The beauty industry has a substantial environmental footprint. Just in water use alone, the average salon uses 1,200 gallons of water per stylist, per month. Then there is the plastic packaging, carbon emissions, and the chemical treatments that impact stylist and customer health and the environment. As customers have become more environmentally conscious, they are demanding that their favorite beauty brands do better, and they're putting their money where their mouth is. A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that 66% of global Millennials are willing to spend more on sustainable fashion brands. And the beauty brands are responding. 

Nicolas Krafft, a former L'Oreal executive, recalls how brands like Aveda, L'Oreal, Henkel, Davines, and Kevin Murphy are tackling sustainability head on. They are changing their packaging and practices to improve their environmental footprints and they are expressing environmental commitments that they are pledging to live up to.  In conjunction with an executive program on sustainability at Cambridge University, Krafft outlined steps that are being mulled over and taken by companies in an effort to set new green standards in the beauty and cosmetics industry. Some of these steps focus on water conservation, sustainable products and packaging, renewable energy, and social commitments throughout the supply chain. 

Carbon Emissions

A number of leading beauty brands have committed to either greatly reduce their carbon emissions or work to  achieve carbon neutrality, notes Nicolas Krafft. L'Oréal, Unilever, Estée Lauder, Henkel, and KAO all signed the UN pledge for climate reduction as part of the Paris Agreement - a landmark global agreement to combat the effect of climate change - agreeing to make CO2 emissions reductions a central part of their company's objectives. Beauty industry leader Nicolas Krafft noted that some smaller companies are taking it one step further. Italian-based Davines, Krafft recalls, pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, and the company has already reduced its CO2 emissions by 47% as of 2019. Davines is also strongly focused on reaching carbon neutrality throughout their entire region by investing in renewables and transportation alternatives for all workers in the company. 

AVEDA is another example of a company working towards carbon neutrality. AVEDA is now manufacturing all of its products with wind power, allowing the company to balance their electrical and natural gas usage. No company is currently able to eliminate all carbon emissions, but they are taking the steps to achieve net carbon neutrality through offsetting.  While this theme is being addressed, there is still work to be done through emission reduction initiatives and the increased use of renewable energy across the entire value chain.

Water Use and Management

Water is another critical component in the beauty and cosmetics industry, so water conservation is a natural focus for beauty brands' environmental commitments. Krafft insists numerous ways that companies are looking to cut their water consumption. He highlights the Australian brand Kevin Murphy, which partnered with fellow environmentally conscious Australian brand, Ecoheads, to promote the usage of faucets that use 65% less water in salons. Similarly, wrote Krafft, L'Oreal has partnered with environmentally conscious Gjosa to promote their water-friendly faucets, which use five times less water per wash.  

Meanwhile, Henkel has reduced its water consumption in the manufacturing processes by 28% between 2010 and 2019, and since 2005mL'Oréal has cut its water use in half across its plants and distribution centers. 

Concern over water use in the beauty industry has also given rise to a waterless beauty product trend - including oils, powders, and solid shampoos, conditioners and cleansing bars. These products have the double benefit of also reducing the need for excess packaging, cutting down on plastic waste. 

Packaging-Related Waste

Packaging-related waste is another big theme that former L'Oreal executive Nicolas Krafft and other beauty industry representatives are focused on. Waste is produced at every step of the beauty industry supply chain - including multiple layers of packaging, non-biodegradable chemicals, and widespread promotional materials. All told,  the beauty industry produces a staggering 877 pounds of waste every single minute. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, up to 70% of waste generated from beauty products is not recycled and ends up in landfills. Data from Zero Waste Week, meanwhile, finds that more than 120 billion units of cosmetics packaging were produced globally in 2018 - and most of that packaging was not recyclable.

With consumer pressure and rising awareness of the harmful effects of packaging and toxic waste, however, beauty brands are in a friendly competition for who can reduce the most amount of waste. A major focus, notes former L'Oreal executive Nicolas Krafft, is the focus on recyclable plastics in packaging. Aveda is using post-consumer recycled material in nearly all of its packaging. The Australian brand Kevin Murphy has converted its bottles to 100% reclaimed ocean waste plastic, saving an estimated 360 tons of plastic from the ocean each year. And L'Oreal, where Nicolas Krafft worked for 10 years and served as VP of Global Business Development and International General Manager for the Pulp Riot brand, has committed to making 100% of its plastic packaging refillable, reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. L'Oreal also recently announced that it was making the first cosmetic plastic bottle from captured and recycled carbon emissions through its partnership with Lanzatech and Total. Lanzatech captures the industrial emissions and converts them to ethanol; Total converts the ethanol into ethylene and, later, polyethylene, at which point L'Oreal uses the polyethylene in its packaging. 

What Can Salons Do To Help?

Krafft and other industry executives note that a change in packaging materials is an important step, but just a piece of the larger picture. In order for recycling to be widely adopted across the 2.5 million salons worldwide there needs to be a clear distribution and collection system in place. That's beginning to happen through a number of efforts and partnerships. Aveda launched a recycling program for rigid plastic caps that has prevented nearly 145 million of these caps from entering oceans and landfills. Henkel has partnered with the recycling platform TerraCycle and provides points to consumers for recycling their Schwarzkopf bottles which can be redeemed for gifts or cash. And Nicolas Krafft and others point out that the majority of hair industry professionals now partner with Green Circle Salon to recover up to 95% of salon beauty waste. 

Krafft and other beauty executives aim to highlight efforts around support for salon workers, both to prevent their exposure to toxic chemicals and to provide opportunities for advancement. Many brands are reducing their use of dangerous chemicals and replacing them with more natural ingredients, which benefits salon workers handling the products, consumers applying them, and the environment at large when shampoos and other treatments are washed down drains. The French beauty company Officinea, Krafft notes, is one such brand that has taken it upon themselves to make sure "clean beauty" isn't just a fad, but a sustainable movement throughout the industry. All of its products are sourced from plants, not petroleum, containing fully biodegradable, traceable raw materials. 

Beauty brands also play an important role in rallying salon owners to these causes, notes Krafft. By serving as leaders on these timely environmental topics, brands can encourage salon owners to become agents of change and drive wholesale change in an industry that has been slow to adopt it.

About Nicolas Krafft

Nicolas Krafft has more than a decade of experience in the cosmetics industry with L'Oréal and its various brands, most recently serving as the International General Manager for the Pulp Riot brand. Prior to that role, Nicolas Krafft was the VP of Global Business Development for Matrix. At L'Oreal, Nicolas Krafft worked on launching new product lines, growing market share across a wide range of business environments, and developing an international presence for L'Oreal-owned brands like Kérastase, Matrix, and Biolage.

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