Sustainable sourcing of raw materials is gaining popularity in the cosmetics industry, however Organic Monitor finds Asia, which is poised to become the world’s largest beauty market, is lagging behind.

Although Asia has become an established source of cosmetic ingredients, questions hang over the ecological and social impact of raw materials. Western cosmetic companies and ingredient firms are setting up ethical sourcing programmes in the region, with relatively low involvement from Asian firms,” explains the market research firm. One reason is the low priority given to sustainability by Asian cosmetic and ingredient firms. Actually, very few Asian companies have sustainability programmes.

Sustainability is nevertheless a growing concern in Asia-Pacific, which has 30% of global surface area but houses 60% of the population. Production of palm oil - the most widely used vegetable oil in cosmetic products - has been directly responsible for destruction of tropical rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia. As well as releasing greenhouses gases, palm oil cultivation has led to animals, such as the orang-utan and Sumatra tiger, to become critically endangered.

There are also concerns about the sustainable supply of many cosmetic ingredients like fragrances and natural actives, which are indigenous to the region. Sandalwood, native to India and Sri Lanka, is now mainly produced in Australia because of the high incidence of illegal logging. There are also ethical issues concerning some animal-based ingredients in cosmetic products; for instance, Asian companies are large users of shark liver oil.

According to Organic Monitor, a major challenge for the cosmetics industry is to convert sustainable supply to sustainable consumption. “The Asia-Pacific region yet has less than 5% share of international organic product sales,” the company explains. Today, over 90% of RSPO sustainable palm oil is produced in Asia, however the bulk of demand is from Europe and North America. A recent UEBT survey shows that over 60% of East Asian consumers are aware about biodiversity, however rising awareness is not translating into green product sales.

The cosmetics industry needs to encourage ethical sourcing and biodiversity in the region,” concludes Organic Monitor, and this will be one of the goals of the upcoming Asia-Pacific edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, which will be hosted at the Regal Hongkong hotel on 11-13th November 2013.