When it comes to brand loyalty in beauty, environmental credentials make a big difference. 

Over three quarters of consumers are now focussed on buying sustainably made cosmetics. Yet, according to a recent survey, 7 in 10 find current sustainability claims unhelpful when it comes to choosing eco-friendly products. And 94% think personal care brands should be more transparent about their green credentials. 

It seems the cosmetics industry is listening to this feedback, as a consortium of major international brands including L’Oreal and Unilever (whose portfolio includes Alberto Balsam, Dove, Simple and Tresemmé) have announced plans to introduce an environmental scorecard. 

Under the new scheme, cosmetic and personal care products will be given an A-E rating that reflects their environmental credentials. But will this new scoring system help to end greenwashing in cosmetics? And how can beauty brands incorporate lettering into product packaging in a way that makes it easier for eco-conscious consumers to buy sustainable goods? 

Let’s take a deeper dive into the issue…  

What is greenwashing? 

Before we start discussing the pros and cons of a universal sustainability score, we need to look at why trustworthy environmental credentials are so important – and the answer is greenwashing. 

‘Greenwashing’ is a term coined in the 1980s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld  in reaction to the glossy advertising campaigns being launched by major corporations to convince consumers of their eco-conscious values, when their actions weren’t always so sustainable in reality. 

Many of the early companies accused of greenwashing were in the oil and nuclear power industries, but other sectors have been levelled with similar claims since then. 

For example, several fast fashion brands have been accused of greenwashing in recent years, after supposedly sustainable/ethically responsible clothing ranges have been found to use synthetic materials or not clearly label what percentage of garments are made from recycled fibres. 

How has greenwashing impacted the cosmetics industry? 

Beauty and personal care hasn’t escaped greenwashing, either. Some ‘clean’ or non-toxic products aren’t nearly as natural as they claim. And even those products are made with natural ingredients aren’t always as environmentally-friendly as their marketing leads shoppers to believe – particularly when it comes to using excessive, non-recyclable product packaging. 

Understandably, consumers are cautious when it comes to trusting personal care companies’ sustainability claims. 86% want more information on ingredient supply chains, and 88% want help using cosmetics in a more environmentally friendly way, to ensure everyone is playing their part in protecting the planet. 

What’s changing in the cosmetics industry – and how will it help to end greenwashing? 

To help consumers trust environmental claims and choose the greenest products, brands are now looking at ways they can work collaboratively to authenticate their sustainability strategies. 

One of the most exciting new initiatives is a partnership between internationally renowned cosmetics companies including Henkel, L’Oreal, LVMH, Unilever and Natura & Co – which owns Body Shop – to form the Eco-Beauty Score Consortium.

The consortium is developing an ‘environmental scorecard’, using a science-based methodology and the EU’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) principles to display how companies’ choice of formulae and packaging influences their eco-credentials.

Products will be given a score from A (the best) to E (the poorest), and L’Oreal customers can already view ratings for many of its items online.

The idea is that creating a universal system will hold beauty brands to the same standards, and help shoppers committed to choosing eco-friendly products to easily identify green goods before making their purchase. 

But while it’s easy to display this type of information digitally, cosmetics and personal care brands need to think about how to showcase their eco-ratings on physical product packaging… 

What does the new environmental scoring system mean for brand packaging? 

Establishing industry-wide standards for environmentalism and sustainability will have a unique impact on cosmetics packaging because they affect both design and construction.  

Beauty brands will need to work closely with manufacturers to reduce the volume of packaging needed per product, ensuring most – if not all – materials used are recyclable. Check out our blog post on 7 sustainability sustainable packaging innovations that every CPG brand can learn from to find out more. 

And the challenge doesn’t end there. 

Cosmetics and personal care brands also need to look at how to incorporate the new environmental scoring system into their product labelling, in a way that helps consumers to understand what these ratings mean. 

With any new initiative, it’s not simply a case of adding a logo or number and waiting for sales to increase. There needs to be an educational journey to accompany the scoring system – for example, brands can use QR codes on product packaging to connect through to online information explaining what the environmental scorecard is and how ratings are calculated. 

International beauty firms will also need to think about how the new eco-scoring system can be understood in every market. When L’Oreal started rating products it tested digital content in France before rolling it out to the UK market. This is relatively straightforward – but what about markets like Russia, China, Japan and the Middle East, which don’t use the modern English alphabet?

Eco-labelling changes need to be part of a wider sustainability strategy 

It makes total sense to introduce an industry-wide framework that authenticates sustainability claims, as greenwashing has eroded consumer trust and cast doubt over the many cosmetics and personal care brands that are genuinely offering cleaner, greener products and practices.

However, to be successful, the new environmental scorecard needs to be used clearly on product packaging and promoted as part of a joined-up physical and digital education strategy. 

If the Eco-Beauty Score Consortium commits to doing this properly, the value of having clearer eco-conscious credentials is massive; 43% of consumers will pay more for beauty products with environmentally friendly packaging, while 56% will pay more for products using natural ingredients. 

The challenge is to make sure consumers see this score as a universal marker of trust, and that sustainability claims are consistent and make sense in every market. 

Hooley Brown specialises in labelling and packaging translation and compliance, to ensure your sustainability credentials are communicated in every market. Get in touch to discuss your challenges, or follow Hooley Brown on LinkedIn for further insights. 

You can find more about us and what we do on LinkedIn.
Follow us.