The list of eco claims plastered on our beauty labels is getting longer. Considering 73% of millennials would pay more money for a sustainable product, it’s hardly surprising. The latest claim to grab attention? Carbon neutral.
Carbon emissions are the leading cause of climate change and beauty is a carbon-intensive industry. While ditching cotton buds or switching to refillable shampoo is one thing, your bathroom footprint doesn't just lie in materials or packaging.
“With conscious consumers continuing to demand for better environmental practices, the focus within sustainability has shifted away from topics such as plastic waste to the true cause of climate change: carbon,” Dominika Minarovic, co-founder of carbon neutral skincare brand BYBI, commented.
These customers are what Alexia Inge of UK beauty e-tailer Cult Beauty calls ‘values shoppers.’ “Their brand choices are driven by ethos over elements like form or prevalent trends,” she noted. “Consumers are deeply affected by the obvious side effects of society on the environment and the unintended consequences of convenience. Controlling our carbon output is an essential part of this,” she added.
Claiming carbon neutrality is one thing but clarifying its meaning is a little tricker. As we know, greenwashing is rife, and much like other terms - natural! organic! conscious! - it’s not always straightforward. These phrases mean different things to different people and considering the value of the green pound, brands are keen to get a slice of the action.
“Carbon neutrality is a state in which a company has taken full responsibility for its carbon footprint. This means that there is no net-negative impact to the atmosphere,” Sarah Leugers, from carbon offsetting standards body Gold Standard, explained. Confusingly, carbon negative and carbon positive actually mean the same thing. This is when businesses go one step further than net zero (carbon neutral) and offset beyond what they are putting out.
To achieve carbon neutrality, brands must first reduce their emissions in-house. For instance, carbon negative beauty brand Neighbourhood Botanicals has reduced their footprint at every step of the supply chain. “We started with a very low footprint because we are a small company and have always included the concerns of the environment in everything we do. For example, we use FSC mix card, compostable gloves and rubbish bags in our lab, a zero-waste coffee filter system and our supplier sends our ingredients in 100% recycled plastic jerry cans which we then recycle,” founder Micaela Nisbet described.
Much like you can offset a long-haul flight (RIP), beauty companies can pay to offset their remaining emissions and balance their carbon books. Once they have audited their output, this is normally done by investing in carbon positive projects.
These can be carbon capture initiatives like tree planting which directly take carbon out of the atmosphere. Or, renewable energy projects which put in infrastructure to avoid emissions in the first place. This is where things get a little murkier. Carbon offsetting has come under fire in recent years with stories of unethical projects with unwelcome side effects and stricter certification has come into place. For example, organisations like Gold Standard ensure carbon positive projects are truly benefiting the planet and people.
To sort the wheat from the chaff, and to find brands that are truly carbon neutral, it's important to check two things: firstly, that they are making steps towards reducing their carbon footprint and, secondly, that they are offsetting their additional emissions correctly and ethically.
Influencer-founded clean beauty brand BYBI have made sustainability a core part of their mission. In 2020 they became carbon neutral, including offsetting all of their historic carbon emissions since they started in 2017. As set out in their 2020 Carbon Report, they plan to use solely green energy by the end of 2021 and be carbon negative by the end of 2025.
This East London brand is the first (and currently only) UK brand to achieve carbon negative status. They currently offset more than double their emissions through a hydropower project in rural China.
Bolt Beauty is a smart zero-waste skincare brand that houses its formulas in biodegradable seaweed capsules. Carbon neutral from the start, the brand works to continually reduce their carbon emissions alongside offsetting via Gold Standard certified projects.
Swedish vegan haircare brand Maria Nila comes in carbon-neutral packaging. Since 2016, Maria Nila has contributed to the planting of over 14000 m2 of forest in Nicaragua with non-profit organisation Plan Vivo.
Australian natural skincare brand Sukin were ahead of the game by going carbon neutral back in 2008. Over the last ten years they have invested in carbon projects across the world from wind generators in China to solar farms in India.
While Italian haircare brand Davines has already made significant progress towards carbon neutral status (including transitioning the company's production site and offices in 2017), in 2020 they created their first 100% carbon neutral product. After four years of research and 262 formulas they created A Single Shampoo.