The group of five international beauty and personal care majors wanted to establish the consortium – open to all cosmetic companies to join – to co-design an industry-wide “brand-agnostic” way of assessing and scoring environmental impact, built around a science-based methodology. The aim was to provide consumers “clear, transparent and comparable” information that considered a beauty product’s entire life cycle.
A ‘robust and scientific approach’ to environmental impact assessment
The founding companies said they would pool their respective expertise and experiences to co-create the new voluntary environmental impact system for the global cosmetics industry, alongside the expertise of others that joined as well as that of sustainability consultancy Quantis – “to ensure a robust and scientific approach”.
The voluntary system would be built around four key principles: a common method for measuring environmental impacts throughout product life cycle; a common database of environmental impacts for standard ingredients and raw materials; a common tool to calculate environmental impact per product; and a harmonised scoring system that enabled easy comparison for consumers.
Importantly, the beauty majors said the methodology, data base, tool and scoring system would be “verified by independent parties” and external scientists, academics and NGOs would be consulted throughout the process to “ensure the ongoing integrity of the approach”.
“…The work developed by the consortium will be published and made accessible on a strictly voluntary basis by both consortium participants and all other interested parties,” Henkel, L’Oréal, LVMH, Natura &Co and Unilever said.
‘Growing consumer demand’ for beauty transparency
The founding companies said the move to establish such a consortium, and ultimately a new environmental impact system, was particularly timely as consumer interest in sustainability garnered power.
“The new assessment and scoring system will aim to meet growing consumer demand for greater transparency about the environmental impact of cosmetic products – formula, packaging and usage. The objective is to improve the information that is available to consumers and enable them to make more sustainable consumption choices,” they said.
Earlier this year, L’Oréal CEO Nicolas Hieronimus said consumers now expected “full transparency from brands and companies”, heightened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and digital boom. Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at trend forecasting specialist WGSN, agreed and said complete transparency would be “non-negotiable” in beauty by 2023, requiring “progressive transformation” from every part of industry.
Speaking in an online webinar in March 2021, WWF senior partnership development manager Daniel Murray said now was certainly the time for beauty brands to ‘galvanise’ rising consumer engagement in sustainability.
“Consumers really want to be empowered and feel responsible and feel they can have an impact that’s tangible and meaningful. But that needs to be allowed and given to them,” Murray said.
Engaging ‘all’ to create a ‘cross-industry pooling of knowledge and expertise’
Henkel, L’Oréal, LVMH, Natura &Co and Unilever now wanted to onboard as many cosmetics companies worldwide to the consortium as possible, to collectively build the “pursuit” towards a global system.
“This global initiative is intended to be open to all cosmetic companies, regardless of their size or resources,” they said.
Philippe Osset, expert life cycle assessment consultant for the European Commission and the French Standardization Association AFNOR, said it was certainly possible for the cosmetics sector to build a scientific environmental impact assessment of their products, as had been demonstrated in other sectors already.
“It requires a cross-industry pooling of knowledge and expertise, particularly concerning the environmental impact data; this is exactly what the consortium founding members are embarking on,” Osset said.
European trade association Cosmetics Europe had already been actively following the process to build this consortium and other trade associations were being invited to join. Interested companies or associations were being asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.