Green Looks Great On You

published Dec. 4, 2019

by Stasia Bartsch: CUSD x THREAD

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 60 years, news flash: the earth is on f***ing fire and it’s our fault. As the pressures of climate change become ever more apparent, we as consumers are charged with reflecting on the sustainability of our own lives, causing many to wonder about how some of our most used items are contributing to the global crisis. Everything you wear, from your trendy faux fur coat to those gorgeous Frye boots, has an environmental footprint. While clothes can be reworn, cosmetics are a one-and-done product raising some concern about the sustainability of what we put on our face. While the optics for the makeup industry aren’t great, being aware of the power of the buyer and where to spend an extra dollar can help shift the scales of balance in mother nature’s favor.

Although it is possible for the cosmetic industry to achieve social, economic, and environmental sustainability, many of the biggest players in the game do not prioritize these initiatives. In a 2018 study of the North American cosmetic industry, total revenues were reported to be $16,303.4 million, with a rise in product consumption of 2.5% since 2014. Of this market, there are two heavy hitters to be aware of: L’Oréal S.A., which was credited with 25.5% of the income, and the Estée Lauder Companies, which came in at a close second with 24%. Through processing and packaging these large corporations generate incredible amounts of waste and their recently published environmental initiatives barely scratch the surface of ecological redemption. The largest environmental issues facing the industry today are the use of single-use packaging plastics, water management, and use of palm oil in cosmetic formulas, none of which are satisfied by the terms of these documents. Where these conglomerates fail, smaller cosmetic companies are able to find a niche market and flourish.

The current leaders in sustainable makeup are the 90s underdog Lush and many single seller companies on Etsy such as Clean-Faced Cosmetics by Laura. Both enterprises have gone the extra mile to show their commitment to the environment through social activism and resource management, and are thriving because of it. Lush has found a way to eliminate all direct palm oil from their supply chain, and is still working to get rid of palm oil derivatives while calling out the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification board’s lack of proper accreditation practices. Laura’s products are completely vegan, and almost everything she sells is zero-waste, meaning there is no single-use or unnecessary packaging that comes with the product. The takeaway here? Sustainability in the cosmetic industry is feasible, but buyers need to exercise their consumer power by sticking to brands that promote ethical sourcing and conservation of resources. Social and economic pressures created the space for eco-friendly brands and can continue to do so as long as they are supported by the buyer. This means that it is our time to put in the work and seek out companies with strong environmental ethics, and to make informed decisions about where we get our next favorite palette. By supporting these eco underdogs, we as consumers have the power to directly impact the cosmetic industry and hit those who maintain poor environmental business practices where it hurts.

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