Knowledge Corner: Sustainability in the Personal Care Industry
Sustainability has moved on a long way from CSR programmes focussed on compliance and philanthropy.
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. Our technical expert, Lucy, discusses how personal care companies can use sustainability as a vehicle for growth and innovation…
I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to author our first ‘Knowledge Corner’ article of 2016, especially as it’s centred on a topic that I wholeheartedly support and believe in: sustainability. In this post I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the topic and how it impacts those of us who work in the personal care ingredients industry.
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, 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”  – but how can personal care companies leverage sustainability as a platform for growth?
To start, it means considering the ‘Three Pillars of Sustainability’: Environmental, Economic and Social Factors  – 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 embed sustainability throughout the manufacturing process.
Trends as a driver for change
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 ; 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 due to the Internet and social media, which allows them to stay informed about ingredients that may potentially harm them or the environment. Consumers also have begun demanding full transparency from cosmetic companies on their sourcing methods, product, ingredients and sustainability practices”"
Lucy Simmonds, Stephenson Personal Care
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. 
Starting on your sustainable journey
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 Personal Care
In 2010, Stephenson Personal Care 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.
Charitable and Responsible Sourcing
In 2015 we teamed up with Afrikids. Afrikids is a child’s rights organisation working to alleviate child suffering and poverty. Their focus is to; listen to what the community knows it needs, empower them to make necessary changes themselves, ensure absolute sustainability. Afrikids supply Stephenson Group with locally sourced Shea Butter, which we use in many of our products.
Not long after Afrikids, we launched our ‘Fairtrade Certified Soap Bases’. The key objectives of Fairtrade are to ensure producers receive prices that cover sustainable production, enable ethical sourcing to support communities, and provide additional Fairtrade premium which goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions.
Employee Engagement & Wellbeing
In 2014 and 2015 we took part in Cycle to Work Day. This is a national event to encourage people to cycle to work for just 1 day. 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. One member of staff does this all year round! We also introduced a Cycle to Work Scheme to allow employees to purchase a bike at a subsidised price to encourage cycling instead of driving to work.
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 this in mind, Stephenson Personal Care has developed DUROSOFT®, a range of Polyglyceryl-4 Ester cold process 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. DUROSOFT® is being launched at Incosmetics Paris, 12-14th April 2016 at Porte de Versailles, where even the venue has considered the hot topic of sustainability, with green roof gardens, solar panels and geothermal energy!
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 Group we’re fully commited to making these changes from supply chain through to product.
About the author:
Lucy Simmonds is a Technical Business Development Manager for Stephenson Personal Care. She received her Masters in Chemistry from the University of Huddersfield, during which she undertook a years placement at Stephenson Personal Care. Following graduation, she re-joined Stephenson Personal Care as a Technical Innovations Chemist, and in 2014 completed her Diploma in Cosmetic Science. After 3 years working in R&D, Lucy is now focussing on the Business Development of new products and ingredients. You can learn more on the topic of sustainability in the personal care supply chain by attending Lucy’s innovation seminar on “RSPO and Palm Free Emulsifiers for Natural Cosmetics” at InCosmetics, Paris, Thursday 14 April 2016, 12:10 – 12:40 Theatre 2. You can also connect with Lucy on LinkedIn.
- ‘Sustainability Challenges Drive Innovation in Technical Community’, Priscilla Taylor, Prospector.com
- Personal Care Products Council http://www.personalcarecouncil.org/
- ‘Whitepaper: Sustainability in the Cosmetic Supply Chain’, In-cosmetics Personal Care Ingredients, Reed Exhibitions
- 2014 Kline Group