PREDICTIONS

What’s next for sustainability in beauty?

We catch four Nordic experts for more on greenwashing, communication, overproduction, and circularity and how legislation, AI, and more knowledgeable end consumers push the bar for a greener industry.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
December 20, 2023

Janette Friis is entrepreneur and sustainability consultant at Merkitysmuotoilu. Hanna Hatje is Business Developer and co-founder of digital agency Hall & Hatje, specialised in skincare. Satu Mäkinen is the founder of the European Natural Beauty Awards and co-founder of the Peer Accelerator Circle. Agneta Elmegård is Beauty Editor and reporter at Aftonbladet Lifestyle.

If you were to pick one special thing within sustainability in beauty that the industry will talk about in 2024, what would you choose?

Janette Friis, Merkitysmuotoilu: Many companies, not only in the beauty industry have focused on cutting emissions and carbon neutrality. Without undermining the importance of that, we have also other urgent planetary issues to focus, such as biodiversity loss and overuse of the resources. I envision a future where brands prioritise understanding and minimising their impacts on the broader spectrum of life. This involves a comprehensive understanding of their value chain, as well as a consideration of the design choices embedded in their products and services, and communicated better for consumers.

Hanna Hatje, Hall & Hatje: AI may be the buzzword of 2023, but I think it will be a critical part of sustainability in the beauty industry in 2024. Just like any other business that sells products online, we’ve got technology that we can now use to develop the business of our time to become even more sustainable. Since many beauty products lack open purchase and are difficult to understand through a product image, AI will help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. There are already some virtual fitting rooms but it will be even bigger for the beauty industry. We will see an enhanced customer experience supported by AI becoming even more guiding and problem solving for its customers.

Satu Mäkinen, European Natural Beauty Awards and Peer Accelerator Circle: The shift in how we perceive beauty — appreciation of ourselves instead of trying to fix what’s not broken. Since the beginning, the modern beauty industry has focused on achieving an ’ideal’ irrealistic outer appearance. I see confronting ideals rising. People have had enough of beauty standards that have little to do with reality. Take Pamela Anderson, who’s recently demonstrated that it’s possible to grace the red carpet without makeup — and received applause for that choice. This movement keeps leading to a change in language as well, where terms like ’healthy ageing’ are gaining traction. Cosmetics marketing messages typically share quick fixes to maximise fast sales. By prioritising our well-being instead of striving for an unattainable ’perfection’, we pave the way for a new culture that forms the foundation for true sustainability. This shift calls for brands to produce more sustainable products and will have a wider influence on the industry.

Agneta Elmegård, Aftonbladet: The elephant in the room is definitely the waste problem and the overproduction in the beauty industry. The industry must start talking about what happens with all the products that doesn’t reach a consumer. Where does it end up? The new transparency law that will be implemented in EU to prevent greenwashing will include a Life Cycle Assessment plan for producers, that could help to bring light to the problem. 

Agneta Elmegård.

”We need to look at what is at the core of creating sustainable beauty; how we look at beauty overall. I think the shift in mindset will be the next big thing, which will lead to a more sustainable industry overall”

Which sustainability topics in beauty do you see coming? What’s the next big thing?

Janette Friis, Merkitysmuotoilu: I would love to see a circular mindset take over. Circularity has the potential to solve many sustainability issues in the industry. Such a mindset is not just about making packages recyclable; we have to figure out a way to source materials and ingredients for our products in a sustainable manner. We need to rethink how we see waste. There is also the question of how we can make circularity easy for our customers. For example, any circular package innovation is not good enough if you can’t ensure the material stays in the loop. Circularity is about all industry players coming together, creating meaningful partnerships for the common cause.

Hanna Hatje, Hall & Hatje: Many companies are working to improve their products and make their packaging even more climate-smart. We will see more recyclable packaging, refillable containers and innovative recycling programs that enable consumers to make green choices in their beauty routine. Smarter packaging and ingredients with less water and that do not harm the environment will be the watchwords for beauty companies in 2024.

Satu Mäkinen, European Natural Beauty Awards and Peer Accelerator Circle: There are many trending keywords in the conversation, such as circular creation, local sourcing, zero-waste packaging, multifunctionality, and carbon neutrality, and each holds significant importance. However, rather than treating these as individual topics, we need to look at what is at the core of creating sustainable beauty. In my opinion, that is how we look at beauty overall. I think the shift in mindset will be the next big thing, which will lead to a more sustainable industry overall.

Agneta Elmegård, Aftonbladet: Less mixed materials in the packaging, so that it’s easier to recycle. I also think that producers will communicate tracking and fair labouring in their marketing. Circular production will be a buzzword 2024 and streams from the food production will team up with the beauty industry. 

Satu Mäkinen.

”To avoid greenwashing, you have to know how your sustainability goals are progressing”

How big is the issue with greenwashing? And what are the keys for brand owners and industry players to avoid it?

Janette Friis, entrepreneur and sustainability consultant: There are issues with brands’ sustainability communications. Of course, the first issue is providing inaccurate and misleading information that is hard for customers to understand. It’s greenwashing at its best. I understand there’s pressure to declare your company’s sustainability status to stay relevant these days. However, companies should realise that, besides reputational damage lurking around the corner, it is very dangerous to be satisfied with your own undone work. This won’t serve the planet, your customers, or your business. I promise that you will be left behind if you’re not willing to put in the effort and do your sustainability work properly. Another issue is lazy communication. Nowadays, you shouldn’t underestimate end-users and think that telling a story of planting trees is going to be enough. Companies follow their marketing and sales stats religiously; the same should be done with sustainability. To avoid greenwashing, you have to know how your sustainability goals are progressing — they’re just nice thoughts until you have numbers to prove something has been done. Measuring your progress not only allows sustainability to be part of the company’s decision-making processes but also makes honest communication easy. Transparency is the key. And I want to remind that it’s okay to say that we still have work ahead of us. Sustainability is a long journey.

”If a company markets products as vegan, they should also take responsibility for explaining the meaning of this term and how it relates to their specific products”

Hanna Hatje, Hall & Hatje: For consumers, it’s often a challenge to know what’s truly sustainable or not, terms like ’natural,’ ’organic,’ ’vegan,’ and ’chemical-free’ have become commonplace. Brands need to be clear in their communications and educate their customers to avoid misconceptions. In Sweden, the ingredients of beauty products are regulated by law, which gives consumers a certain level of security. However, it is important to note that these laws primarily focus on the product’s safety for the user and do not always take environmental impact into account. For brands, it is important to be clear and transparent in their communication about their sustainability measures. If a company markets products as vegan, they should also take responsibility for explaining the meaning of this term and how it relates to their specific products. Trusted third-party certifications remain an important part of verifying a brand’s sustainability claims. To build consumer confidence and avoid confusion, it is critical that brands not only comply with legislation but also strive for transparency and education about their sustainability initiatives.

Satu Mäkinen, European Natural Beauty Awards and Peer Accelerator Circle: Greenwashing is a big issue, especially in the beauty sector. Average consumers genuinely believe they can trust the brands and the legislation to identify a natural cosmetic when, in fact, there is no proper legislation when it comes to using different keywords, such as ’natural’. The need to change this reality sparked me to found the European Natural Beauty Awards. I was frustrated seeing countless cosmetics companies branding themselves falsely as natural. Labelling plays a key role in an unregulated industry, of course, for consumers to navigate in a greenwashing world but also for brand owners to get recognised and identified for their commitment to true natural cosmetics.

Agneta Elmegård, Aftonbladet: Unfortunately, it’s still a big problem. There are many market plans that are based on people’s willing and wishing to do right and the industry still takes advantage of that. Hopefully, awareness amongst consumers will see through it and bring the problem into the light.

Hanna Hatje.

”I understand upcoming legislation is a lot of work for companies, but I hope brands won’t stop there — I feel the regulations don’t set the bar too high”

What’s required in order to further increase sustainability in the beauty industry?

Janette Friis, Merkitysmuotoilu: All actors have a role in this change-making. Legislation is definitely needed to ensure everyone is playing by the same rules. This is also how we involve those who would not participate voluntarily. Reporting from your entire value chain will teach you a lot about your impacts. I hope companies will embrace this understanding because when utilised properly, it can contribute significantly to brands’ product and service development processes. I understand upcoming legislation is a lot of work for companies, but I hope brands won’t stop there. I feel the regulations don’t set the bar too high. There is room for positive impacts driven by brands, innovation, and collaboration. There is still a great opportunity to stand out in the industry. Although companies are always responsible for their own products and services, we also shouldn’t underestimate our power as individuals. When enough people speak up and demand certain things, slowly it becomes a standard. Companies can’t thrive without their customers.

Hanna Hatje, Hall & Hatje: Stronger and more comprehensive legislation can set minimum standards for sustainability practices. Regulations related to sourcing, production, and packaging can guide businesses toward environmentally friendly practices. Clear guidelines can also help prevent greenwashing and ensure accountability across the beauty industry. Brand owners and industry leaders need to take proactive steps toward sustainability. This includes responsible sourcing of raw materials, adopting eco-friendly production processes, and implementing sustainable packaging solutions. Brands that prioritise environmental concerns can set positive examples for the entire industry. And do not forget the consumers’ power, if they do not want any sustainable beauty products they will not buy them. On the other hand — they can’t know what they want if they are not informed and educated about what they need to buy, so it goes hand in hand with the brand owner’s responsibility to educate the consumers. 

Satu Mäkinen, European Natural Beauty Awards and Peer Accelerator Circle: Legislation is definitely one important tool for moving the beauty industry toward sustainability. It leaves no loopholes for any brand. That said, conscious consumers push the change as well, and as we have seen, worldwide movements hold a lot of power in bigger shifts, such as the Metoo and BLM movements. This type of wide movement would have the chance to make beauty sustainability a real cause and initiate change — I believe the starting shift in how we perceive beauty may be the one.

Agneta Elmegård, Aftonbladet: Definitely more demanding and alert consumers. Also, awareness of the life stream amongst the producers that I mentioned earlier. Transparency of the sourcing and labouring will also help. More producers will take the help of a third party to measure their impact like Science Based Targets Initiative but also B- Corp.

Janette Friis.

”More producers will take the help of a third party to measure their impact like Science Based Targets Initiative but also B Corp”

What else is on your mind for 2024?

Janette Friis, Merkitysmuotoilu: I am eager to see how the beauty industry will incorporate sustainability into its ways of serving customers. There is undoubtedly great customer service potential in transparent, informative, and understandable communications. Moreover, there have already been some interesting applications of sustainability-related services. Thus, I hope to see partnerships and service innovations that make sustainability easy and accessible for end-users.

Hanna Hatje, Hall & Hatje: Today there are AI robots that do lash lifts in salons. I’m curious about AI’s development in the beauty industry and how it can help entrepreneurs become more efficient, profitable, and sustainable. Our industry will witness a deepening commitment to circular beauty, increased attention to water conservation, continued efforts to reduce greenwashing, and a push for sustainability practices driven by both consumer demand and industry collaboration.

Satu Mäkinen, European Natural Beauty Awards and Peer Accelerator Circle: I’m curious to see how the conversation about beauty evolves. The language has recently started to shape differently in all areas of our lives across the globe, so it will be really interesting to see how much beauty vocabulary will be influenced.

Agneta Elmegård, Aftonbladet: If the EU parliament will put a ban against PFAS in the beauty industry on the table. Toys and makeup have the weakest laws when it comes to protection from PFAS chemicals. This means children and women — what else can I wish for?


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