Anyone who’s ever delved into ‘clean’ and ‘eco-friendly’ beauty will know that it is a minefield of confusing green washing and vague claims. Of course there are certifications such as The Soil Association and The Leaping Bunny who provide clarity on organic and cruelty-free beauty. There are many more certifications, some which are better known outside of the UK: you’ll come across Ecocert more frequently in France than in England for example. Then there are the myriad awards to highlight a brand or product’s sustainable or clean credentials, such as Canadian-based Clean Beauty Awards which I reviewed last year. As I’m constantly discovering and testing out new brands, I regularly come across certifications I’d never heard of before. The latest is The Butterfly Mark, an eco-certification awarded by Positive Luxury to high end lifestyle brands. Intrigued, I did a little research to find out what the butterfly meant and if I could find it in my bathroom cabinet.
So what does this stamp of approval guarantee? Positive Luxury is a company that ‘connects luxury brands and people who care about the future’ – so goes the first sentence on their website, which doesn’t tell me much. They award The Butterfly Mark to high end lifestyle brands ‘that meet the highest standards of verified innovation, social and environmental performance – offering transparency at the point of sale equipping people to make more informed purchasing decisions’. Come again? I’ve worked in the beauty industry for over 10 years and even I’m not sure what that statement says. In a nutshell (I love bullet points and am unashamedly going to make full use of them in this post):
- Positive Luxury recognises that consumers increasingly care about sustainability and want to buy into brands that care for the environment and the people they work with (83% would always pick the brand that has a better record of sustainability)
- Created by Positive Luxury, The Butterfly Mark is awarded to luxury brands (fashion and beauty to jewellery and drinks) that can prove they have a measurable commitment to sustainability
- A brand’s sustainability commitments are assessed every two years across five criteria including using less water, using recycled materials, no animal testing and fair pay policies
- Once a brand is awarded The Butterfly Mark they can display it on their packaging, marketing materials and website. As a customer you can then click on the logo to find out what that specific brand is doing in terms of sustainability
Phew I think that’s the gist of it! What I really like with this system is that as a consumer you have easy access to bite-sized, easily digestible information just by clicking on the butterfly icon. And each of the claims are tailored to the specific brand. So a beauty brand can share their ‘no testing on animals’ claim, whereas a fashion brand will highlight the fact it does not use fur. But how strong are these claims? I check out the examples found in my bathroom cabinet.
When I search on the brand’s website I have to go through the ‘Discover’ tab then click on their sustainability page to find The Butterfly Mark. It’s present however you can’t click on it so to access details I actually have to visit Positive Luxury’s website, and they are as follows:
- Supports philanthropic causes – which ones? And how?
- Clean beauty: free from GMOs, BBP and parabens – no explanation as to why these ingredients are considered bad
- No animal testing
- Recyclable packaging – looking at the Miller Harris website, they explain that they’ve replaced plastic and paper gift wrap with silk scarves. I love this idea! As long as these scarves are actually used beyond their gift-wrapping purpose. It would be interesting to know how many people re-purpose these scarves.
It’s a shame that Miller Harris don’t further expand on these claims on their website’s sustainability page. It would make for a more interesting read than the current content which makes statements such as ‘all of our card is now recyclable’… Isn’t card always recyclable? Do they mean that they’ve removed laminate (the clear plastic film sometimes coating a card box to give it a shiny finish)? In which case why not clearly state it?
The Butterfly Mark is featured on the product packaging and clearly displayed on the homepage, where you can click on it to find out more.
- No animal testing: products and formulations are not tested on animals
- Clean beauty: free from parabens, artificial colours, synthetic fragrances & preservatives
- No harsh chemicals: free from mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide, petroleum and nano particles
- Renewable energy: 0-20% of energy comes from renewable sources – based on this statement the brand could be using 0% renewable energy, i.e. none at all.
- Energy efficient: steps are taken to reduce energy usage and educate staff in best practices – examples would be helpful. Could they be referring to an action as simple as turning the lights off when closing up the spa at the end of the day?
- Fair pay for all: employees and sub-contractors are paid the local minimum and/or living wage – further detail would be needed here. As the statement currently stands it simply means they comply with the law in terms of pay
You wouldn’t necessarily associate the multi-billion dollar, multi-brand beauty giant that is Estee Lauder Companies with sustainability, and yet one of its brands, luxury haircare Aveda, has been awarded The Butterfly Mark. I can’t find any mention of it on the brand’s website, however out of the four brands featured in this post, Aveda makes by far the strongest and most measurable sustainability claims. On its homepage the brand shares its key points called The Aveda Way:
- Cruelty-free: no animal testing
- Post-consumer recycled packaging: Aveda is the first beauty company to use 100% post-consumer recycled PET. More than 85% of their skin care and hair styling PET bottles and jars contain 100% post-consumer recycled materials. This means that not only is the packaging recyclable, it’s already been recycled and had a previous life as a product used by a consumer, say a water bottle.
- Naturally derived ingredients & pure-fume aroma: flower and plant extracts distilled to their very essence
- Wind-powered manufacturer: Aveda is the first beauty company manufacturing products with 100% wind power
This is just a topline summary of Aveda’s much more detailed information about all the steps they’re taking and their achievements to being considered a sustainable brand.
Out of the four brands here this one provided the least amount of detail when it came to sustainability, with claims such as ‘We take a mindful approach to the origins, workers wellbeing and certification of all our oils and botanicals’ and ‘Our sustainability vision is an ongoing endeavour’. On the Positive Luxury site I got the following:
- Promotes equal pay: has a gender equal pay policy
- Uses FSC/PEFC certified marketing materials – this means the trees used to make the paper they source come from well-managed forests, not endangered rainforests
- UN global goals commitment: committed to sustainable development goals – very vague!
- Fur-free brushes
In order to stand out in this crowded and confusing environment you have to have a clear message and strong statements. Positive Luxury’s stance comes from a good place but I feel that it is diluting claims to a point where they become meaningless. Consumers are looking for facts and figures, clear brand goals and achievements and a place they can reliably go to that will cut through the jargon. What certifications do you rely on when shopping for beauty products? Leave a comment below to let me know.
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