The truth about organic beauty and climate change

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  • ‘Organic’ can no longer be used by brands as a trendy buzzword to sell products. We must embrace genuinely organic practices to avoid environmental catastrophe.

    The Soil Association Certification, the UK’s leading organic certification body, kicks off their annual Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week campaign today with a key message which focuses on the link between organic certification for cosmetics and the crucial protection of our natural world.

    Soil Association Certification research for its Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Market Report 2022 has shown that 38% of consumers cite chemicals entering the environment as their biggest eco worry. Another 30% say biodiversity loss is their top environmental concern. Both can be directly remedied by organic farming, which works with nature, removing the need for artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and fungicides. As a result, biodiversity on organic farms far exceeds that of non-organic, with bees, butterflies, ants, beetles, and other pollinators being, on average, 50% more abundant.

    We spoke to five Soil Association COSMOS certified organic beauty and wellbeing brands to learn more about their vital work to protect biodiversity, champion new sciences and combat greenwashing. 


    “It’s the little things that run the world and we are killing them with industrial agriculture, insecticides and fungicides,” says Esme Hawkes, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Therapi. “Organic soil is a massive carbon sink and when it’s full of organic humus, it’s phenomenal. 75% of the UK is farmland and if we put a third of that land into regenerative farming we would get to carbon net zero.” 

    The research shows that organic beauty and wellbeing products protect and nurture a healthier and more balanced biodiversity, which helps us all breathe, eat and live. 

    Image courtesy of Therapi

    “Giving back to nature supports all our futures on this planet,” says Naturopath Tipper Lewis from Neal’s Yard Remedies, a brand on a mission to save bees with a campaign called #StandByBees. “Back in 2011, we launched a petition to ban a pesticide called neonicotinoids, it worked, but they’re back. So we have relaunched the campaign and we’re trying to get a parliamentary petition together where we need 100,000 signatures.” Plus, every time a Bee Lovely product is sold, a 3% donation is made to bee-friendly charities.

    Image courtesy of Neal’s Yard Remedies

    When it comes to cleaning products for the home, just because formulations are natural doesn’t mean they are not as effective as conventional ones. Christina Hawkes, Founder of Greenscents, an organic home cleaning brand founded in 2012 says “The big benefit of using natural cleaning products is that they don’t destroy our aquatic environments,” she says. “They also don’t harm human health, cause lung problems or increase cancer risk.”

    Image courtesy of Greenscents

    What’s more, 52% of shoppers don’t trust brands to be honest about their environmental impact. As more businesses tap into consumer’s interest in buying environmentally-friendly products some brands’ actions fall short of their intentions. 

    Emma Thornton founder of TRUE Skincare says: “I have worked in marketing for numerous premium beauty brands which has given me an insight into how much it actually costs to make products, how much premium brands were charging, and how little legislation there was when it came to making claims – particularly within natural and organic beauty. That’s when I realised that greenwashing, aka exaggerating claims around ‘clean beauty’, was happening so much more than I anticipated,” she says. “We have decided to bring all manufacturing in-house to enable blockchain technology so that the consumer can see the supply chain and the environmental implications of that whole product.” 

    Image courtesy of TRUE Skincare

    Tropic’s Brand and Social Responsibility Manager, Connor Bolton agrees “We are seeing many beauty and wellbeing products labelled ‘organic’, which do not have organic certification to back this up or to provide a guarantee of a minimum percentage of organic ingredients because there are no legal requirements. So a product labelled ‘organic’ might contain 99% of synthetic ingredients and even have poor working conditions like child labour.” Tropic works with Provenance, a software solution to ensure that consumers can access information and stats about the sustainability of their products in the most transparent way. 

    Image courtesy of Tropic Skincare

    Soil Association Certification’s Business Development Manager Sophie Robinson says: “Unlike food and drink, the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are unregulated in the beauty and wellbeing industry. This creates a minefield for people who want to buy products which align with their values and have minimal impact on the environment.

    “In theory, beauty and wellbeing products which contain minimal organic ingredients (even as low as 1%) are legally allowed to label themselves ‘organic’. Looking for reputable third-party certifications like the Soil Association Certification logo is the only way consumers can guarantee that the product’s agricultural ingredients have been grown in a nature friendly farming system.”

    The appetite for more sustainable beauty and wellbeing is clearly felt amongst shoppers. Furthermore, the role of certification is gaining greater recognition as a way to distinguish between brands that are actually committed to being more sustainable, and those that ‘greenwash‘ their environmental credentials.

    The beauty and wellbeing industry is not sustainable generally, but it can be and we believe that it can even have a positive impact on our ecosystem.

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