This was one of the key messages to come out of the recent Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, held in New York City last month where a variety of papers were presented on the role of sustainability relating to beauty products.

In the western world, lifecycle analysis shows that over 90% of the environmental impact of many personal care products is at the consumer level.

A study by UK consultancy Accenture found that 72% of consumers were ready to pay more for environmentally-friendly products, however only 17% actually purchase such products. Meanwhile in the US, research shows that just 19% of American consumers are regular buyers of green products.

A number of solutions to translate green consumer intent to action were proposed by speakers at the summit, including the Worldwatch Institute who said that sustainable business practices can influence consumers, whilst marketing and legislation can directly change consumption habits.

Other speakers called on brands to engage consumers for positive change, utilising social media as well as conventional communication tools.

The growing use of green ingredients in cosmetic formulations was also extensively discussed as questions are now being raised over the role of such goods in countries where food poverty is rife and resources scarce.

According to some observers, marine algae could emerge as an important feedstock for cosmetic ingredients as unlike agricultural materials, algae are not susceptible to weather disruptions and poor harvests.

However with most companies focusing on raw material formulations and business processes for efficiency, it was pointed out the social aspects of sustainability are often neglected.

Maxine Perella

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