Why the future of beauty must be circular

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“It is a linear model responsible for 100 billion tonnes of waste per year, which is equivalent to the weight of 800,400 elephants,” explains Emma Lewisham, whose eponymous beauty brand is the first in the world to achieve a 100% circular economic model. It refers to the widespread disposable mindset responsible for single-use packaging, the biggest carbon emitter in the beauty industry. “The elephant in the room for beauty is the wrapper,” Lewisham says. “If we want to solve the carbon problem, we have to solve the packaging problem in style. ”

The even bigger elephant in the room? The myth of recyclable packaging. While many brands are appeasing consumers’ fear of creating excess waste by labeling their products as recyclable, Lewisham says the reality is packaging is rarely recycled. “Because of the complexity of the packaging – the pumps, the color of the glass – it’s not worth the curb recycling to work on it, so it’s diverted to landfill,” Lewisham explains. “Labeling a beauty product ‘100% recyclable’ without a take-back program and a reputable recycling partner in place should be considered an irresponsible business practice. ”

It is for this reason that Lewisham encourages its customers to return their packaging free of charge for reuse through their Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle Partnership program. “Recycling is the last resort, it’s much more efficient to reuse the material,” says Lewisham. The New Zealand-based brand will even take back packaging from its American customers to ensure that any material they bring into the United States does not become what Lewisham describes as “an American problem” by ending up in American landfills. .

Believing that the traditional linear model of extraction and disposal is no longer sustainable, Lewisham instead argues for a circular model of beauty. “For so long that it was“ out of sight, out of mind, I wanted to rethink this model, flip it over on my head to create a circular model of fully refillable products. ”That means everything from the packaging machines through their business process, has been designed to ensure that their materials remain in circulation after first use.

Their circular model is so revolutionary that it was endorsed by Dr Jane Goodall: “Emma Lewisham may be setting a new benchmark in beauty, but they also set a benchmark for how all industries should operate: circular, waste free and carbon positive. “Writes the world-renowned ecologist in a official statement.

For Lewisham, it’s not enough to minimize the environmental impact, true sustainability also means committing to regeneration. That’s why she aligned the brand with the 2015 United Nations Paris Agreement target of halving CO2 emissions by 2030, or better yet, reaching zero. “It’s not just about measuring and then offsetting our impact,” says Lewisham, describing how his skincare brand is the first in the world to be positively verified for carbon at the product level.

They received this certification from the independent environmental agency Roof Envirocare, with whom they spent a year measuring the carbon emissions emitted at each stage of their product’s lifecycle. “The process has given us visibility into where our carbon emissions come from, with that information comes the ability to make a difference,” Lewisham said. “You can’t change what you don’t know.”

Lewisham makes sure its customers are also informed, communicating exactly how many kilograms of carbon have been emitted for each product. “We label our products with a carbon score to show customers that there is an environmental impact, but also to show that we still have work to do,” Lewisham told Forbes. “Any number greater than zero is a number of imperfections. While the typical beauty brand would prefer to hide its carbon footprint, Lewisham is boldly embracing transparency by being the first brand in the world to use a carbon score tag. “More brands have to do this,” Lewisham says. “You have to, otherwise how can you improve? ”

The certification to become carbon positive has also allowed Lewisham to dive deep into its supply chain, from sourcing to manufacturing to disposal, to ensure that they not only reduce their impact, but regenerate. the ecosystems in which they are involved. “It was really hard to have that line of sight because it’s not something normal in beauty, there is a lot of secrecy, the wholesalers don’t want you to have this information,” Lewisham explains. “But this transparency allows us to make better decisions. ”

Decisions like working with regenerative farms in Switzerland and ensuring their packers in China receive fair wages and work in clean and safe environments. “We are really determined not to close our eyes,” Lewisham says. “I think all beauty brands need to understand where their ingredients come from in order to ensure fair treatment of people, but also to respect the biodiversity of the earth.”

It’s no surprise that Lewisham isn’t afraid to speak out about the lack of transparency in the beauty industry – that’s what ultimately motivated her to launch her skincare line. “I’ve always been inspired by problem solving and challenging the status quo when things aren’t going well,” the founder told Forbes, describing her previous career as one of the few female senior executives of a technology company.

The transition to work in beauty came after discovering that the hydroquinone she had always used to treat her hyperpigmentation was banned in several countries outside of New Zealand and the United States due to its potentially effects. harmful to health. “It got me thinking about what I’m using on my skin and set me on the path to natural skin care,” says Lewisham.

Disappointed by the lack of natural solutions that could provide the same results as the high-tech products she was used to, Lewisham decided to create her own line of natural skincare. After three years of rigorous testing with a team of biochemists, Lewisham launched Skin Reset in 2019, a natural formula that quickly gained a cult following for its ability to outperform some of the most recognized skin lightening products on the market. “We really invest in testing to prove that our products work,” Lewisham says. “At the heart of our brand is efficiency, but also transparency, to show customers that they are getting products that do what we say they do. “

It’s not just the customers Lewisham wants to be transparent with, it’s other brands as well. As the first beauty brand to adopt a carbon positive business model, Lewisham hopes to catalyze a movement towards a circular beauty industry by sharing all the intellectual property behind their sustainability efforts. The plan, officially published online this week, reveals all the details of their process, from the design of their refills to carbon calculation guides to sterilization procedures.

While Lewisham has strategically shared the free blueprint online in an effort to reach a global audience, she is also raising awareness locally, sending beauty brands in New Zealand and Australia a letter advocating for her circular beauty model. . “If we are looking to solve the waste and carbon problem in beauty, this has to be on the agenda,” Lewisham emphasizes. “The letter aims to express this in a positive tone, saying that we have done a lot of work in this area, here is our PI so you can join this movement; that we need to work together to bring about the pervasive change the world needs right now. “

What will it take for the beauty industry to shed the traditional linear model? Lewisham believes this will require buy-in from big, established brands. “Small brands can challenge and innovate, but we need bigger brands to get on board,” says Lewisham. The founder says scale is needed to put pressure on the supply chain towards a regenerative approach. “With the linear model, everyone looks around and thinks ‘it’s got to be okay’ because other people are doing it,” Lewisham says. “I think there will be a tipping point where beauty brands will feel so much pressure because it will no longer be acceptable.”

This pressure will ultimately come from the consumer, who influences the brand’s priorities with its dollar. “Customers have a huge role in this,” Lewisham told Forbes. The problem, according to the founder, is that “consumers at this point don’t want to compromise for sustainable brands.” But Lewisham proves they don’t have to compromise; this environment should not be sacrificed in the search for quality products. “So many people have said that circularity in beauty is not possible, we have proven that all of these theories are wrong,” Lewisham said. “It’s possible to be a luxury brand and be sustainable.


Some interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.


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