The devastation of Australia’s bushfire crisis in January has tainted the country’s reputation as an environmentally-conscious heaven. For sure, human-made environmental disasters are not new in Australia, but in recent years, the country had widely promoted its natural and organic brands and products - especially cosmetic and personal care goods - offered in environmental friendly packaging. A brand like Aesop, for instance, has built its global success on this concept.
"We’ve been selling Australia on clean air, clear skies, bright shiny beaches, hopping animals. Unfortunately, what people have been seeing (are) singed koalas and kangaroos," said University of Technology Sydney lecturer David Beirman.
Actually, the fires have highlighted the contribution of the Australian mining industry in global warming as well as the government’s indifference - and even denial - regarding this issue.
“I’m tired, sad and disappointed in our government. As a small Blue Mountains based business, I struggle to comprehend the destruction and loss this nation has suffered, whilst at the same time ensuring my business stays intact,” said Bridget Carmady, founder and director of Clémence Organics, a luxury and organic skincare brand from New South Wales.
While she hasn’t lost property or lives close to her, Bridget has had to deal with situations such as burnt land and fencing, while moving offices to ensure stock and staff stayed safe. “How can you feel sorry for yourself whilst so many suffer more? I want to give, donate, share but at the same time I need to look after my family and my business. Business-wise, it’s been a quiet month,” she added.
To support businesses and towns affected by fire, Instagram page @spendwhithem was created by Turia Pitt, a young woman who suffered burns to 65% of her body after encountering an out of control grassfire while competing in a 100km ultra marathon in the Australian outback in 2011.
In such a context, beauty heavyweights such as Estée Lauder, L’Oréal Australia, L’Occitane, Lush Cosmetics and Coty have pledged to donate important cash sums to help the relief.
“This fund will be financed by an internal donation campaign amongst the group’s shareholders. An initial support fund of EUR 400,000 has been pledged to finance long-term projects, with EUR 200,000 set to be donated immediately to tree-planting and agroforestry schemes in Australia, in a bid to help restore its landscape over the next decade,” said Pierre Emmanuel Joffre, CEO of L’Occitane Australia to Premium Beauty News. “The L’Occitane Foundation will select these projects alongside the company’s agricultural engineers and its operational teams in the country,” he added. “Last year we worked with PUR Project to fund tree plantation schemes in Australia. This year, we will be pre-selecting four potential partners in the coming weeks. Then, we will choose the one who best matches; and, can deliver on the objectives of the newly established L’Occitane Fund. Our goal is to start the project by the end of 2020.”
For the French beauty multinational, it is important to stress this action is consistent with a long-term commitment towards sustainability.
“L’Occitane consistently works to reduce waste and improve our product lifespans. Our first eco-refills were launched in 2008. Today, L’Occitane offers 16 eco-refills for best-selling products. These eco-refills use up to 90% less plastic than a regular bottle, saving more than 214 tonnes of plastic world-wide each year. L’Occitane intends to offer 25 eco-refills by 2022, while also making the eco-refill packaging itself recyclable by 2025. As a brand, we have never used plastic bags in our stores and it’s been over a year now since we have banned the use of all cellophane paper,” highlighted Pierre Emmanuel Joffre. “Additionally, we are committed to recycling, which we believe is important to working towards a circular economy. In 2009, L’Occitane launched its first 100% recycled bottle and we are determined to transition to 100% sustainable PET plastic to all of our product bottles by 2025.”
Many smaller beauty brands have rallied together to support those affected by the bushfires that swept across Australia: Bondi Sands, Cannabella, Evo Hair, Ecoya, Frank Body, Go-To, Hop and Cotton, Jurlique, Kevin Murphy, Kora Organics, Mecca, Nude by Nature, Ozdare, Swisse, Trilogy, The Jojoba Company, Ultraceauticals and WelleCo, to name a few.
However, at a moment when the contradictions of the Australian nation - emblematic of those of many developed countries - came to light, the brands’ commitments are as much expected as scrutinized. In this field, any suspicion of greenwashing or insincerity could lead to a catastrophic boomerang effect for their authors.