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January 16, 2023
Science & Sustainability

Sustainability in the Beauty Industry: How Brands can Pave the Way

Kimberly Shenk

Sustainability in the beauty industry is possible. Indie brands have an opportunity to pave the way and become industry leaders.

This is the ultimate guide to sustainable beauty for cosmetic brands who want to make a difference by being an ethical and responsible beauty brand.

The Environmental Impact

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The beauty industry is a fast-paced, ever-changing industry. Unfortunately, thanks to new brands and new products, there are significant environmental impacts that can’t be ignored.

Unchecked deforestation, water and air pollution, food cycle interruptions, and excessive plastic waste are all ways in which the beauty industry has contributed to irreparable damage to the environment.

So, what does that mean for brands? Is it possible to manage an ethically-responsible beauty brand? What can indie cosmetics manufacturers do to lessen their environmental impact?

Creating an ethical, sustainable beauty brand is absolutely possible. There are many benefits of doing so, including the following:

  • Reduce sourcing, production, and transportation costs
  • Improve customer relationships
  • Appeal to a larger, environmentally-conscious audience
  • Contribute to a net positive footprint in the world

Not only will cosmetic brands help to look after the environment, but they will continue to prosper.

Sustainable Practices: How Your Beauty Brand can Shape the Way

Any beauty brand can shape the way by following in the footsteps of brands such as Sephora, Ulta Beauty, Credo, and Target. The longevity of these brands show how incorporating transparency and sustainability that are good for the environment and society, can prove to be profitable for cosmetic brands.

Here’s how to make a cosmetics brand more sustainable and responsible:

Adopt Responsible Formulas

Sustainability in the beauty industry starts at the design phase.

As a responsible brand, it’s crucial to have visibility into the ingredients that are selected by formulators. Formulators must understand the ingredient’s impact on the product’s profile. That’s why working with trusted formulators and manufacturers is essential.

Any of the following ingredients can harm consumers and the planet:

  • Ingredients derived from fossil fuels
  • Components linked to health hazards
  • Ingredients that are unable to biodegrade in the environment
  • Ingredients that are harvested using unethical methods

Here are some ways that brands can develop responsible cosmetic formulas:

Eliminate Petrochemicals

Simply put, petrochemicals are often derived from fossil fuels such as petroleum and are prevalent in the industry.

Petrochemicals are typically found in beauty products that contain mineral oil, polyethylene glycol, or propylene glycol. Some examples include moisturizers, face creams, body creams, and ointments.

When products are used and discarded, these chemicals filter into the oceans and contaminate the natural food chain in various environments.

Instead, steer towards bio-based oleochemicals, which originate from agricultural plants and natural oils (coconut oil, sunflower oil, castor oil, sustainable palm oil, etc.). 

There are many emerging renewable sources and innovations that can replace these chemicals. Work with a partner, such as Novi, to source these ingredients.

Reduce Water Usage

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The World Health Organization reports that over 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries. As the demand for water grows, whether for production or consumption, companies damage the environment.

As a responsible beauty brand, the goal is to reduce water wastage and create formulas that won’t negatively impact the environment.

Two possible ways to reduce water usage are:

  • Develop waterless products: Brands should develop ways to replace their water-based products with sustainable, natural oils and create waterless products. 

Monitor water usage: Monitor water usage during the manufacturing process and ensure that production doesn’t harm local habitats. Treat water as a valuable resource and develop a strategy, from intake to discharge, that incorporates reusing and recycling water.

Use More Sustainable Packaging

In 2018, 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic waste was used in the beauty industry. With the industry growing yearly, this amount is expected to exceed current estimates.

Cosmetics brands can help reduce packaging waste by adopting sustainable packaging practices. Big brands, such as The L'Oréal Group, plan to source up to 50% of its packaging from recyclable materials by 2025. 

While recycling is a valid option, a 2020 study by the Columbia Climate School found that recycling in the US is broken: out of 267.8 million tons, only a mere 94.2 million tons were recycled or composted.

There are several other ways to incorporate sustainable packaging. Some steps that a brand can take include the following:

  • Smarter design: Use materials with a lower carbon footprint. 
  • Consumer transparency: Place recycling instructions on packaging, easing the burden on an already strained recycling industry.
  • Reduce & reuse: Consider reducing or changing the way that a brand provides samples. Avoid single-use sachets or packets.

By adopting sustainable packaging, brands can make an impressive positive impact on the environment. Unfortunately, sustainable packaging remains out of reach for most smaller brands.

Integrate a Circular Economy

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Circular economy ensures a product has a value at every stage of its lifecycle. This includes packaging and the final cosmetic products.

Refillable, reparable, and returnable products are all fantastic ideas for creating a circular economy for a cosmetic brand. With a circular economy, the goal is to close the loop and maintain zero-waste.

For instance, big names like Procter & Gamble and Unilever's Dove are making the move over to refillable containers.

To ensure buy-in from consumers, brands could offer them discounts and perks for every container they return. Once returned, the products can be repaired and refilled for further use, eliminating excessive waste.

This also fosters loyalty and ensures that consumers stay in the marketing funnel. It’s an excellent way to provide a steady income for a beauty brand.

Today, some beauty companies like Mob Beauty, Innersense, and Kjaer Weis profit from this cost-effective endeavor while increasing sustainability in the beauty industry.

Leverage Ethical Sourcing

In ethical sourcing, there are many standards and policies involved, which cover social, cultural, and community-related considerations.

Beauty brands have a responsibility to ensure that ingredients are ethically sourced.

When choosing to work with a specific vendor, consider asking the following questions:

  • Are their workers paid equitably?
  • Are their workers able to safely express their opinions and share what’s best for them?
  • Are working conditions safe? How does the vendor define safe working conditions?

Only utilize sources that can positively affirm their answers to these questions.

Ethical sourcing involves not only social factors but environmental factors too. 

For example, consider deforestation. Palm oil is a leading cause of deforestation. As the demand for palm oil grows, more rainforest is cut down for new crops.

If a cosmetics brand must use palm oil, consider using sustainable palm oil instead. 

Knowing whether a supplier is ethically sourcing ingredients can be tricky. 

With long and often complicated logistic chains, it’s easy for unscrupulous vendors to claim that ingredients are eco-friendly and ethically sourced.

That’s why brands should partner with Novi to take the mystery out of their supply chains. Novi can quickly help verify claims and ensure that the beauty brand only uses ethically-sourced ingredients.

Consider the Carbon Footprint

Utilizing natural gas, solar energy, wind power, hydropower, bioenergy, and many other forms of renewable energy are all excellent ways to encourage sustainability within the industry.

However, as a beauty brand, tracking and measuring carbon emissions across the entire value chain is critical. Here are several initiatives that brands could implement:


A significant contributor to a brand’s carbon footprint is in the transportation of products. 

Opt for the usage of rail transport and sea transport. If road transport is unavoidable, transitioning to hybrid or electric vehicles would be the next best move.

This reduces the number of journeys trucks make between the manufacturer, distributor, and retail outlets. 

Product Size

Brands could also consider the size of their products. For example, products in aerosol form can be compressed, yielding the same quantity of product, but reducing the weight and number of transport vehicles necessary.

Reap the Benefits of a Sustainable Beauty Industry

by Jessica Ticozzellii via Pexels

Sustainability in the beauty industry is possible. Beauty brands can work to:

  • Eliminate harmful chemicals,
  • Reduce waste during production,
  • Incorporate sustainable packaging,
  • Streamline logistics and reduce their carbon footprint.

Forbes recently published that Gen Z and millennials are most concerned about negatively impacting the world's future than any other generation. If brands want to appeal to a younger, environmentally-aware generation, they’ll need to adopt these sustainable beauty practices. 

Consider working with certification partners to ensure that every step of the process is sustainable, above board, and responsible.

Remember to educate the target audience about the sustainability steps that the brand is taking. This will ensure that they’re aware of sustainability goals and ethics.

Unlock Sustainability through Novi

Novi is eager to help source innovative, traceable, and sustainable ingredients. We can make it easy to develop a sustainable beauty brand on your terms.

Novi is passionate about furthering sustainable product design that puts human health and the environment first.

We aim to help you create a positive impact on the environment and develop beauty products that are cleaner and safer for your consumers. 

If you want to get started with us, now is the time.

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