Opinion: The New Era of Beauty Means Sustainable and Conscious. But Can All Brands Master It?


Chanella Buck | October 13, 2023

One of Chanel's latest launches in beauty, 31 Le Rouge, is not only recyclable but comes in 12 refillable shades.Credit: Courtesy.

In the ever-evolving landscape of beauty, a seismic shift is underway. Sustainability and conscious beauty are no longer buzzwords; they've become imperatives in the discerning minds of beauty consumers. What was a trend has transformed into an expectation, a given that echoes the growing environmental consciousness of the contemporary consumer. But can all brands master these changes? Luxury Society Columnist Chanella Buck dives in.

The luxury beauty industry, renowned for its flair and opulence, is awakening to its ecological footprint. Consumers are no longer enchanted solely by luxurious formulations and exquisite packaging; they demand a deeper, more meaningful connection with the products they use. The allure of a lipstick or a youth-renewing serum is no longer confined to its aesthetic appeal; it must now carry the weight of sustainability.

As climate change intensifies and environmental concerns take centre stage, beauty enthusiasts are scrutinising the practices of their favourite luxury brands. The quest for ethically sourced ingredients, recyclable packaging, and a commitment to reducing waste is steering the beauty industry towards a new era - one that marries elegance with environmental responsibility.

This green revolution is not just a phase where brands are following a trend but a shift in mindset whereby companies are actively reshaping their ethos to meet the evolving expectations of a conscious consumer base. But are brands making strides in meeting those expectations, or is there still a long way to go?

Recyclable: From Vanity to Recycling Bin

The first notable avenue into sustainability for the luxury beauty industry is the adoption of recyclable packaging, a commitment by high-end brands to reduce the environmental impact of their products. According to various industry reports, only a small percentage of beauty product packaging is currently recycled, with the majority ending up in landfills. Although single-use plastic remains a dominant material in the beauty industry, brands have started to reimagine the lifecycle of their products, ensuring that they seamlessly transition from the vanity to the recycling bin.

Take, for instance, the recent launch of Chanel’s 31 Le Rouge, which comes in a glass faceted square case inspired by the mirrors that line the legendary Art Deco staircase at 31 Rue Cambon, Paris. Proclaimed to be their new iconic lipstick, 31 Le Rouge, is not only recyclable but comes in 12 refillable shades.

By way of the collection’s storytelling piece, Chanel reassures clients the durability of the packaging is second to none, with a deeper intention for the product to be passed down from mothers to daughters with heirloom-like potential; the brand‘s signature trait consistently exemplified with their leather goods now filters through to their beauty products.

However, recyclable products aren’t sufficient in themselves. Education on how they are to be recycled is crucial. Unlike Chanel’s 31 Le Rouge, many beauty product containers are made from a variety of materials, and understanding how to properly recycle them ensures that valuable resources can be reclaimed and repurposed.

Clear guidance on recycling also reduces contamination in recycling streams, improving the efficiency of waste management systems. Ultimately, informed consumers contribute to a more sustainable beauty industry by actively participating in the lifecycle of products, from purchase to disposal, fostering a culture of responsible consumption and waste reduction.

Refillable: A Conscious Commitment to Reduce Waste

As the industry shifts its attention to recyclable packaging, there is further scope for environmental impact reduction; this includes advancements in biodegradable materials and refillable packaging.

Refillable alternatives extend the lifespan of the original container, reducing the need for frequent disposal. This not only lessens the burden on waste management systems but also diminishes the demand for new packaging materials.

La Prairie, a brand at the top of the pyramid in the luxury beauty domain, showcases its dedication to sustainability with their refillable collection, Pure Gold. The products not only exemplify elegance and design but are all refillable. By offering refills, La Prairie minimises packaging waste and encourages consumers to make a long-term investment in both their beauty routine and the environment.

Ingredients: Nurturing Nature for Exquisite Elegance

As the industry pivots, ethical considerations have also become paramount; there is a notable consumer preference for sustainable brands that is influencing purchasing decisions. Brands are increasingly aware of the need to integrate ethical practices into their supply chains and production processes.

Going beyond packaging, it's also about what goes into the products. Sustainable sourcing of ingredients is becoming a hallmark of responsible luxury beauty brands. Ethical ingredients signify a dedication to environmental sustainability, fair labour practices, and cruelty-free processes. Choosing beauty products crafted with ethical considerations reflects a collective responsibility to foster positive change in the industry, promoting a harmonious relationship between holistic self-care and global well-being.

We can see this with HIGHR Collective, which offers the world's first CO2-neutral lipstick. A certified B Corp™, HIGHR offers a new view of luxury, meeting the highest verified standards of social and environmental impact, accountability and transparency. 

Buying one HIGHR Lipstick saves a total of 5.8 lbs of carbon dioxide and is entirely formulated with 100 percent clean solar energy. Any operational CO2 is offset by actively tracking all daily operational carbon (freight, employee travel, facilities, manufacturing and warehousing) with Native Energy. Going beyond any governmental regulation, HIGHR bans Polyethylene, Polybutene, and all PEG chemicals from their lip products; there is no use of any form of silicone, meaning their non-toxic formulas are more than safe to ingest.

Partnerships: Going Beyond Personal Care

Beauty brands are also forging partnerships with eco and sustainable charities marking a transformative shift towards conscientious capitalism. Collaborations of this nature not only align brands with critical environmental causes but also empower consumers to make purchases that contribute to positive change.

By supporting such causes, beauty brands demonstrate a commitment beyond cosmetic allure, reflecting a shared responsibility for the planet. Contributions from product sales can fund initiatives like ocean conservation or sustainable sourcing. Such partnerships create a powerful narrative, intertwining luxury with environmental stewardship, and elevate brands as champions of sustainability, resonating with a growing consumer base passionate about making a beautiful impact on the world.

La Mer openly partners with notable organizations such as Earthecho International, a non-profit committed to water conservation, and Greenwave, an innovative ocean farming initiative striving to mitigate the environmental impact of fishing. In addition, La Mer annually unveils a limited edition of its bestselling moisturiser, Crème de la Mer. This year's design draws inspiration from the vitality of Giant Sea Kelp, a key natural ingredient. Clients can immerse themselves in the beauty of skincare while contributing to ocean conservation with La Mer's eco-conscious offerings.

The Path Forward: Cynicism to Hope

It’s clear that luxury beauty brands are slowly but surely making improvements through refillable containers, recyclable packaging, ethical sourcing or conscious ingredient selection. While these efforts of luxury beauty brands towards sustainability are commendable, a note of cynicism is unavoidable.

The industry, by its intrinsic nature, has long been associated with excess, and the shift towards sustainability might be seen by some as a mere marketing ploy rather than a genuine commitment to the environment.

Brands and retailers face increasing scrutiny, notably for shipping. Key volume players in the industry, not only Amazon, can be criticized for intense packaging requirements. The quest for efficiency and product safety often results in the use of excessive materials, including large boxes, air cushions and plastic bubble wrap. The environmental impact of retail shipping practices, exemplified by packaging intensity, underscores the urgent need for a shift towards more sustainable approaches.

As consumers prioritise eco-conscious choices, retailers are urged to reevaluate their packaging strategies, exploring alternatives that reduce waste while ensuring the safe delivery of products. The future of retail sustainability hinges on adopting practices that encompass the entire supply chain, from manufacturing to shipping, meeting the growing expectation for responsible and environmentally friendly operations.

In conclusion, the luxury beauty industry's foray into sustainability is not without its skeptics, but the strides made in refillable, recyclable, ethical, and ingredient-conscious practices are undeniably noteworthy. As consumers become more discerning and make environmentally conscious choices, the industry's journey towards a more sustainable future could be a transformative force, setting new standards for elegance with a conscience. The cynicism may linger, but the hope lies in the possibility that luxury and sustainability can coexist, creating a more beautiful world for all.

Beauty | Luxury | Opinion