Taking the ‘stain’ out of sustainability

If consumers are on the lookout for sustainable packaging, they are also quick to spot ‘greenwashing’. Paul Gander catches up with some of the latest products and initiatives aiming to provide the former – and avoid the latter

Like designer clothing and accessories, sustainability has been around in its many forms for some time now – and consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to tell the genuine article from a fake.

If many shoppers are happy to flaunt a designer logo, while being fully aware of the item’s price and likely origins, they are less understanding about brand owners making environmental claims which are, similarly, too good to be true.

Some in the beauty sector are setting out to put the science back into the highly fashionable topic of the circular economy. Last year saw the creation of the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics (SPICE), which was able to field no fewer than 11 members, including co-founders L’Oréal and international environmental consultancy Quantis, by the time of the official Paris launch in May. Members include Avon Products, Clarins Group, Coty, L’Occitane en Provence, LVMH, Shiseido and Sisley.

The initiative is open to supply chain partners and German-headquartered Heinz Glas joined the SPICE line-up in September. The glass group’s Sustainability Manager, Thomas Eidloth, draws a parallel between potentially misleading claims regarding the environmental credentials of packaging and the damage caused by similar sustainability claims in other sectors: vehicle emissions and palm oil, for example.

As he puts it: “One cosmetics brand owner told me, ‘we hate greenwashing like the devil’.” This attitude does not rest on some abstract moral high ground but on the well-documented fact that in today’s world, environmental posturing can come back not just to haunt you but to bite you.

At the time of the SPICE launch, Philippe Bonningue, Group Global Director of Sustainable Packaging & Development at L’Oréal, said in a statement: “Beyond the development of a robust methodology of environmental footprint assessment, SPICE will ultimately increase the eco-design of our products and will provide the clarity consumers expect to help them make more sustainable choices.”

There has been more recent evidence that leading brand owners are taking a much keener interest in the sustainability of their packaging. In December came the announcement that Chanel is investing in Finnish packaging supplier Sulapac, a manufacturer of rigid and semi-rigid plastics alternatives formed from a combination of wood chips and binders from renewable sources.

Sulapac CEO and co-founder Suvi Haimi tells Cosmetics Business: “The starting point for creating the binders can be any biomass with sugar content, from sugarcane waste itself to potato peelings. But it’s very important that the binder should be biodegradable and microplastics-free.”

For now, the Chanel move seems to . . .

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