The Carbon Trust released a report in 2023 which found that, beyond the polluting impact of plastic packaging, there is limited awareness of other environmental impacts of the beauty and personal care sector. The production, distribution, and use of beauty products all produce greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change.
Are the beauty industry’s climate change commitments only skin deep?
The report found that the vast majority of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions come from two activities:
1. Sourcing of raw materials to make products and packaging.
This includes fossil fuel-based synthetic ingredients, extracted minerals such as mica, and sourced raw materials that can lead to deforestation such as palm oil and wood pulp. The companies assessed attributed around 30–50% of their emissions to this activity, which makes this a key priority for the beauty and personal care sector.
2. Consumer use of products.
The hot water required for many rinse-off beauty products, such as shampoo and shaving foam, is often generated through energy derived from fossil fuels. For this reason it has been estimated that the use phase of a shampoo accounts for about 90% of the total CO2 emissions along its life cycle. The companies assessed attributed between 40–80% of their overall emissions to this activity.
More action is needed from the sector to educate consumers on the environmental impact of their beauty and personal care routines and to innovate products that minimise the need for
What companies need to do to reduce the climate impact of their cosmetics?
- Reduce packaging (no or minimal packaging), especially plastics
- Reuse and refill – The Ellen Macarthur Foundation found that if all beauty and personal care product bottles were refillable, the greenhouse gases emissions would decrease by 80–85%.
- Recycle – the use of more recyclable paper, plastics or packaging made from recycled plastic, or the use of infinitely recyclable materials such as glass and aluminium.
What can consumers do to reduce their own footprint from using cosmetics and toiletries?
- Use colder water
- Spend less time in the shower
- Use products that only need one lather, e.g. 2-in-1 shampoos and conditioners
- Use less of the product.