Cosmetics giants team up to create environmental scorecards for product labelling

Image: L'Oreal

Other brands across the health, beauty and cosmetics sectors are being encouraged to join the new initiative, which is called the Eco-Beauty Score Consortium and is being supported by industry body Cosmetics Europe.

The founding companies have outlined their principles for developing the scoring system. It will be brand-agnostic; will require all participating firms to use a common, science-based methodology; will disclose environmental impact information relating to product formula, product use and packaging; and will be clear and easy-to-understand.

The methodology for calculating the environmental impacts of products will be based in the European Union’s Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) principles. This methodology was first piloted between 2013 and 2016 and the EU is mulling its introduction as a legal requirement for some sectors producing consumer-facing goods.

Once the environmental impacts of key ingredients and raw materials are calculated, the information will be stored in a database shared between all participating firms. This helps to ensure comparable scores and will minimise the resources each company will need to allocate to the activity.

The final scores will be communicated to customers using grades, with ‘A’ being the best and ‘E’ being the poorest.

L’Oreal has already started using this approach. The firm’s owned brand Garnier launched a digital tool grading products on their environmental footprint, from A to E, earlier this year. This is the labelling system on which the Consortium’s approach will be based.

Henkel, LVMH, Natura &Co and Unilever, meanwhile, have already begun developing environmental impact assessment methodologies for key ingredients and raw materials in products and packaging, as well as average measurements of emissions generated during product use – for example, for heating the water used for showering and bathing.

The Consortium has not yet stated when the scores are likely to appear on the packaging or websites of member companies.

“It is possible for the cosmetics sector, as has happened in other sectors, to build a scientific environmental impact assessment of their products, based on a full life cycle assessment,” said Philippe Osset, a consultant providing advice to the European Commission and French Standardisation Association.

“It requires a cross-industry pooling of knowledge and expertise, particularly concerning the environmental impact data; this is exactly what the consortium founding members are embarking on.”

Green Claims Code

The health, beauty and cosmetics industry is one of the sectors included in the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) ongoing work to minimise greenwashing.

Experts have repeatedly claimed that greenwashing has become more common in recent years and that this trend will only accelerate in the coming years, as consumer and investor demands for sustainable products outpace corporate action. A recent survey of 1,000 people by Futerra found that most want to choose more eco-friendly options, but more than two-fifths think companies make it harder to do so, despite their sustainability commitments.

The CMA published recommendations for businesses with consumer-facing products and services on avoiding greenwashing back in May. Its recommendations include accuracy of claims; clarity of claims; claims that do not omit important information; claims that enable ‘fair and meaningful comparisons’ and other aspects.

This week, the Authority has published a ‘Green Claims Code’ and urged all businesses in affected sectors to ensure that on-pack labels, other labels and marketing campaigns comply with its principles by the start of 2022.

The Authority has pledged to then carry out a more in-depth review of claims made online and offline in 2022, after website sweeps by the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) in late 2020 found that four in ten corporations are providing information on environmental criteria that could be considered misleading and potentially breaking consumer laws.

“We’re concerned that too many businesses are falsely taking credit for being green, while genuinely eco-friendly firms don’t get the recognition they deserve,” said the CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli.

“The Green Claims Code has been written for all businesses – from fashion giants and supermarket chains to local shops. Any business that fails to comply with the law risks damaging its reputation with customers and could face action from the CMA.”

Sarah George

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