with a firm yes.”

Besides taking a carbon neutral approach, natural cosmetics from Pure Skin Food are also billed as 100% organic, purely plant-based and sustainable—not to mention beautifully designed and effective.
Besides taking a carbon-neutral approach, natural cosmetics from Pure Skin Food are billed as organic, plant-based and sustainable, not to mention beautifully designed and effective.

The mission of Pure Skin Food is to prove cosmetics can be organic, vegetable-derived, sustainable, beautiful and effective. The brand steers clear of synthetic additives, and ingredients it deems ethically and ecologically destructive. Pure Skin Food attempts to complete production with the most environmentally-friendly methods possible. Its packaging is constructed out of recycled and recyclable plastic-free materials, and most of its electricity is generated from its own photovoltaic system. Pure Skin Food’s non-avoidable carbon dioxide emissions are offset by the partner organization ReGreen through an eco-social initiative.

Pure Skin Food asserts consumers value its green philosophy and identify the brand as sustainable. “We cannot and will not accept any other way of working,” says founder Lisa Dobler. “What we do, we do out of conviction, and that is also well-received by conscious customers.” Dobler regards the effort involved to execute a carbon-neutral production process to be her corporate responsibility. For her, there’s justification for Pure Skin Food’s  comparatively pricier products. She argues customers know what they’re paying for, and they hold the brand in high esteem. “We believe that consumers are more likely to appreciate authentic products and to take a closer look at what they are buying,” says Dobler. “Greenwashing is becoming less and less attractive, and that’s good for everyone.”

This article was originally published on on Nov. 8, 2019.