But what does ’decarbonising’ mean? How can it be done? What are the solutions? Concerning this point, we can draw a parallel with energy.

’De-carbonised’ energy is a source of energy that does generate any CO2 emissions. In a common understanding, all renewable energies, as well as nuclear energy, are considered to be "decarbonised" (the latter, however, is not renewable energy [1]). But in reality, no source of energy emits "zero carbon" if we include the upstream and downstream energy production stages (manufacturing and end-of-life treatment of solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, etc.). One should therefore speak of "low carbon" energy sources.

In the beauty industry, decarbonising means moving towards products and business models that emit as little CO2 as possible. In the first place by reducing emissions at the source (consuming less material and energy). In addition, one can also ’compensate’, i.e. participate in initiatives to trap CO2 and compensate for the emissions that cannot be reduced any further.

Announcement effects and media hype

However, we are currently witnessing a flurry of announcements about compensation measures. Unfortunately, these mechanisms are still poorly regulated and hardly reliable. Whether a brand claims to be ’carbon negative beauty’, ’carbon positive’ or ’carbon neutral beauty’ is not plausible without a standardised reference framework, which does not yet exist (after ’green washing’, we will have to deal with ’carbon washing’ !).

Emmanuel Faber, the former CEO of Danone, suggested that the carbon impact of companies should be measured with the same metrics, to enable consumers to make informed choices. Cosmetic brands such as Cocokind (US) and Shiro (JP) have started to ’break down’ the carbon footprint of each product’s life cycle on the back of their packaging. This initiative will probably become compulsory in the years to come - this was also initiated by the food industry (La Fourche), as have the fashion sector (a carbon score adopted on March 21 for consumer products), and the transport sector...

The unavoidable 3Rs

In this context, the most efficient and immediate solutions would be to thoroughly review the 3Rs steps (1. Reduce; 2. Reuse; 3. Recycle - at the very end). According to Bertrand Piccard [2], half of our natural resources are wasted and 95% of our waste is squandered when it could gladly do with another lease of life! [3]. Creating value with our waste and as part of the circular economy: this is a whole new field of thought and action that is opening up before us!

Already quite widespread in cosmetic formulations (Laboratoires Expanscience, Kadalys, État Libre d’Orange, etc.), this "waste" recovery (or upcycling) only asks to be reinforced. In the future, the many vertical farms located in cities will be a potential source of supply for indie brands (without competing with the food sector). The same goes for packaging materials: the rapid development of molecular recycling techniques (and, enzymatic in the future - cf. Carbios) allows materials that were previously sent to incinerators or landfills to be given value (over cycled) and reintroduced into the loop, in the form of high-quality materials, all this with a much lower CO2 footprint, and consumption of resources, compared to the production of virgin material (cf. Eastman’s Carbon Renewal Technology® for PET or Borealis’ Borecycle™ for polyolefins).

Of course, the best waste is the one which is not produced! The same adage has been taken up by solid cosmetics (Pachamamai, Lamazuna, Umaï, Mélo ayurveda, Respire, etc.), cosmetics to be diluted (Neo, 900.Care) and/or with a deposit and refill system (Amalthéa, Cozie, Naked shop, Floratropia, Zao...).

New avenues for improvement

Another way to save CO2 is to use the right amount (Clever Beauty), to optimize the collection of liquid formulas (Porex), to work in short circuits (Oden, Freedge beauty...) and/or in green biotech (Codif). Reducing the number of ingredients per product (Yodi, Typology) and reducing launches (Minori) is also essential. Besides, how can a brand claim a commitment to sustainable development, and at the same time, continue to launch a plethora of products?

A circular economy also enables to reinforce the safety of ingredients. At Mustela (BCorp certified), CEO Sophie Robert Velut challenges her teams as follows: "We are in 2028 and oil is getting scarce, how do you secure your business?" or "The ingredients needed to manufacture the products are stranded in the countries, transportation costs and shortages are ongoing. What is your plan B?"

In the food sector, a new model is emerging: ’Regenerative agriculture’ (’Regenerative Organic Certification’), which aims to repair ecosystems, restore biodiversity, and care for living organisms. It is particularly relevant for soils and ingredients. And watch out for extrapolations, for a cosmetic brand to call itself ’Regenerative’ is greenwashing!

To conclude, we are moving towards a green industry with a real driving force, as advocated by Bertrand Piccard: "a profitable environmental protection thanks to new economic opportunities" [4]. By 2030, companies will probably have to align with the objective of ’Zero Biodiversity Loss’, by way of a global biodiversity score (note: ecocide has been recognised as an offence since March 2021). In a virtuous way, they will increasingly form alliances to cope with legal constraints (to implement recycling channels, to make rating indexes open source, etc.). The era of ’Coopetition’ (Cooperation beyond competition) has come! Let’s head for industrial opportunities, let’s head for new exciting and collective economic and ecological logics!