The Millennials and Gen Z now represent half of American consumers and expect sustainability to be a core value of companies. (Photo: © Petr Malinak /

A symbol that is far from innocent: the tenth North American edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit was opened by influential writer and internet blogger Colin Beavan. Dubbed “No Impact Man”, Colin was noted for recording the attempts of his family to live a "zero impact" lifestyle in New York City for one year. Colin is probably the epitome of these new generations of consumers who are increasingly aware of the impacts they create in their everyday lives and try not just to reduce, but also create positive impacts.

Among the key trends highlighted at the summit are:

Packaging innovations. With growing consumer awareness of plastic pollution, the beauty industry is facing pressure to reduce its packaging impacts. Examples of innovative packaging solutions were presented. Seed Phytonutrients gave details of its compostable bottle made from post-consumer paper, whilst the Korean company InnerBottle showed how its new packaging technology creates zero waste. The way forward appears to be innovation rather than incrementalism measures like light-weighting.

Scrutiny of supply chains. Raw material supply chains are becoming increasingly scrutinized for environmental and social risks. Verisk Maplecroft Research showed that shea butter, silk, vanilla, and cocoa are cosmetic ingredients with some of the highest social risks; these include human trafficking, child labour, discrimination and land grabs.

Using essential oils as an example, Dee-Ann Prather from Down Under Enterprises showed how ingredient suppliers can provide traceability in their supply chains. Since adulteration is a major issue, the Australian supplier is looking at blockchain technology.

New sources of green ingredients are emerging. DuPont showed how it has created its Genencare OSMS BA material from food side streams. Genomatica is creating butylene glycol from plant sugars, whilst Aprinnova is making squalane from sugarcane. Details were also given on how plant cell technology is being utilized to produce active ingredients.

Green packaging materials. Andrew Dent from Material ConneXion highlighted the issue with existing packaging materials: less than 5% of plastics are recycled in the US. He called for brands to look at green materials so they can prepare for a circular economy. Examples were given of recycled materials, compostable packaging, and recent innovations. Bio-engineered solutions on the horizon involve algae, fungi and bacteria.

New business models. TerraCycle showed how brands can move away from single-use packaging via its new Loop shopping platform. Described as a ‘circular shopping platform’, Loop enables packaging to be returned to brands and re-used. Loop made its debut in the US last month; partners include P&G, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Walgreens and Kroger.

Natural & organic cosmetics. According to The Benchmarking Company, 68% of American females purchase natural & organic beauty products, up from 49% in 2008. Health reasons are the primary factor, cited by 73% of buyers. The adoption rates are expected to continue to rise as consumer demographics change…

Look beyond organic. Diana Martin from the Rodale Institute called for farmers to adopt regenerative agricultural systems. The new Regenerative Organic Certification adds soil health, fair trade, and animal welfare to existing organic farming practices. The new scheme currently has 21 pilots worldwide and is backed by leading operators, such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Patagonia.

Create marketing experiences. The Millennials and Gen Z now represent half of American consumers. According to Sourabh Sharma from FIG Or Out, these growing influential consumers expect sustainability to be a core value of companies. He called for brands to create marketing experiences for these consumers. Winners in the digital age are likely to be brands which utilize social media, deliver clear communications, and create a brand / product story.

Sustainability discussions will continue in the next edition:

Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Europe
4-6 November 2019,
Paris - France