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Special Section: Green Growth
More consumers, manufacturers, and suppliers are making moves toward sustainable packaging.By John Conroy
It’s a given that consumers want their makeup and skin creams to make them look good and feel good. But nowadays, retail customers are looking for more than just beautiful lips and smooth hands. They also want to know that their purchases feel good for Mother Earth.
“We have seen an increase in consumer demand for environmentally friendly packaging,” confirms Paula Alexander, director of U.S. marketing, Burt’s Bees (Durham, NC). Some customers make purchasing decisions based on packaging when price and quality between two products are perceived as equal, she adds.
The public’s growing ecological awareness hasn’t escaped the attention of cosmetic and personal care product manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers. Since its launch in 2004, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC; Charlottesville, VA) has seen its membership grow from nine companies to more than 200 worldwide, according to Erin Malec, director of external relations for GreenBlue, a not-for-profit organization that provides support to the coalition.
Retailers are responding to the green zeitgeist. Target is a member of SPC, and Wal-Mart instituted its packaging scorecard in 2006. By 2013, the retail giant’s goal is to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5%.
Returning from a recent visit to Costco, Dave Himmelein, marketing manager for CardPak (Solon, OH), says that he, too, is noticing a transition “over the past 12 to 24 months from PVC clamshells to more environmentally friendly ClubPak designs.” Manufactured by CardPak, the design features a trapped plastic blister between two paperboard cards. In addition to Costco, CardPak has done extensive work with Cover Girl, Oil of Olay, and Nivea for Men, Himmelein says.
In its second-annual joint research study on sustainable packaging, SPC and Packaging Digest discovered that more than 60% of the respondents work for companies that either have sustainability policies or have plans to formulate policies. In one of the most important findings, the study determined that customer requirements are the most influential factor in making packaging decisions. In addition, 53% of respondents said that more than half of their customers—brand owners and retail companies—have increased requests for green packaging.
“Our customers are looking for healthy, natural ingredients, but they’re also paying attention to how their makeup is being packaged,” says Candace Craig, public relations and marketing manager for Tarte Cosmetics (New York City). “They don’t want to see overpackaged products, so we’ve minimized the amount of unnecessary packaging material.” Craig believes that “more and more women are being socially responsible, and they want to purchase cosmetics from companies that have those same ethics and beliefs.”
That attitude also resonates with Sylvie Rouaix of Smashbox Cosmetics (Culver City, CA). Smashbox’s customer service department has noticed an increased awareness of green packaging, says Rouaix, vice president, global product development. “Consumers are more and more aware of their impact on the environment and are willing to minimize it, as long as it does not really impact their needs.” Rouaix sees the success of Smashbox’s Green Room Collection, featuring corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) compacts, as a good indication of a demand for environmentally friendly packages and formulas.
What is fueling the demand? Two trends, according to Rouaix: recyclable packages and a desire for “size-appropriate, compact packages.” Burt’s Bees’ Alexander says that customers’ sense of inner and outer well-being are affecting their purchasing decisions, “from the food they eat to the personal care products they use.” And choosing natural products with sustainable packaging is a clear choice for some.
Cargo Cosmetics’ (Toronto) PlantLove line of lipsticks carries natural certification from Ecocert, the France-based standards organization. Hana Zalzal, president and founder of Cargo Cosmetics, says the designation suits the company’s desire to meet the expectations of consumers who are more ecologically aware and asking “great questions” about both packaging and product ingredients.
Sold at Sephora, PlantLove’s packaging is made of PLA, and the boxes are made from 100%-postconsumer recycled (PCR) paperboard. Cargo’s current PLA lipstick cases are less expensive than its previous petroleum-based lipstick cases, says Zalzal. However, she adds, “I am sure there is a wide spectrum of costs on the petroleum plastic cases out there, depending on where they are made,” says Zalzal. “Our old lipstick cases were made in Canada.”
Zalzal notes that in the future, plant-based materials may cost even less than petroleum plastics because they won’t face the same price fluctuations as petroleum-based counterparts. “I do think that in the future, PLA will consistently be cheaper than plastic as oil prices fluctuate,” she says. Researchers are also in the process of overcoming the difficulties of molding PLA, she notes.
If there is a premium attached to using sustainable packaging, manufacturers typically absorb the costs. Rouaix says that green packaging can cost as much as 10% more in manufacturing expenses than traditional packaging. Acknowledging that the higher percentage is “quite a premium,” she says that Smashbox Cosmetics has been able to work with long-term vendors to rein in production costs and minimize the hit on the company’s profit margin. “We have to make it cost-neutral for the consumer,” Rouaix says.
Heather Ratushny, senior manager of product development for Tarte Cosmetics, agrees that while environmentally friendly packaging tends to be more expensive in some instances, “when new manufacturing processes have to be set up and testing costs factored in, we don’t charge our customers for it. The cost to be sustainable should scale down in the next few years as raw material suppliers and manufacturers achieve economies of scale, making the market more competitive.”
Alexander of Burt’s Bees says that environmentally friendly packaging is “inherent to our brand, so we design in the costs up front.”
The growing demand for green products will keep manufacturers and packaging suppliers busy with launches this year. Tarte, which uses vegetable-based inks and recycled paperboard, is introducing Spring Greening, a palette in a sustainable straw box that can be reused thanks to a removable foam tray made of ethylene vinyl acetate, which Tarte says is PCR in its source. The palette also comes with a brush made from bamboo, which Tarte points out is one of the fastest-growing woody plants in the world and can be replenished quickly without the use of pesticides or fertilizers.
As for its plans for the year, CardPak plans to launch ShelfPak, a self-standing carded package that eliminates a lot of secondary packaging for retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club, Himmelein says.
Burt’s Bees has redesigned both its lip balm and lip shimmer labels in order to show evidence of tampering without using shrink-wrap. In addition, Alexander says that the company has trimmed up to 50% of the packaging from many of its products. This year, the company will shift its body washes and hair care products to 80%-PCR PETE bottles. It also plans to convert its folding cartons for skin care lines to 100%-recycled clay-coated newsback certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or 50%-PCR paperboard certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Launched this year, Smashbox’s Mother Earth Palette is a bamboo compact housed in a Green Seal–certified carton, Rouaix says. With each purchase, Trees for the Future, a nonprofit resource center, will plant a tree.
Rouaix says that Smashbox’s green-focused outlook “is more of a global philosophy than a response to trends and needs. This is a very important initiative for us as people,” she adds. “We’re not into making money on this.”
“There are white-collar companies and blue-collar companies,” Himmelein says. “I like to think of us as a ‘green-collar’ company.”