Cosmetics Carbon Footprint

Cosmetics Carbon Footprint

8 sept. 2023

When you think about high-impact activities on our environment, it's likely that an image of an airplane comes to mind. It's true that aviation is a high-emitting activity, representing roughly 2% of global emissions. But it likely comes as a surprise to learn that the production of cosmetics is right behind aviation in it's total emissions, contributing to around 1% of total global greenhouse gas emissions every year. Despite representing such a large share of global emissions, most cosmetic companies do not know the environmental impact of their products. But as consumers increasingly demand sustainable products, and environmental regulations increase in scope, the beauty industry is compelled to assess their impact, and learn to measure their environmental footprint.

How is environmental impact measured?

There are many ways to measure environmental impact but by far the most common method is through Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). With LCA, all stages of a products life cycle are represented and environmental impacts from each are measured thoroughly. This includes emissions from phases of a product's life that are not always obvious, such as the usage phase of a product, or emissions from how a product is disposed of.

Where do the emissions come from?

Cosmetic products represent a massive category of consumer goods, and as a result, the carbon emissions can vary drastically from one type of cosmetic product to another. The most critical distinction among cosmetic product environmental footprints is in the Use Phase of the product. Specifically, whether or not the product requires hot-water for application or removal plays a huge role in the overall impact.

Here is a rough estimate of the relative, overall carbon emissions for the two kinds of cosmetic use:

The above table shows the percentage of a product's total emissions, broken down by the life cycle stages most relevant to cosmetics.

Product Use

This stage refers to any emissions derived from the standard application of the cosmetic product. These emissions are most commonly due to the heating of water to apply or use the product appropriately. Use phase emissions for ‘hot-water products’ such as shampoo, facial cleansers, or hair treatments are much higher as they require repeated water heating throughout the product’s lifespan.

Manufacturing

Cosmetic manufacturing emissions come primarily from industrial heat while homogenizing the product’s ingredients. Depending on the type of formulation and product, different homogenizing, heating, and agitation processes will be applied. Large factories and specialized equipment are also taken into account when measuring the manufacturing carbon footprint of a product.

Packaging

Cosmetic packaging comes in many different materials; plastics, ceramics, glass, and metals to name a few. Every element of the cosmetic product’s packaging must be taken into account in this footprint. A foaming-cleanser may have a pump dispensing mechanism that has several different plastics in its construction, and a stainless steel spring to give the pump its mechanical feel. These elements, and things such as secondary (the cardboard in box that hold’s your product) and tertiary (the multi-pack box holding the individual boxes) packaging, are all taken into account in this step of a product’s footprint.

Ingredients

Cosmetic ingredients are extremely complicated. They are often very carbon intensive as well. Ingredients start their life as raw materials like coconuts, palm fruit, or fossil fuels. These raw materials undergo a variety of intermediary chemical processes before they end up in your cosmetic product’s bottle. Methods of harvesting, processing, and transporting these ingredients all play a role in the ingredient’s carbon footprint.

Points of Sale/Transportation

The architecture of a retail or online store must be taken into account for the overall carbon footprint of a product. Transportation of products from manufacturing sites to the points of sale, or from warehouses to end consumers affect the product’s carbon footprint. Things like method of transportation and distance impact the footprint most here.

Conclusion

Knowing what stages of a product's life cycle are known to be impactful can help reveal emitting hotspots, and identify where to allocate resources best to reduce overall impact.

Fairglow is the only software specifically designed to help brands, laboratories, and retailers understand and reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

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