Diversion of agricultural land

Environmental benefits are often cited as a reason for switching to plant-based raw materials. Indeed, apart from being renewable, these substances often have a lower environmental footprint than petroleum-based counterparts. “However, the diverting of agricultural land from food crops to make cosmetic ingredients raises many ethical and ecological questions,” says Organic Monitor.

According to the market research firm, there is a risk that the increasing use of plant crops in the cosmetics industry sparks a similar debate than for agrofuel crops, with cosmetics makers being blamed for jeopardizing human food resources. “Food security is becoming a major global concern because of rising food prices and scarcity of agricultural land. The global population is expected to rise by 50% to over 9 billion in 2050, however agricultural land is projected to decrease over this period,” explain researchers at Organic Monitor.

Such a concern is nothing new. It was raised a few years ago when the prices raw materials, energy and feedstock started to rise. According to Michel Griffon, agronomist and economist, it is unlikely that in the near future agriculture be able to produce enough biofuels, and plant-derived chemicals, and to feed all of humanity and preserve biodiversity at the same time. In any case, he wrote in Feeding the planet [1], none of these goals will be accessible without a breakthrough ecological transformation of farming technics, a “doubly green revolution”.

Sustainable sourcing

Actually, the beauty industry needs to ensure that the agro-ingredients used for making or packaging its products are sustainable sourced.

Organic Monitor sees some early indicators that sustainable sourcing tends to become mandatory in the beauty industry, rather than a preferred option. In Europe, L’Oreal and Unilever, for instance, have already made commitments to sustainable sourcing. In the US, Wal-Mart is putting pressure on its suppliers to adopt sustainability practices. In addition, the media and NGOs are also putting pressure on companies worldwide.

In the near future, more ingredients could go the way as palm oil, for which leading beauty firms have pledged to only source from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-approved companies. “Similar sustainable roundtables exist for soya and cocoa, and others are in the pipeline. A number of other sustainability schemes, labels and standards are emerging,” says Organic Monitor.

Additional certifications needed?

Natural and organic cosmetic standards already include some sustainability requirements, but brands may want to extend the scope of their claims through additional certifications. Fair trade is an example, in particular in the UK with Boots, Bulldog and Bubble & Balm. Other companies, such as the Brazilian ingredients supplier Beraca have integrated biodiversity into their sourcing programmes.

Climate change is yet another issue diverting attention to sustainable sourcing practices, which are likely to become a key factor of success for cosmetics and personal care brands in the very next future.