Mark Smith holds a PhD in Chemistry and Genetics. Over the last ten years, he has worked on strategic interdisciplinary coordination and collaboration projects across academic and international research departments, becoming NATRUE’s CEO in July 2016.

Mark Smith: “Above all, consumers demand transparency”
Mark Smith, NATRUE’s CEO 

Natural and organic are now hot trends for the cosmetics industry and it seems that with the crisis resulting from Covid-19, even more. Why is that so? 

This crisis raised consumer consciousness when it came to the health (already covered by EU law), environmental and social contributions of a product, which inherently gravitated more interest towards natural products.  

In addition, to the aspects of the crisis triggering this consumer response, influences in-favour of natural and organic cosmetics have emerged at the political-regulatory level with the EU Green Deal and increased investor interest in sustainability.

Lastly, the crisis impacted everything from raw material supply to product distribution to consumer choice. In terms of sales, more online purchases were made, which presented opportunities for natural and organic brands to sell to consumers that they may not have ordinarily reached.

At the same time, dishonest business practices have increased. How can greenwashing in the cosmetics industry be effectively defeated?

This requires combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches; many of which are interdependent such as:

  • Brand pressure through raised consumer awareness and demand for ‘green’ products;
  • Industry competition driving best practices;
  • Increased investment in green, sustainable innovation as part of company’s policy, R&D and new product development strategies;
  • Better regulatory regulation of ‘green’ products assisted by harmonised tools, guidance or criteria (methodologies) for benchmarking and claims support;
  • Improved control mechanisms (assisted by harmonised criteria and better guidance) – either ex-ante and ex post.

In the meantime, private, voluntary standards permitting 3rd party certification to verifiable product characteristics, like NATRUE’s own, exist in order to support claims and facilitate consumer transparency and reassurance.

What does the NATRUE label guarantee? 

The NATRUE label criteria was established a ‘business card’ to embed the ethics and values of NATRUE founders. The NATRUE label, whose criteria can be found on our website, guarantees: 

  • Staying close to nature
  • Manufacturer commitment against greenwashing
  • Independently certification by accredited third-parties 
  • Ingredient clarity and transparency
  • Animal welfare considerations
  • Assured organic quality 
  • Focus on reduced environmental impact
  • High benchmarks for natural and organic product formulations 
  • Developed by an international non-profit

The NATRUE label criteria was established a ‘business card’ to embed the ethics and values of NATRUE founders

Unlike the food sector, organic cosmetics does not have a unified regulation. How does this affect the industry? Is unified regulation a key element to boost the sector?  

A unified regulation in this regard, for instance one covering both organic food and non-foods, would not be appropriate either when considering the regulatory framework or the function of food versus cosmetics. 

However, within the scope of cosmetics, a harmonised set of criteria to benchmark when and whether or not organic cosmetics would be considered misleading would be beneficial to the sector – for consumers and producers alike – for greater consistency and comparability between products and their claims. These criteria should ensure the integrity of the claim is upheld and consistent with aspects from foods. For instance, transposing some elements like the exclusion of certain substances, like GMOs, and ensuring a traceability and certification system for raw materials and products. It may also be necessary to set thresholds for the organic content of a cosmetic product in order to support the claim, as in foods.

There are many organic certification labels in cosmetics, but they do not follow the same criteria. How can a label gain the trust of producers and consumers?

At its base, the label scheme must be non-profit and obligate accredited third-party certification. Furthermore, the scheme owner/creators must be separate from those certifying the scheme to avoid overlap between ‘judge’ and ‘jury’. Finally, any information surrounding the label scheme must be free for stakeholder transparency.

Besides technical considerations, producers may assess the credibility of a label by looking at who established and/or is using an existing label as a benchmark for the trustworthiness of the scheme. Likewise, consumer trust may be mirrored by their familiarity with the brands carrying the label. Above all, consumers demand openness and transparency; trust not only reflects the scheme owner’s independence but the ability to contact them in order to ask questions about the label criteria.

The label scheme must be non-profit and obligate accredited third-party certification

How and why was NATRUE born?

NATRUE was established in 2007 by the pioneers and global market leaders from the authentic sector to protect and promote natural and organic cosmetics (NOCs) for the benefit of consumers worldwide. NATRUE was created not only to act as a harmonised advocacy voice that could raise sectoral concerns at international regulatory decision-making level (e.g., the need for better regulation for NOCs; the protection of ingredients), but also combat greenwashing through the creation of its label criteria in 2008 to set an international and independently certified standard setting to reassure consumers and assist producers.

In your opinion, what are the current challenges and opportunities for the cosmetics industry? 

The impact of a business, its supply chain and its products upon people and the planet is a principal issue for the industry at large. 

Packaging remains a topic agenda point for the industry in the efforts to reduce waste, environmental impact and increase sustainability. However, this issue remains complicated by aspects such general access to post-consumer recycled plastics and their safety assessment. Despite these challenges brands are facing these head-on and innovating in this space with their suppliers to overcome these barriers. As such there is an opportunity for the industry to collaborate in the packaging space.

Greenwashing remains a fundamental challenge. Nevertheless, consumer demand sparks a clear opportunity for raw material and new product development with a focus on natural, renewable, circular, and sustainable innovation underpinned by green chemistry and supported by certification. The aim being products that are eco-designed from start to finished, and ensure products with greater social sustainability and lower environmental impact.

Author: Oriol Urrutia, Co-Editor

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