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New report suggests the beauty industry is ignoring net zero

Titled ‘greenhouse gloss,’ Carbon Trust’s inquiry into the sector’s commitment to tackling climate change has uncovered that some major brands’ sustainability efforts are falling short.

Although the beauty industry’s impact on the environment pales in comparison to fashion’s (which itself accounts for ten per cent of humanity’s total emissions), the sector’s practices are very much taking their toll.

From unsustainable resource consumption and the mass production of plastic to deforestation and the damage caused by excessive packaging waste and toxic chemicals, it goes without saying that in order to truly tackle climate change, something’s got to give.

However, regardless of beauty’s supposed commitment to confronting the crisis, a new report by consultancy Carbon Trust has revealed that some major brand’s emissions are in fact rising.

The inquiry, which is titled ‘greenhouse gloss: is the beauty industry’s commitment to tackling climate change more than skin deep,’ assessed the most recent sustainability efforts of the world’s top ten revenue-generating companies and found them all to be falling short.

Greenhouse gloss: is the beauty industry's commitment to tackling climate change more than skin deep? | The Carbon Trust

As it stands, L’Oréal, Unilever, P&G, Estée Lauder, and Johnson & Johnson – to name a few – have no independently validated net zero targets.

Adding insult to injury, three others have failed to publicly commit to reaching net zero whatsoever and very few have clear aims for eliminating biodiversity loss from their supply chains.

The Carbon Trust’s report assessed brands against seven metrics, including the ‘coherency’ of their net zero plans and how they approach carbon offsetting and CO2 reduction.

The consultancy says that the objective of reaching net zero by 2050 must be adopted across the industry to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and argues that currently, this isn’t going far enough.

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In terms of supply chain emissions, Carbon Trust says that while most brands have taken steps to use renewable energy in their manufacturing sites, they are yet to acknowledge the emissions through raw materials.

On this note, the report highlighted the need for a greater focus on this kind of sourcing, where 30-50 per cent of beauty’s emissions occur.

‘Tackling operational emissions like including more renewable energy at manufacturing locations or reducing the amount of packaging that is air freighted from Asia (a common practice in the industry) are the easier steps for brands to consider because they require less work,’ says social impact activist Lindsay Dahl.

‘What carbon accounting shows us is that the majority of emissions are baked into the raw materials and packaging and, in some cases, consumer use phase. Brands that are committed to truly doing real climate work will need to get serious about measuring and reducing these carbon sources, and it all comes down to how well companies know their supply chain.’

Here's how the beauty sector is taking steps to become more sustainable - Scratch Magazine

Finally, with consumer use accounting for the biggest portion of a product’s emissions, at a staggering 40-80 per cent, Carbon Trust is demanding an improvement from the sector on educating consumers on the repercussions of their personal care routines.

This is a prime example of how beauty should be addressing some of the bigger, hard-to-tackle, but critically important topics in safeguarding the future of our planet.

If it continues failing to match rhetoric to meaningful action this way, it risks facing further accusations of greenwashing.

‘Setting the goals is the easy part, says Dahl. ‘The beauty and wellness industry needs to show their homework and use science-based tools to truly tackle climate change and other pressing sustainability issues.’