Knowledge Corner: Sustainability in the Personal Care Industry

Latest News Calendar Date 23/02/2016
Knowledge Corner: Sustainability in the Personal Care Industry

Sustainability has moved on a long way from CSR programmes focussed on compliance and philanthropy. Nowadays, companies are embedding sustainability into their brand propositions – and delivering growth. Here at Stephenson we look at how personal care companies can use sustainability as a vehicle for growth and innovation…

So, what is ‘Sustainability’?

Environmental concerns are particularly evident in the personal care industry. As a concept, sustainability has taken a hold in corporations around the world. Brands are moving forward with initiatives to save energy and water resources, be more efficient, hold supply chains accountable, and more. The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” [2] – but how can personal care companies leverage sustainability as a platform for growth?

3 Pillars of Sustainability

To start, it means considering the ‘Three Pillars of Sustainability’: Environmental, Economic and Social Factors [3] – so cosmetics and personal care ingredients companies are being encouraged to consider the impact that their products have on these three pillars; through responsibly sourcing raw materials and packaging, maintaining the health of employees, recycling where possible, reducing water and energy consumption, and producing less waste.

At a national level, governments are starting to press public companies to report more non-financial information – including emissions data. This greater transparency is helping embed sustainability more deeply into business practices – and cosmetic suppliers are undertaking a variety of strategies to apply throughout the manufacturing process.

Sustainability as a driver for change

Consumer trends

Recently, the major trends in the personal care market have been for products to be ‘natural’ and ‘organic’. This is fuelled by consumer preferences which indicate a move towards eco-friendly products as environmental responsibility becomes more important to them.

In fact, as many as 87% of global consumers consider a company’s social and environmental stance before making purchase choices [1]; which means those of us in the personal care supply chain now face new challenges: with more conversation via social media and more ‘power’ in the consumers’ hands, they are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of the products they use and the ingredients they contain – and buying decisions are informed by this awareness.

"“Consumers have constant access to information thanks to the Internet and Social Media, which allows them to stay informed about ingredients that may potentially harm them or the environment. Consumers are also demanding more transparency from cosmetic companies on their ethical sourcing methods, product, ingredients and sustainability practices”"

Claire Walker, Stephenson

Climate change

Climate change, deforestation and fair trade are issues that are featuring more and more in the media; and so should be addressed across all sectors, particularly in the $14-18 billion dollar industry that is personal care. [4]

How to start a sustainable journey for your brand

A company’s raw material inventory is a great place to start, with biodegradable materials, vegetable-based feedstock, and ethically sourced ingredients now being readily available. Cosmetic ingredient companies are trying to reduce their energy and water consumption and produce less or zero waste and many have developed ingredients that facilitate eco-formulating for the personal care manufacturer.

‘Green chemistry’ is a new term which is increasingly incorporated into formulating. It means preventing waste, being energy efficient, using solvent-free extraction methods, and optimising ambient or cold-processing. Cold-process manufacturing is one way to enable manufacturers to reduce energy consumption, to improve the sustainability of their process. Another method is to certify your ingredients such as natural, organic, responsibly sourced, RSPO, ethical/Fair Trade.

Sustainability at Stephenson

RSPO Sustainable palm

In 2010, Stephenson became the first soap base manufacturer worldwide to use 100% RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm and Palm Kernel Oil in production. With this, we can be sure that our Palm and Palm Kernel Oil has been farmed sustainably and has not contributed to illegal deforestation. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in 70% of cosmetics products, so we feel the work RSPO do is invaluable. Also our customers can further apply for a RSPO certified logo for their packaged finished bar products to provide more credibility for a sustainably sourced product.

Our sustainable palm sourcing journey continues today. Ever since we had joined forces with the Orangutan Land Trust to source, promote and establish supply of Deforestation Free Palm Oil in soap, today we are also members of RSPO and POIG. This means not only raising awareness for the deforestation and destruction of Orangutan habitat in order to safeguard the future of this iconic species but also ensuring that we follow best practices for responsible sourcing of palm, palm kernel oils and their derivatives.

"Since the greatest threat to orangutans is the conversion of their habitat for palm oil, the most important thing we can do is ensure that the palm oil we use and consume is produced sustainably and not at the expense of forest ecosystems. Stephenson Group products make a real difference in ensuring the survival of the orangutan - Michelle Desilets, Executive Director, OLT (Orangutan Land Trust)."

Supporting Communities in Africa

In 2015 we teamed up with Afrikids and today we continue supporting African communities through locally sourced Shea Butter, which we use in many of Stephenson products.

Employee Engagement & Wellbeing

We support our employees wellbeing offering flexible work hours for our employees, to improve work-life balance and even more so with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Our culture also ensures that employees are heard and supported whether it is through management, surveys or friend colleagues.

Also, we have a Cycle to Work Scheme to allow employees to purchase a bike at a subsidised price to encourage cycling instead of driving to work, which encourages people to cycle to work. With 60% of car trips being shorter than 5 miles, and with pollution and emissions being a key contributor to global warming, we see this as an important issue.

Responsible Product Development

Aside from certifications, we recycle where possible, ensure safe and responsible testing of products, and responsibly source ingredients for product development and manufacture. Cold process ingredients can more than halve manufacture time and energy when making cosmetic products. With hot process emulsions requiring heating to 70C and then cooling to around 40C, we have recognised that this is a waste of energy and water.

With Green chemistry practices in mind, Stephenson has developed DUROSOFT®, a range of Polyglyceryl emulsifiers. DUROSOFT® can reduce production times, give a simple manufacturing process, reduce product inventory, and save water and energy for the manufacturer – helping them conform to tighter energy standards.

Final Thoughts…

Sustainability isn’t a fad: the pressure on cosmetics brands and manufacturers to demonstrate their social and environmental credentials is increasing; so more of them are finding ways to transform their own brands through sustainability-focused products, services and consumer experiences. However, it’s a long journey for the manufacturer and consumer to be 100% sustainable, but here at Stephenson we’re fully committed to making these changes from supply chain through to product.

Contact us here to find out sustainable solutions provided by Stephenson



  • ‘Sustainability Challenges Drive Innovation in Technical Community’, Priscilla Taylor,
  • Personal Care Products Council
  • ‘Whitepaper: Sustainability in the Cosmetic Supply Chain’, In-cosmetics Personal Care Ingredients, Reed Exhibitions
  • 2014 Kline Group
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Ravi Rathod Technical Innovations Manager