In order to reduce environmental impacts, the cosmetics industry usually focuses on green formulations, resource-efficiency and packaging, but pay less attention on the way consumers are using products. However, there is growing evidence that the highest environmental impact of cosmetic products is at the consumer level.

For instance, 94% of the carbon footprint of a shampoo would be at the consumer level; small changes in water temperature during an average wash can significantly reduce the overall environmental impact of the product.

As will be shown in New York at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit on May 16-18, companies will need to address the environmental consequences of consumption if they are to significantly reduce their ecological footprints,” says Organic Monitor, the summit organizer.

Actually, cosmetic companies need to engage consumers for positive change if they are to make a sustainable difference. Re-formulating products with green ingredients, using fewer resources and eco-design are only part of the solution.

SGS will present its latest life-cycle analysis findings on environmental footprints at the New York summit. It appears that, after consumption, the highest environmental impact of cosmetics is from raw materials and packaging. Although there is a growing trend to use raw materials from renewable sources, such ingredients can have complex footprints because of differences in extraction and processing techniques.

Many large cosmetic companies, including Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal, have made commitments to reduce their environmental footprints whilst significantly expanding their business in the coming years. However, much of their business growth will be in developing countries. According to the OECD, the global middle-class will expand from 2 billion to 5 billion by 2030. This increase will mainly be in developing countries where consumers aspire towards western lifestyles characterized by conspicuous consumption and intense resource use. Without addressing consumer behaviour, it is likely that lofty corporate goals to become more sustainable will not be met.