In the modern world, the concept of sustainability has transcended mere buzzwords and has become an imperative for industries and consumers alike. Amidst this movement, the prevalence of greenwashing—where companies employ misleading tactics to appear environmentally conscious—has also escalated. Authentic sustainability, however, demands tangible actions and innovative solutions. Biopolymers stand at the forefront of this revolution, offering a genuine path toward reducing environmental impact across various sectors.
Greenwashing in the beauty industry
The beauty industry often falls prey to greenwashing, where brands claim eco-friendliness without tangible actions. Several examples of greenwashing include:
- Misleading Packaging Claims: Some companies market products that give the impression of sustainability. However, the product itself might not align with these claims. For instance, a brand might promote shampoo in a recyclable bottle, yet the formula contains environmentally harmful ingredients.
- ‘Natural’ but Still Chemical-Loaded: Certain beauty brands market their products as “natural” or “organic,” leading consumers to believe they’re free from synthetic ingredients. However, these products might still contain chemicals that aren’t necessarily eco-friendly or safe.
- Limited Transparency in Supply Chain: Brands may boast about sustainability without providing comprehensive information about their entire supply chain. This lack of transparency makes it challenging for consumers to assess the actual environmental impact of the product.
- Inadequate Verification or Certification: Some companies claim their products are environmentally friendly without obtaining credible certifications or third-party verification. Without official endorsements, these claims might lack credibility.
- Short-Term Green Initiatives: Brands occasionally engage in short-term sustainability campaigns or limited-edition eco-friendly lines without implementing long-term strategies or significant changes in their overall practices.
- Greenwashed Marketing Campaigns: There have been instances where marketing campaigns heavily emphasize environmental consciousness, but the brand’s actions or practices contradict these claims. This discrepancy between messaging and reality can mislead consumers.
It’s easy to blame companies, and there are times when brands have been found intentionally guilty. Other times, brands have contributed to greenwashing unintentionally. However, the rise of indie brands and a growing consumer base demanding a shift to eco-conscious beauty products has highlighted the big problem that the industry faces: the unavailability of high-performance sustainable alternatives.
EU Greenwashing Directive
To support authentic sustainability and stop consumers being misled by greenwashing claims, the EU Parliament on 17 January 2024 signed off an anti-greenwashing directive.
Under the legislation:
- Companies operating within the European Union will be prohibited from making ambiguous statements regarding the environmental effects of their products or services unless substantiated by evidence.
Examples of scrutinized claims include terms like ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘environmentally friendly,’ ‘natural,’ ‘recycled,’ and ‘biodegradable.’
- Another area of dispute involves assertions substantiated by carbon offsetting. Companies will face a prohibition on designating their products or services as ‘climate-neutral’ or ‘carbon-neutral’ if they depend on offsetting to equalize their emission records. This restriction arises from widespread apprehension regarding the credibility of certain carbon offsetting programs.
- The Directive will also disallow assertions that blend advancements in a specific area or regarding a particular product with the overall environmental impact of the company.
The changes are said to take effect in early 2026 as EU member states now have a two-year window to incorporate the directive into their respective national laws.
This Directive will affect all businesses within different industries, including the cosmetics and personal care industry, where several cases of such greenwashing have been surfacing over the past few years. The European Union approximates that 75% of products traded within the bloc presently feature an environmentally friendly assertion, yet evidence presented indicates that over 50% of these claims are either unclear or deceptive.
The pursuit of sustainable alternatives
In the beauty industry, the pursuit of high-performance sustainable alternatives faces challenges due to limited availability and efficacy. While there is a high demand for eco-friendly products, sourcing sustainable ingredients without compromising efficacy remains a hurdle. For instance, pigments in makeup often rely on synthetic dyes, challenging the creation of vibrant shades using natural alternatives. Additionally, preserving products without traditional preservatives poses difficulties, impacting shelf life.
Moreover, skincare formulations reliant on synthetic polymers deliver unparalleled results, yet eco-friendly alternatives struggle to match their performance. Natural alternatives can also have different textures, a look and feel different from what consumers are usually used to. This also limits their mass-market adoption.
There are several formulations and non-renewable ingredients for which no alternatives currently exist. According to Business of Fashion, some 24,000 formulations in the cosmetics industry currently have no ready alternatives, green or otherwise.
There is also a gap in the understanding of ingredients and products to be used. The European Chemicals Agency lists 2,495 substances banned from use in cosmetic products marketed for sale or use in the bloc. But the US Food and Drug Administration only lists 11, making it more challenging for American consumers to find safer, greener options. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit watchdog, studied lab tests of 51 sunscreen products in 2021 and found that only 35% of products met the EU standard, compared with 94% that passed the US standard. [Source]
Additionally, sustainable ingredients and alternatives can also be quite expensive, and in trying to bring a product to consumers that is both effective and affordable, it can be difficult to integrate natural alternatives.
Biopolymers: a Sustainable Alternative
Biopolymers are natural polymers derived from renewable sources like plants, biomass, and microorganisms, and present a compelling alternative to traditional petrochemical-based synthetic polymers. Their production involves natural processes, significantly reducing reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating carbon footprints. They are finding use as an alternative to plastics in several industries in terms of packaging, and also as alternatives to synthetic polymer ingredients.
Biopolymers hold a significant advantage: their biodegradability. Unlike conventional plastics and engineered synthetic polymers that persist for centuries, biopolymers break down naturally, facilitating a circular economy model. They decompose into non-toxic components, minimizing environmental harm and contributing to waste reduction.
Moreover, biodegradable natural polymers offer versatile applications across industries. From packaging materials to medical devices and textiles, these materials showcase compatibility with diverse manufacturing processes, fostering innovation without compromising sustainability goals.
In the beauty industry, biopolymers are proving to be an effective replacement for synthetic polymers in skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products. While biopolymers hold promise, their widespread adoption still remains a challenge.
Cost, scalability, and performance limitations compared to traditional ingredients have hindered their mainstream integration, however, collaborative efforts between biotechnology startups, research institutions, and an eco-conscious mindset shift of governments are bringing in innovations and solutions to traditional biopolymers.
Embracing authentic sustainability
Maximizing the potential of natural polymers in everyday use requires precise optimization using appropriate technology and processes. This requires fusing green chemistry and technological advancements to deliver enhanced biopolymers that will contribute as a truly sustainable alternative while delivering the benefits of traditional formulations and perhaps more. For example, Greenitio, leveraging chitosan’s potency, pioneers an advanced biopolymer, heralding a groundbreaking era for cosmetic brands. Employing AI-driven design and expertise in green chemistry, Greenitio reshapes chitosan’s inherent traits, delivering a stable, enhanced product. This showcases the pivotal role of cutting-edge technology in crafting future-ready formulations, exemplifying the fusion of innovation and natural resources for functional applications.
These biopolymers have a range of benefits at par with traditional ingredients and can lessen brands’ contribution to greenwashing by:
- Being true to the packaging claims: When ingredient labels say exactly what is in your product, consumers will be less hesitant to buy your products, elevating your brand’s image and value.
- Being a completely natural alternative: Plant-based biopolymers aren’t just derived from renewable sources, they are also vegan.
- Ensuring transparency: Biopolymers can contribute to supply chain traceability, giving consumers information on their product’s origins, and, being biodegradable, communicating a clear message about their environmental impact.
Greenitio’s enhanced biopolymers provide the added benefits of:
- Providing enhanced bioactivity and health benefits: these biopolymers provide a multitude of benefits such as anti-aging, anti-acne, anti-microbial, and anti-oxidant properties.
- Being cost-effective as compared to other products in the market: Sustainable alternatives have long been too expensive to bring to the mass market for adoption, but Greenitio’s technology, processes, and benefits help bring a premium product to everyone while still being affordable.
- Easily integrating into existing products and manufacturing processes: Their processes integrate into current manufacturing processes, reducing the time it takes to integrate into products.
- Lowered carbon footprint: The use of fewer resources, less wastage, and technological prowess can help lower carbon footprint between 80-87% (by Greenitio’s estimate).
- Reducing supply chain burden: They provide enhanced bioactivity and health benefits – all in one product – which means brands need not source or use several ingredients in their products, satisfying the ever-growing minimalist consumer base.
Greenitio’s biopolymers are backed by science-based evidence, which means that none of our claims are ambiguous, and neither are they false.
Bringing innovations to market
With consumer mindsets shifting to more eco-friendly products, and regulators implementing stricter eco-conscious frameworks and regulations, authentic sustainability is a brand’s best tool and strategy to bring absolutely sustainable products to market. It’s not easy to change formulations – the R&D costs can be very high; but so can launching an entirely new line of products, marketing them, and selling them. Embracing biopolymers represents a tangible step towards a greener future, and integrating high-performing, renewable ingredients can pave the way for authentic sustainability versus greenwashing.
Pursuing authentic sustainability
In the pursuit of authentic sustainability, the beauty industry confronts the pervasive challenge of greenwashing. Greenwashing also risks alienating the consumer, while embracing sustainability authentically can boost the brand’s value. And, the shift towards authentic sustainability transcends mere product innovation—it embodies an industry-wide revolution and is a paradigm shift away from greenwashing towards genuine environmental stewardship. It’s a collective stride towards coexisting harmoniously with our planet, where transparency, innovation, and commitment converge to redefine beauty industry norms for a more sustainable tomorrow.