How far is the beauty industry from achieving "sustainability" with the support of black technology?

November 30, 2022
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On Nov. 10, a video titled "Mexico's coastal town is being swallowed up, residents call for attention to climate change" drew attention to a coastal town in Tabasco, a state in southern Mexico, which is gradually being swallowed up by seawater.

Most of the residents here make their living by fishing, but rising sea levels are turning the houses they live in into a building of dangerous houses, forcing the town's residents to move out of their homes and find other accommodation.

Climate change is already causing serious damage around the world, especially in 2022, when natural disasters such as glacial melting, forest fires and river breakdowns are frequent, sounding the "alarm" for environmental protection. Today, the importance of ecological "sustainability" has reached a new level in the world.

In the cosmetics industry, sustainability has always been a "commonplace" topic. In recent years, sustainable development has gradually influenced the mainstream development trend of the industry from a seemingly "niche" direction.

The implementation of sustainable development: the gap between the ideal and the reality

As a large consumer gold track, the production process of cosmetics involves a complex supply chain process, often accompanied by environmental pollution.

Data show that the cosmetics industry produces approximately 120 billion pieces of packaging each year, of which only 9% of plastic waste can be recycled; in addition, the "permanent chemicals" used in the cosmetics manufacturing process (note: collectively known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)) are difficult to decompose, making them a problem for industrial waste disposal. In addition, "permanent chemicals" used in the manufacturing of cosmetics (note: collectively known as perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)) are a problematic issue in industrial waste disposal due to the difficulty of decomposition.

As a result, sustainability has become a consensus in the cosmetics industry, and with the emergence of concepts such as "pure beauty," "vegan," and "natural skin care," cosmetic companies are With the emergence of concepts such as "pure beauty", "vegan" and "natural skin care", cosmetic companies are promoting the integration of the beauty industry with the concept of sustainability.

However, companies often face a "gap between the ideal and the reality" when implementing sustainability strategies. Everyone is pursuing sustainability, but the implementation of sustainability is still limited by many constraints.

First, changes in consumption patterns are driving the ideal of sustainable development.

From the core idea, "sustainable development" emphasizes the coordinated development of economy, society, population, resources, environment, science and technology, and advocates a "nature-friendly" approach to achieve sustainable economic growth. In the process of pursuing the ideal state of sustainable development, the form of consumption is also changing to a greener and healthier direction.

In fact, since the 1960s, there has been a boom in "Green Consumerism" overseas. American educator Anna Lappe once suggested: "Every purchase you make is a vote for the world you want." This famous quote takes green consumerism to a higher ethical level.

Consumer-led green consumerism, also known as "sustainable consumption," has become the trend of the day, guiding consumers' choice of products. According to a study by Unilever, one-third of consumers now make purchasing decisions based on the social and environmental impact of brands.

Secondly, the emergence of green consumerism is also posing higher challenges for product design and development. R&D and production costs for sustainable raw materials, packaging, etc. have been advanced.

Taking packaging as an example, most brands will now use biodegradable recycled paper, natural resin packaging, or portion replacement packaging, mostly from both material and structural aspects to consider the sustainability of the packaging, in addition to the need to also take into account the chemical stability of the container, physical properties, etc.

Compared to traditional plastic packaging, packaging materials that meet sustainability standards are more expensive, and current production technologies and performance deficiencies exist.

For packaging forms such as "empty bottle recycling" and "replacement packaging", it also requires a lot of human and material resources, which is a considerable expense for new brands. On the other hand, using sustainability to interact more deeply with consumers and to educate the market requires a lot of time. (For more details on the challenges of sustainability, see the previous article of Jumei, "Several Sustainable Emerging Brands Emerge in China, Is Sustainable Spring Coming?)

In addition, the pressure of green consumerism on companies has led to a number of "negative products", such as the much-criticized "greenwashing" behavior.

In early 2021, the European Commission released the results of a survey on "greenwashing," which examined a number of issues, including the use of "greenwashing" in cosmetics. In early 2021, the European Commission released the results of a survey on "greenwashing", examining a total of 344 suspicious cases of green claims in areas such as fashion, cosmetics and home appliances.

Among the many "greenwashing" cases in the cosmetics industry, the most typical case is that of Hyosungin, which has been criticized by consumers for using paper shells over plastic bottles in the name of "environmental protection.

In May, Australian beauty brand Bondi Sands was also sued for falsely advertising its sunscreen as "coral-friendly," according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The brand's sunscreen was found to be free of oxybenzone and octinoxate, but used other harmful ingredients such as avobenzone, high salicylate, octinoxate and ocrelizine, and was therefore deemed to be falsely advertised.

In 2021, Toxin Free USA, a non-profit organization, filed a lawsuit against Covergirl COVERGIRL, alleging that the company falsely advertised that some of its cosmetics were safe and environmentally friendly, when in fact they contained the carcinogen PFAS, as well as the sustainability report of the brand's parent company, Coty Group, which they believed falsely promoted environmental initiatives and safety strategies.

In addition, some major international brands have also been challenged for "greenwashing". For example, in December 2021, Shiseido was accused by consumer groups of falsely advertising its BareMinerals brand of cosmetics as "clean, pure" and "free of harsh chemicals" when in fact they contained PFAS.

Consumers are demanding that Shiseido conduct a public information campaign to inform consumers about PFAS, fully disclose PFAS, and remove PFAS from its products, as well as seek monetary damages under various New York State statutes centered on false advertising and consumer protection.

Recently, L'Oreal has also been subject to consumer complaints for suspected false green claims. L'Oreal's "Elvive Full Restore 5 Shampoo Set", which claims to use sustainable "100% recycled plastic bottles", has been accused by foreign users of using caps that are not made of recyclable materials.

While the phenomenon of green bleaching has been repeatedly banned, the industry has gradually realized that how to put the concept into practice is still a problem that needs to be solved.

AI, carbon capture and other technologies will bring a spring breeze for "sustainability"?

Sustainable cosmetic ingredients and innovative technologies are not only more available, but also meet the expectations of the entire market. More and more brands are realizing that environmental protection is not just a "marketing highlight", but needs to be put into action.

Thankfully, the cosmetics industry is moving into a technology-driven Industry 4.0 era. New technologies from areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML), data and analytics, cloud computing, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are advancing beauty technology.

Industry 4.0 is bringing more intelligent technologies to the industry while providing more technological innovation directions for sustainable development. With multinational companies leading the way, they often have more integrated supply processes in the production of their products, so the concept of sustainability extends to all parts of the supply chain, and international brands are injecting sustainable-related innovations into all processes, including manufacturing, packaging, and waste management.


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