Sustainability in the Beauty Industry

Thanks to media coverage of movements such as ‘Fashion Revolution’ and ‘Extinction Rebellion Fashion Boycott’, many of us are aware by now that the fashion industry is damaging the planet. The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

At the Women in Sustainability conference in July, we met Sarah Jupp, Business Development Manager for Organic Fashion and Textiles from the Soil Association. She dubbed the fashion industry as one of the biggest polluters in the world, second only to the oil industry. According to Sarah, the UK is one of the worst offenders.

With the organic equivalent markedly reducing the negative impacts on both people and the environment, Sarah’s insights at the conference informed us that organic certification is an extremely important aspect of sustainable fashion. All organic produce is fully traceable from cradle to grave. The standards for organic food are laid down in European law so any food labelled as organic must meet strict rules. All other produce is relatively unregulated, so the only assurance you are buying organic is if it has a Soil Association logo on it.

Contrary to the fashion industry, there has been very little media coverage of sustainability in the beauty industry. The global cosmetic products market was valued at $532.43 billion in 2017, a small market compared to the fashion industry ($2.4 trillion), however is growing rapidly year on year. It is predicted to grow to $805.61 billion by 2023. Younger consumers, between ages 18 and 24, are one of the driving forces behind the beauty market’s growth. These consumers are looking for new areas of beauty, one of these areas in particular – is organic beauty.

Organic beauty is the formulation of cosmetic products using organically farmed ingredients, grown without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GM), herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and more.

There are currently 5 major sustainability issues facing the beauty industry. Here’s how the Soil Association’s accreditation is helping tackle these issues:


Packaging is a major concern for the beauty industry. The Soil Association has produced a guidance document ‘Reduce,re-use, recycle: A guide to minimising the environmental impact of packaging’ to help cosmetics companies meet these standards. They recommend minimising the amount of material used, maximise the amount of material that can be reused or recycled, and using materials with recycled content where possible.


There has been a recent push for producers to use natural ingredients which don’t harm us or the planet. A Soil Association approved formulation is made using organically farmed ingredients that have been grown without being genetically modified (non-GM) and with no herbicides or synthetic fertilisers.

Water Management

The cosmetic industry uses a lot of water at all stages of production. A product can only be deemed organic if water that is used as an ingredient (for rinsing equipment or for washing produce) is potable, traceable. The soil association would need to know how much water is used, how the water is treated and what is added to it.

Social Impact

Many beauty companies are looking at their environmental impacts, but very few are putting their social impact in the spotlight. Social justice and rights are an integral part of the whole organic food production chain. Producers should allow their employees: the freedom to associate, the right to organise, and the right to bargain collectively.


Supply chains have gone global and it can be difficult to trace the origins of beauty products. For a product to be labelled as organic by the Soil Association, every organisation working up and down its supply chain – from farmers, to packers, to processors, and organic retailers – have to meet organic standards and prove it to an organic certification body. Organic products should be produced locally. This can reduce energy use and the need to conserve freshness artificially. It may also promote greater contact and understanding between producers and consumers.

By Jess Knights, Creative Marketing Assistant

The Soil Association are hosting Organic Beauty & Wellbeing Week on the 9th – 14th September 2019

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