Organic Beauty vs. Sustainable Beauty

Our Founder, Jo talks about the difference between organic and sustainable beauty and how the beauty industry is changing.

Over the last decade, I’ve noticed a huge shift in the beauty industry and I guess, all industries if I really think about it. Most of us will have seen the word ‘organic’ on everything from shampoo bottles to a bag of carrots and it’s something that’s often associated with natural products and high quality. On the other side, the common perception is that anything organic is going to be expensive and out of reach - some people just feel they can’t afford to switch to organic.

In the beauty industry, an organic certification means that an independent body has confirmed that the ingredients within the product have been farmed in the best, most natural way possible by - what tends to be - small, local farmers. There’s a certain level of purity that comes with that, which means a more natural beauty routine for you, the person buying the product. It also means that the company has seriously invested (both in time and money) to do the right thing for the planet, so that by using that moisturiser or face mask, you feel better about giving something back.

So, what’s the difference between organic and sustainable?

When you grow a plant (organically or not) generally, you need to harvest it and replant it the next year. Using soil, sun and water, this is the most natural (and organic) way of getting the ingredients. That's how we source our ingredients in The Sustainables range. 

From an ingredient perspective, sustainability is about efficient use of resources, however it's also about being carbon positive or carbon neutral which means that when you are creating or growing an ingredient or product, it will have a positive carbon impact, rather than a negative carbon impact on the planet.

For me, sustainability is where the natural and scientific worlds come together. Plant advanced technologies have developed a process to "milk" plants in order to obtain extracts without damaging the plants themselves, which means you can harvest them several times and also in a small amount of space (it happens in a greenhouse where you can have shelves of plants). Technically, this can’t be classed as organic, but it is the most sustainable way.

For example, the microalgae in our Seahorse Plankton+ range is grown in a photobioreactor (or a big greenhouse to you and me), why? Because we don’t want to take these ingredients from the endangered seahorse population. Instead, we grow our microalgae in big algae baths. This is a carbon positive ingredient as when algae is made, it absorbs sunlight and co2, releasing oxygen. This chemical process releases energy, which we sell back to the electricity grid. Our microalgae can never be classed as an organic ingredient due to the way its grown – however it is the most sustainable way to make these ingredients.

Sustainability doesn’t just start and end with ingredients: It means looking at every single element of that product’s journey, from the very first resource to someone’s bathroom cabinet - that’s the difference between between organic and sustainable.

Last year, in Elle’s September Sustainability issue, they said that the beauty industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year. Only 14% of that plastic packaging makes its way to recycling plants and 40% ends up in landfill - so to do some quick maths, that’s 48 billion units, or in other words, a lot. At the moment, plastic is cheap to manufacture, but the materials it’s made from (petrochemicals) are a finite resource that let’s face, we need for other things at the moment (like energy) until we find stronger alternatives. When it comes to recycling, we know that the system doesn’t work as efficiently as it should, so it’s up to brands like us to take that on and make their packaging options as sustainable as possible. For example, we launched our 'Return.Refill. Repeat' programme , where customers can return their packaging back to us and we wash and reuse for the next batch. Luckily, in the last few years, people are starting to think more about reusing things - my poor coffee cup is battered and bruised I’ve had it for so long, but nowadays, I don’t get the weird looks I used to - it’s becoming the norm now, which I love!

Another thing that we, and all other brands, have to think about when it comes to packaging is how to get it from one place to another with sustainability in mind. At the moment, we’re UK based, because most of our customers are here, but in the future, we plan to have a manufacturing base for every market we sell in. This means a) a reduced carbon footprint and b) employment opportunities for a sustainable ecosystem. It all goes in a full circle - and that’s the difference between organic and sustainability. 

If you want to find out more about what sustainability means to us, click here .

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