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Greenwashing & How to navigate the stigma as a small beauty brand

Greenwashing in the beauty industry
Greenwashing & How to navigate the stigma as a small beauty brand

In light of April being the most sustainably conscious month of the year, thanks to World Earth Day (22nd April 2023), the terms green, natural, organic, and clean are relatively unregulated and have been overused by big beauty brands to make misleading claims and confuse environmentally conscious consumers, as a result, these terms once used to describe greener products and services, has resulted in what now is known as ‘Greenwashing’. So where does this leave the beauty brands who are actually making efforts to become ‘green’, and how can they navigate the stigma associated with Greenwashing?

What is greenwashing?

The term Greenwashing is used to describe brands who use terms such as ‘green’ ‘natural’ ‘organic’ and ‘clean’ by making false/murky claims that inflate the benefits regarding a product’s environmental impact (or lack thereof) or adopt these terms as brand values without actually actioning them.

Take for example K-beauty brand Innisfree who claimed their bottle was 100% paper but was in fact was just a plastic bottle wrapped in paper. Or, how Boni Sands falsely claimed it’s sunscreen was ‘Reef-Friendly’ and were found to include harmful ingredients.

What makes a beauty brand sustainable and green?

A sustainable beauty brand is one that does not use harmful toxic ingredients to us or our planet.

Why brands are being called out now?

Now more than ever consumers want more than what they can pick up off the shelf. What they buy and who they buy from characterise their own personal values and beliefs. A brand represents a lifestyle, tells a story, and stands for more than what it sells. The modern consumer demands more and (with the help of social media) is calling out beauty brands that lack transparency and that mislead in their marketing.

Regulators are now stepping in such as The Soil Association, and Advertising Standards Agency in the UK, the crackdown begins on exaggerated claims. Due to a lack of regulations words used to describe clean, natural products, have become buzzwords and have allowed big beauty brands to turn a movement into a trend, “A product just has to contain 1% organic ingredients, and you can call it organic. Even if it’s loaded with pesticides in the other 99%.”, (Soil Association), thus allowing the labeling and packaging to represent the product in ‘green light’, hence greenwashing or ‘green-sheen’.

How to demonstrate you’re a sustainable + ‘green’ beauty brand?

Transparency

When my clients come to me wanting to launch a cosmetic brand, I always make them aware that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Not only is it competitive but it is under the most scrutiny and they need to be prepared to be as transparent as possible. Transparency is the key to building a well-loved and trusted brand. That means, lifting the curtain (the whole way) and showing every process, listing every ingredient, and keeping them in the loop of design decisions you make and why you make them. Transparency can be told through your brand’s story, from how the ingredients are sown and harvested, to the impact of the packaging it’s delivered in (see below).

NOTE: It’s often a long road to becoming a fully sustainable brand, but don’t be shy to say that there’s still room for improvement and that aspects of your business/product still have a little way to go but you’re on your way to getting to where you want to be. Remember, people respect honesty.

Proof-Points and focusing on impact

‘Proof points’ is a marketing term used to prove the quality, importance, and you are who you say you are. As a beauty brand, it’s worth investing time and money to apply for a certification that is regulated, trusted, and held to high-standards relating to sustainability and proving you’re as green as you say you are. The most used proof points in the beauty industry are:

Highlighting your impact as a brand should be part of your messaging, as well as just on the label. Have you made a pledge? What environmental issues matter to you as a brand?

Packaging

Often the biggest downfall of sustainable beauty brands. Take SKKN for example, when they launched with their refills, they were designed to fit inside a further outer layer. They quickly came under fire for using unnecessary and excessive packaging despite Kim stating in an Instagram post “the whole sustainable part … was a requirement for our brand.”. Instead, mindful beauty brands such as Palm of Feronia use minimal packaging, and what packaging they do use is seeded paper boxes and glass bottles.

Greenwashing & How to navigate the stigma as a small beauty brand
Palm of Feronia uses her packaging as a way to tell her brand story. Image from Earl of East for Palm of Feronia

Be mindful when it comes to packaging. Offering a quality unboxing experience as a beauty brand is great but not at the expense of the environment. Knowing what your audience prioritse is also key.

Partnering with a local charity/or community initiative

A great way to demonstrate sustainability is through collaborating with environmental charities. A brand that gets it is e11even fragrance who has partnered with Dirt Charity (founded by Arizona Muse) for Earth Day this year, with 50% of sales (made through the website) donated to charity.

Conclusion

Actions being taken against greenwashing should not be discouraging towards brands who are on their journey to going green. Instead, it should be about holding all brands (regardless of their industry) accountable for their marketing claims and making it easy for consumers to make informed decisions when making a purchase.

Have you been affected by greenwashing as a brand? What are your thoughts on the matter? message me at hello@katemale.com

References

https://www.businessoffashion.com/

https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/how-to-spot-and-avoid-greenwashing-in-beauty

https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-beauty/article/3145148/how-beauty-brands-can-avoid-greenwashing-and-take-real

https://www.provenance.org/news-insights/5-times-beauty-brands-were-accused-of-greenwashing-and-the-lessons-we-can-learn

Kate Male Brand Designer & Creative Director based in London

About Kate

Kate is a brand designer and creative director based in London. She works with wellness, lifestyle, and beauty brands who want to tell their story with depth, and style.

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