When beauty and sustainability collide

By Lynnaire Johnston
Like it or not, believe in it or not, climate change is coming. We still do not know the full likely ramifications of this global phenomenon, or even how long we have before it hits. Sustainability is the watch-word of the moment and with good reason.
What would happen should water cost as much as fuel does today? How will we manage if electricity supply becomes as intermittent as it is in third world countries? What will this mean for us, for our staff and for our businesses?
Power and water are two essentials for running a spa and clinic. But imagine the chaos if you have a clinic full of clients when the power suddenly goes off and stays off. While this scenario may be a rarity today, it may become more common – especially in Auckland – in the future.
Or, imagine the price of water rises so much that you must use it sparingly to be able to afford it. How does your linen get washed? How much will you be able to recycle and how?
These are some of the potential, although fortunately not imminent, likely effects of climate change. Others are more indirect but could have equally devastating effects as society responds to the various likely threats, which are seemingly endless.
Rising temperatures, over-fishing and pollution are destroying the oceans on which a large proportion of the world relies for food. Many countries now grow fuel crops on former food-producing land, depleting food supplies. The world’s native forests (our oxygen providers) are being felled at an alarming rate, contributing to reducing air quality. Millions will become environmental refugees as they flee increasingly frequent and severe drought and floods.
Beauty business responds
What does all this mean for beauty businesses? Even if New Zealand escapes the worst effects, do we have an obligation to make changes to our way of life so that the Earth recovers? Or, will we continue to ignore the problem?
Many businesses – beauty and otherwise – recognise that in today’s world social responsibility means more than just turning the lights off. In the same way that smoking has become socially unacceptable, profligate wasting of resources, driving huge, gas-guzzling vehicles and other outward displays of environmental wastage are becoming socially irresponsible. Customers are starting to query whether the businesses they frequent are taking the issue seriously, and what they are doing to lower their carbon footprint.
Natasha Bourke, sales and marketing manager of Dermalogica, says people are starting to seek out companies that have an environmental focus. “A proportion of our emails from consumers asks about this issue,” she says although she agrees that while there is not a huge awareness about the issue among the general population, it is growing.
Dermalogica, which has a commitment to the environment, uses recyclable and biodegradable containers and Natasha recycles her personal Dermalogica bottles. “We take a strong stance on this in our office, we have a big recycling bin out the back and are very environmentally aware,” she says.
Infinisea Creation’s director Rosemary Currie points out that while it is fashionable to be environmentally aware the three brands she represents have all had socially responsible policies in place for many years. “We have a passion for skincare products from the sea, so all our brands have a marine component and we only work with companies that have environmental policies in place,” she says.
To be or not to be organic
Whether they are buying food or beauty care products, customers are taking organics more seriously. But the issue is far from simple and some in the beauty industry don’t believe organics is necessarily the way of the future.
Buying organically grown cauliflower or brocoli is relatively easy – there is only one product involved. But beauty formulations often have many ingredients.
Natasha Bourke says, “People are looking for organic products but it’s really hard to prove that the ingredients are organic. Our ingredients all come from renewable sources that don’t adversely affect the environment.”
One issue yet to be resolved is the level of preservatives. Natasha points out that formulations without preservatives are not always stable and “no-one wants to buy product with mould growing on it.”
Among the many environmentally friendly policies adopted by Infinisea, is that all new Thalgo formulations will be paraben-free by February this year. However, Rosmary Currie points out that there is some evidence that parabens may not be entirely as bad as they have been painted.
All-natural products
Local skincare producer, Geo skincare, is also treating the sustainability issue seriously. Founding director, Penny Vergeest, says “The company operates with integrity and compassion to fellow human beings and respect for the planet we all live on.”
Geo skincare has, she says, a commitment to sustainable manufacturing. “The system is biodegradable and products are packaged in recyclable containers. We neither endorse nor test our products on animals,” she says.
Geo skincare products use unique minerals found only in New Zealand geothermal regions, along with pure botanical extracts and oils. All the products contain the health-giving benefits of geothermal silica. Penny says, “The minerals are sourced from New Zealand geothermal regions; and hand selected ingredients have been chosen for their ability to promote overall skin health and wellness.”
Many of the company’s certified organic ingredients are sourced locally in New Zealand and all are free from parabens, mineral oil, sodium lauryl sulphate, petrochemicals, propylene glycol, artificial colour and fragrance, and genetically modified ingredients.
Water conservation
Across the Tasman corporate social responsibility or CSR is a big issue. Consultant Felicity Turner reports that at the last ASpa conference there were several speakers on global warming issues. “We are also the only body to have a Water Use Audit carried out in our industry, which was funded by the Victorian State Government,” she says.
Australia is already a clear victim of climate change with droughts afflicting many parts of the country, including major cities. Felicity adds, “We are into the conservation thing quite strongly and abhor the fact that few businesses use disposable cover, preferring to waste water and pollute with detergents in the name of fresh towels for every client.”
At Auckland’s Dermalogica, disposable gauze and sheets are used to cut down on laundry. Natasha Bourke says, “We currently outsource our laundry but we’re re-thinking that, looking at whether the washing powders used are safe and whether we should bring laundry back in-house.”
Dermalogica is also looking into the carbon credit issue to see how it can offset the cost of freight. “We realise that as a socially responsible company we should be looking at carbon credits,” says Natasha.
Rosemary Currie admits, “The Earth is really groaning. The Bible says that red algae in the sea is a warning sign, and pilots are reporting huge concentrations.”
Her company has been environmentally aware for a long time, following the lead of companies in Europe. Such values as no animal testing, respect for the environment, use of renewable resources, customer safety and use of GMO-free ingredients are all important to her organisation. Transparency and exhaustive information about products is also crucial. She says, “Thalgo was the first company in the world to list its full product ingredients on the packaging. We have an overall environmental approach, a full brand commitment to the sustainable development approach.”
On the road
The tide is also turning against vehicles which belch fumes into the air or guzzle more than their share of gas. The Government is tightening restrictions on older used import cars in order to reduce air pollution.
Vehicle owners are being encouraged to turn to hybrids, and one beauty company already has one on its fleet with plans for a second. Professional Skin and Beauty managing director, Donna Smith, says her company is making a conscious effort to go green. “We are gradually trading in our fleet of Volkswagen Beetles for the hybrid  Honda Civic. For every car bought, Honda funds the planting of 10 native trees.” She is also buying cars with smaller engines for her trainers because, she says, they perform just as well.
The Government, too, is taking the issue seriously and is putting in place policies to deal with such potential problems as rising sea levels, extreme weather events, reduced river levels and increases in tropical diseases. But whether it is storm or flood damage to premises, escalating insurance premiums or higher power bills to pay for air conditioning, all beauty businesses will be affected by global changes to the environment. The question remains: will businesses be ready to weather the storm?
More information on climate change can be found at the Ministry for the Environment’s website:

Publishing Information
Page Number: