One only has to look as far as their own bathroom vanity to know that the beauty industry has a sustainability problem—generating a cited 120 billion units of waste annually of mostly plastic. This ugly truth about the multibillion dollar sector comes along with a bevy of alarming consequences related to ingredient sourcing, environmentally hazardous formulations, and wasteful distribution. For years, the industry status quo has been to prioritize profits in the midst of staunch competition, with beauty brands rapidly launching new products to keep up with the pace of mercurial trends. We know we can’t just recycle our way out of this mess.
But how’s this for hope? The eponymously named, New Zealand–based, luxury green beauty brand founded by Emma Lewisham is officially the first in the world to model a solution. In an unprecedented move, the brand has achieved a 100 percent circular business model, complete with carbon positive status, defying the global beauty market’s competitive environment by making the intellectual property public. “We genuinely want to see change,” Lewisham tells BAZAAR.com. “The problems we face are so much greater than the success of one business or brand, and if we are going to solve them, collaboration is key. We must tear down the barriers of competition once and for all. … This has to be the future of beauty.“
This achievement garnered the written endorsement from Lewisham’s lifelong hero, the world-renowned environmentalist, ethologist, and a United Nations Messenger of Peace, Dr. Jane Goodall. “Emma Lewisham may be setting a new benchmark in beauty, but they are also setting a benchmark for how all industries should be operating—circular, waste free, and carbon positive. I wholeheartedly endorse Emma Lewisham’s Beauty Circle and all the systems they have put in place as a business striving to make the world a better place,” Goodall writes.
WHAT IS CIRCULAR BEAUTY?
The term refers to a green business model that keeps materials in use through repair and reuse, extends product life-cycle through quality, and purposely minimizes waste. “The beauty industry is currently built around the linear economic model, where we take from the earth, make something, then consumers throw it away. This take-make-waste system is responsible for an unprecedented amount of waste,” Lewisham says. “It may be appeasing profits, but it isn’t supporting the one thing we cannot live without: Earth.”
Being the first luxury beauty brand to achieve a circular model including carbon positivity meant undergoing an extensive process of research and development, collaborating with independent environmental organization agencies like Toitū Envirocare to track their carbon emissions at each stage of production. “It has been the result of many years of hard work and dedication by our team to get to this point,” she says. “Our circularity journey has been underway since inception and has been a labor of love and tenacity.” She adds that this meant investing heavily into the research and development of packaging, machinery, and business processes to allow for every product to be refilled, kept in use, and out of landfills.
REUSABLE, REFILLABLE PACKAGING
Achieving circularity relied heavily upon innovating packaging. “The single largest contributor of carbon emissions in the beauty industry is single-use packaging,” she says. “In mapping our carbon emissions, we have been able to prove that when buying our circularly designed refills—as opposed to brand-new packaging—carbon emissions are reduced by up to 74 percent.” It is important to Lewisham that we understand the significance of reusing packaging, via endlessly refillable containers, as opposed to recycling. “While recycling is part of circularity, reuse must always come first,” she notes. “Typically, refilling requires significantly less energy and resources, therefore emitting less greenhouse gases.”
More importantly, she points out that beauty recycling is not as streamlined of a process as we would like to believe. She notes that the recycling of beauty packaging requires specialized systems; it is simply not possible through typical curbside pickups. “Unless someone is prepared to cover the cost of having it recycled, it ends up either in landfills, scattered through our oceans, or burnt into greenhouse gases,” Lewisham explains. “If brands are to rely on the recyclability of their packaging, it is essential that they take responsibility for ensuring that it is actually recycled.“
Further, the skincare entrepreneur is calling for an end to single-use beauty packaging. “After all, why would you invest time and resources into producing something that is inherently designed to be thrown away?” she asks. “And economically, surely, we should be reusing materials that we have invested in producing as opposed to sending them and their inherent value straight to a landfill.“
Yet another aspect of Lewisham’s achievement has been going beyond carbon neutrality by becoming certified carbon positive. Carbon neutral is a status brands achieve when they track their carbon emissions (caused by resource use in production, transportation, creation, et cetera), and then removing the equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere, often through financial donations to offsetting agencies. But being carbon positive—also known as “carbon negative” or “climate positive” depending on the certifying agency—indicates that the brand is taking more carbon emissions out of the atmosphere than it puts in.
“To become certified carbon positive, we worked with Toitū Envirocare, who are a world-leading independent environmental certification agency,” Lewisham says. “Over 12 months, we measured the carbon emissions emitted at each stage of our products’ life cycles, including growing, harvesting, transportation, product packaging, and end of life. This allowed us to clearly see where we could reduce carbon emissions and enabled us to implement an extensive carbon-reduction strategy as a first point of call.” It took work, but it created a new baseline of eco-responsibility for beauty brands to aspire to.
COLLABORATION OVER COMPETITION
The final step of Lewisham’s planet-friendly commitment has been making the fruits of their extensive labor—the Emma Lewisham Beauty Blueprint—public for other brands to follow suit. “Sharing our Beauty Blueprint wasn’t a decision I made lightly, as it is undoubtedly one of our brand’s competitive advantages,” Lewisham says. “However, none of it matters unless other brands join us on a circular and carbon positive path. … I hope that by sharing our Beauty Blueprint, other brands can capitalize on our innovation and investment to accelerate their transition to a circular and carbon positive model.“
Poignantly, Lewisham points out that alone, the brand cannot hope to achieve the true shifts in the industry that she passionately hopes will come to pass for the sake of her young daughter. Her belief in the power and importance of collaboration is yet another area where Goodall commends the beauty entrepreneur. “I admire Emma Lewisham’s passion for creating lasting change,” Goodall writes. “Sharing their sustainability IP industry-wide is a powerful step, and I urge all brands to follow their lead. … This is when true change begins—when we work together.“
VOTING WITH YOUR DOLLARS
In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that human-wrought climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases was already “irreversible” for centuries to come, causing U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to deem the IPCC’s findings “a code red for humanity.” Experts urged steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions in order for global temperatures to stabilize in two to three decades. How? By voluntarily prioritizing elements of inclusive and green economies—models characterized by low carbon emissions and efficient resource usage, and that are socially inclusive; in other words, circular.
As beauty consumers, we can take steps to consume less, waste less, reuse packaging (or recycle it responsibly). But for the purchases we do make, we can also vote with our dollars by supporting environmentally responsible brands that put their values into concrete actions. “New Zealand beauty brand Emma Lewisham is demonstrating what it means to be a truly sustainable business,” Goodall writes. “Through their carbon positive and circular business model, Emma Lewisham is creating environmental prosperity and showing their peers that this business model is not just possible but paramount if we are to make a meaningful difference.”