New research: consumer demand for ‘clean’ beauty is an opportunity to galvanise sector action on Net Zero

A report assessing the credibility of the Net Zero commitments of the ten highest revenue global beauty and personal care companies shows the sector has a window of opportunity to go further and faster on Net Zero.

Despite growing demand for ‘clean’ beauty products, new research has found none of the world’s ten leading beauty brands have independently validated Net Zero targets. 

It also found three of these companies have failed to publicly commit to reaching Net Zero at all, and at least two reporting a rise in their greenhouse gas emissions in the last year.  

The report, Greenhouse gloss: is the beauty industry’s commitment to tackling climate change more than skin deep? was released today by the Carbon Trust’s Net Zero Intelligence Unit. It reviewed the most recent sustainability reports of the world’s top ten revenue generating beauty brands, L’Oréal, Unilever, P&G, Estée Lauder, Shiseido, Beiersdorf, LVMH, Kao, Coty and Johnson & Johnson. 

They were assessed using the global climate consultancy’s new Net Zero Reality Check tool. The Reality Check tool was developed by the Carbon Trust to assess the credibility of climate action in different sectors by reviewing the most recent annual, sustainability and emissions reports of a sample of companies.

The research found overall the sector is failing to take action on its two main sources of greenhouse gases. These emissions come from raw materials and consumers using their products, mainly through hot water and energy.  

However, there was little action evidenced publicly by any of these companies to acknowledge, tackle or reduce these problems.

This creates a risk of ‘greenhouse gloss’, or greenwashing in the beauty sector, which could see talk about sustainability fail to translate into meaningful action. 

Alongside a lack of validated targets for Net Zero, the Net Zero Intelligence Unit’s research found only three of the beauty giants have targets for eliminating deforestation from their supply chains. 

Deforestation is responsible for around 15% of greenhouse gas emissions and also contributes to habitat and biodiversity loss.  

Simon Retallack, Director of the Carbon Trust’s Net Zero Intelligence Unit said, “a Net Zero Reality Check is vital for all sectors as the 2050 global target moves ever closer. While many beauty products are now marketed as ‘clean’ and ‘green’, our analysis found that at present, these claims are not translating into deeper climate action. 

“Beauty and personal care companies need to urgently reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with sourcing product ingredients. They also need to help consumers to reduce the impact they have when they use beauty products, especially their use of hot water.   

“As consumer demand for sustainable beauty products booms, the sector has a window of opportunity to ensure their products and business models reflect the urgency of action needed to reach Net Zero.” 

The ‘clean’ sector of the beauty industry alone is forecast to be worth US$22 billion globally by the end of next year, highlighting the consumer demand for such products.  

However, this term is subjective and loosely refers to products with safe, natural, organic or eco-friendly credentials, despite there being no standards on products marketed in this way. 

The full report from the Carbon Trust’s Net Zero Intelligence Unit is available here.  

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