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Sustainability: Beauty’s New Battle Ground

Clean, natural and organic beauty products already represent a £35 billion industry, which is rapidly expanding. Caring about climate change and animal welfare, consumers are changing their habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Sustainability-linked brands are growing six times faster than the average, and a 2019 survey suggested 50% of consumers are now happy to pay more for sustainable products.

But in the beauty sector in particular, definitions around “clean”, “sustainable” and “natural” are often blurred, and hotly debated.

The Sustainable Beauty report  – a collaboration between leading international beauty brand consultancy, The Red Tree, and the Future Business Partnership, a consumer specialist impact investment firm empowering the transition towards a sustainable future – seeks to examine the relevant issues in sustainable beauty and how emerging brands can best embrace the opportunity.

Beauty is no longer skin deep


The most established players such as The Body ShopLUSH and Davines tell us that sustainable beauty covers many elements – ingredients, formulations, sourcing, packaging, but also wider business ethics across the supply chain. They share a common mission.

But they are not perfect. As Anna Teal (pictured below), Aromatherapy Associates reminds us, a mission often represents a journey of continuous improvement. “Whilst a brand may not be able to address all elements initially, at least being cognizant of them and working towards a goal with a clear plan is better than not at all.”

  • Sourcing ingredients responsibly and cruelty-free is only the start. Authentically mission-driven brands now work towards supply chains which are low emission, low waste, protect biodiversity, treat people fairly and support local communities. Grounded in ethics, these brands may also be natural campaigners. They are well placed to raise awareness of social issues such as equality, women’s rights, mental health, representation and self-confidence, as well as environmental issues. For example, Natracare, the UK’s largest organic feminine care brand, has long been campaigning against period stigma.

Not perfect, but perfectly transparent

Beauty consumers are discerning and research driven, no longer fooled by empty slogans. Ethical shopping guides such as Ethical Consumer make it ever easier to check the authenticity of claims.

Sarah Brown, PAI Skincare addresses the industry’s greenwashing issue by “being independently certified organic by Brussels-based COSMOS… a strict standard which ensures that (their) products are produced to the highest ethical and sustainable practices.”

Rannesh Jansari of Fushi is also raising the bar: “We make sure each product has an origin, (and) each ingredient is listed to show its exact source…to show a very transparent snapshot of our activities.”

Imelda Burke, of CONTENT Beauty, agrees that “to market a product, brands need to be transparent about what they have done that makes the product sustainable and provide clear information on how it is better. Focus on what elements they have done well, honestly, while improving on the rest”.

  • A paradox of plastic

    Plastic packaging presents another paradox – causing now obvious damage to the environment in its disposal, but lightweight and therefore lower carbon in transport, and possessing qualities which can longer preserve the product inside. Thankfully, this is gradually resolving itself as small brands and global beauty giants alike are moving to 100% recycled and recyclable plastic or alternative bio-based packaging. L’Oreal for example pledges 100% eco-packaging by 2025. Eco-packaging will require innovation to achieve authentic sustainability, and ultimately less packaging is the ideal, but the movement is positive. Smaller brands will benefit as larger brands take sustainable packaging mainstream. “The more larger brands start to buy and use (sustainable) materials, the more flexibility suppliers would be able to have in their pricing and minimum orders which would then give smaller businesses more options” says Liha Okunniwa of Liha Beauty.

Unlocking valuable strategic distribution

Retailers globally are investing to make greener choices easier for their customers and look: “for and to brands who are tackling the big questions: what happens to packaging after use?; are the ingredients biodegradable?; are they considering resources such as water use?; or have they created a new format that conserves resources?” – Imelda Burke, CONTENT Beauty.

“Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty” has just launched, inviting only cruelty free, vegan brands with clean ingredients, sustainable packaging and a positive impact. Here in UK, dedicated B Corp aisles are open at Waitrose, Boots and Ocado and ethical-only retailers e.g. Naturisimo continue strengthening their edit to meet demand for ethical and sustainable brands.

Greener supply chains = leaner supply chains

Sustainable materials can push input prices higher of course. However, sustainable brands are finding ways to counteract this.

“We aim for a lower price point as we buy direct from source and manufacture everything inhouse. As a result, we can offer a high-quality product at a competitive price” says Rannesh Jansari, Fushi. Sarah Brown, PAI Skincare highlights the cost advantages of being a vertically integrated business: “This gives full and unique visibility and control of your supply chain and the sustainable practices that run with it.” Rahil Vora, Revital believes “in the long run many sustainable options such as refill and packaging free concepts will in fact be more cost effective and cheaper for price-conscious consumers.”

Win win win

Sustainable beauty is leading the industry to a better future, and what’s more the drivers of change to sustainability are increasingly accessible due to innovation. It’s become clear that the sustainability movement is not only urgent and vital for people and planet, but also for profit, competition and success. In an industry focused on looking and feeling its best, this combination of forces is thankfully irresistibly attractive.

Download the full report here.

The Future Business Partnership is a sector-focused team with hands-on expertise of investment in consumer businesses, in sustainability and in company-building. They aim to be the shareholder of choice for sustainable consumer brands and their suppliers, scaling profits, improving performance, and boosting positive social and environmental impact. They are reputationally compatible, mission-aligned, ethically certified, and offer private capital and relevant expertise to companies who want to preserve and enhance their ability to deliver on their mission. It’s sustainability without sacrifice; It’s growth without compromise. They believe it’s the future of business. To see how they do it, please visit them at, or contact any of them via LinkedIn.

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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