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Sustainability Trends to Watch for in 2021 Brands are doing More to tackle the most pressing challenges of our industry

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Leaders in the beauty and personal care industry have been innovating sustainable practices for decades, constantly reinventing the products they carry and the methods used to produce them. Today, however, we are embarking on a new era of planet-friendly innovation — one that explores bolder ideas and more unconventional thinking. Companies are taking more action to reverse the damage we’ve all contributed to.

L’Oréal recently released its ‘For the Future’ sustainability plan, setting goals and expectations to combat climate change by 2030. Shortly after, Unilever released its own ‘Sustainable Living’ plan, outlining their pledge to combat environmental impact over the next two decades.

The actions being taken by brands of all sizes signal to the world that climate change is no longer a part of our mission statement, but a collective, foundational principle influencing our companies at every level. We are building an industry that celebrates the beauty as much as it does beautifying the earth.

Since the pandemic, our focus on sustainability and clean beauty has only intensified. If sustainability was a general concern before, it’s a major focus now — a part of every brand, every formula. In many respects, our blinders have been lifted to the types of packaging we use, the ingredients that are safe and natural, and how the manufacturing process affects the world we live in.

Our collective awareness has ignited a revitalized push for not only better, but more innovative approaches to addressing climate change, possibly moving us five years ahead of where we’d be without the pandemic. Shoppers are ready to take action and support brands that follow through on their promises (even if it means sacrificing cost or convenience).

The great news is that there is no shortage of new ideas hitting the market. The innovative nature we have in our industry is driving all of us forward, challenging ourselves to go further than we used to (and once we do, go beyond that). We understand the value (financially and ethically) of helping the earth and have moved past the inability to address uncomfortable taboos. We are revolutionizing our industry — from sourcing to shipping.

From left to right, top to bottom, brands focusing on sustainable beauty: rms beauty, Cocokind, Saie, Lesse, Biotherm, OGX, Yay for Earth, Nécessaire, LOLI, Ilia, Hard Working Gentlemen, Nuud, Head & Shoulders, Acure, Native, Keune, Dove, Humankind, i + m Natural Cosmetics, Helmm, Exa, Colgate, True Botanicals, Seed Phytonutrients

Becoming a Less Trash-Centric Industry

It’s no secret that the beauty care industry has been a notorious contributor to the amount of waste our society throws away. According to Zero Waste Week, the global beauty and personal care industry generated 120 billion units of packaging in 2018 — almost 329 million units per day.2

This number becomes even more concerning when you consider that most plastics can take half a millennia to decompose. That means that every single piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists, and will continue to do so for hundreds of years.3 More than 8 billion metric tons of plastic have been created so far — about the equivalent weight of 23,000 Empire State buildings.

Addressing packaging waste has been an objective for decades, but now more than ever we have the drive and the insight to make a difference.

Billions of plastic containers have been made over the years — even today 91% of it isn’t recycled4

These efforts have included the use of thinner, more lightweight containers; bio-based plastic alternatives, and reducing pollution through eco-friendly dyes. We’re seeing more modular packaging with recyclable inserts, and innovation is removing water from formulations to save on shipping impact.

Entire brands are thriving on this type of eco-approach. The oral and skincare brand Humankind, for example, mandates that all of its products reduce single-use plastic by 90% (or altogether, if possible). Procter & Gamble has allied with Greenpeace to build beach-debris-recycled bottles and educating palm oil farmers about more sustainable agriculture techniques.

Going Below Zero

One of the most pressing movements in sustainability — reducing one’s carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality — has advanced greatly over the years. Many personal care brands are taking corporate-level steps to reduce their carbon levels to zero net output. Some other brands though, think this isn’t a step far enough — what we need is to achieve carbon negativity.

For a brand to achieve this honorific, more than 100% of the carbon dioxide emissions created by a company need to be offset with the removal of carbon from the environment. It’s a lofty goal that requires dedication, ingenuity along every step of the supply chain, and an advanced insight into how our actions affect the environment around us.

Sugarcane requires few resources making it an ideal crop for bioplastics

For men’s grooming brand Bulldog, they took this challenge and incorporated Brazillian-grown sugarcane tubes into all of its product lines.

Using the new bio-based components results in no changes to form or functionality, but makes a huge dent in the output of carbon emissions. For every 100 tons of sugarcane plastic used in their products, Bulldog is removing 309 tons of CO2 from the environment. Due to the sugarcane plant’s absorption of carbon throughout its natural lifecycle, and the minimal rainfall needed for it to grow, it is a highly sustainable material.

There are innovations like this entering our market all the time, as companies assess their carbon footprint, identify areas they can save on, and implement simple changes to enact multilayered outcomes.

Making a Commitment to Clean

The concept of clean beauty is more than just a formulation that’s good to our skin or free from unwanted ingredients. Clean beauty has evolved over the years to define a mantra towards living a more pure, sustainable life.

Though the industry has sometimes stumbled to define what it means to be clean, we now understand it to mean beauty that’s about transparency in ingredients, sustainability in its manufacturing processes, and a formulation without useless synthetics and byproducts.

Product formulation requires the pairing of surfactants with ingredients to achieve basic product requirements — to aid in dispersing pigments in cosmetics or emulsify oil for use in skin cream. Research and development teams have found ways to reduce ingredient lists while still achieving previous benefits and claims. It’s all part of a “less is more” approach to beauty care.

One of the most beneficial outcomes of the clean beauty movement is its self-fulfilling nature. Mainstream consumers didn’t notice what products were made of, or how the ingredients were sourced until brands started promoting themselves as clean. Innovation begets more innovation, and even a seeming public relations stunt can make an impact on the environment.

The Conservation of Personal Care

Leading personal and beauty care brands into the next generation of sustainable products is no easy feat, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible. Even the definition of sustainability continues to evolve, as we come up with new ideas and angles to reduce the impact we have on our surroundings.

Finally reaching a tipping point among consumers, this movement is mainstream and will continue to flourish. Every new product launch, every new tweak to pumps or caps, every pledge of a company to do more serves to move our entire industry forward.

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