Sustainability and what it actually means...
Over the last few years, the word ‘sustainable’ has been put alongside ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ across pretty much any product category you can think of. More and more, brands are thinking about the impact their businesses have on the planet (which is so great to see) - but what does sustainability really mean?
I guess it helps to remove the ‘ability’ part and talk about the word, sustain. On its own, it doesn’t have the same connections to eco-conscious brands as it normally does and instead simply means to keep something going for a long period of time. That’s essentially what sustainable businesses are trying to do for our planet and economy. Add the ‘ability’ part back in – and it starts to explains itself really.
For us at Beauty Kitchen (and many other beauty brands), sustainability is about making sure that we consider the long term environmental and ethical impact of running our business, from the ingredients we use, to how we produce them and our packaging.
“For me, sustainability is where the natural and scientific worlds come together”
From an ingredients perspective, it’s all about giving back and replenishing what’s taken. This means making the most efficient use of resources and developing ingredients that have a positive carbon impact, instead of a negative carbon impact on the planet.
For me, sustainability is where the natural and scientific worlds come together. Advanced plant technologies have developed a process to "milk" plants in order to obtain extracts without damaging the plants, which means you can harvest them several times and also in a smaller spaces such as greenhouses with shelves. Technically, this can’t be classed as organic, but it is the most sustainable way.
However, sustainability doesn’t just start and end with ingredients: It means looking at every single element of that product’s journey, from the very first resource to someone’s bathroom cabinet.
In Elle’s September Sustainability issue, they said that the beauty industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year. Only 14% of that plastic packaging makes its way to recycling plants and 40% ends up in landfill - so to do some quick maths, that’s 48 billion units, or in other words, a lot. At the moment, plastic is cheap to manufacture, but the materials it’s made from (petrochemicals) are a finite resource that, let’s face it, we need for other things at the moment (like energy) until we find stronger alternatives.
The thing is, more eco-friendly packaging options are out there - whether that’s using materials like rock paper for labels or minimising packaging wherever possible. At Beauty Kitchen, we do this thing where we use pre-cycled packaging. Basically, it means that if another business creates packaging they don’t like or don’t want to use anymore, we’ll buy it from them and save it from landfill. After that, we need to think about transporting those products in the most sustainable way, whether that’s through the type of transportation we use or manufacturing locally to reduce the distance that those products need to travel. And so it continues.
“For me, B Corporation sum up sustainability best when they say that business should be used as a force for good, and I couldn’t agree more”
Packaging, ingredients and product aside, sustainability also refers to the ethical and economical side to business. This can mean anything from providing employment opportunities in areas that need it most, to practicing in Fair Trade and donating to charity. It also means being totally transparent as a business - especially in the beauty industry, profit is sometimes made on unsustainable, unachievable and frankly, unrealistic promises, like an eye cream that says it can make you look 19 again or green teas that claim they can make you lose 10 pounds overnight. No matter what industry you’re in, sustainability touches every element of running a business.
For me, B Corporation sum up sustainability best when they say that business should be used as a force for good, and I couldn’t agree more. If every single business made even one change towards sustainability, we’d make a huge impact for our planet and future generations. It all goes back to this word ‘sustain’ and the more changes we make now, the longer we can keep our planet and economy going.
Jo Chidley, Founder, Beauty Kitchen
Jo won Growth Business of the Year at the BWS/WES Awards 2017 a