12 eco-focused beauty and wellness brands on their current sustainability challenges

This article, first published by Digiday sibling Glossy, is part of Glossy’s “Earth Month” series, highlighting the fashion and beauty brands leading in sustainability and regulatory compliance. The series explores the challenges related to sustainability, including marketing initiatives, preparing for legislation and reporting on commitments.

Being an environmentally-focused beauty or wellness brand means constantly hitting roadblocks in the pursuit of true sustainability. 

Like the science that powers it, being “sustainable” is a moving goalpost that requires constant attention and more resources, compared to brands that don’t prioritize environmental impact. This often includes investing in more expensive packaging, constantly analyzing the supply chain and finding the right messaging to market these endeavors to consumers. But beneath the surface, many brands are struggling with the same issues in pursuit of their differing sustainability goals. 

As part of Glossy’s Earth Day coverage, we surveyed 12 leading eco-focused beauty and wellness brands to learn about their current sustainability struggles. They included longtime leaders like Tata Harper Skincare and Rahua, as well as buzzy new brands like Ogee, Attitude Oceanly and Ethique. 

What we learned is that many brand leaders wish industry insiders were more forthcoming with their current hurdles. “We’re all working toward the same Earth deadlines that we cannot afford to miss. … [We need] more pre-competitive collaboration,” said Connie Norton, sustainability specialist at Lush, which operates 886 global stores and sells 47% of its products without packaging of any kind.

“All of [our sustainability endeavors] have been hard,” said Lindsay Dahl, chief impact officer at Ritual, which sells independently-tested supplements with 100% ingredient transparency sold DTC and in Target stores. “There is no part of doing what’s right that is easy.” 

Still, brands continue to target innovation, in the name of the environment. “There is so much to work on, it can get overwhelming,” said Jamie Wiecks, co-founder of Community Goods, a new DTC line of plastic-free bathroom essentials including toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo.

For the brands that get it right, it can pay dividends over time with increased loyalty from like-minded consumers: Forty-two percent of U.S. consumers say they consider the planet when making a purchase, and 51% say they do a “significant amount of research” on the ingredients in their products, said Anna Keller, beauty and personal care global senior analyst at market research company Mintel. 

Below, Glossy has rounded up the findings of our brand survey into the categories troubling the industry most. 

Pumps and packaging

Packaging is, by far, the biggest hurdle facing eco-focused brands today. 

“I’m able to beat all of my [environmental] goals [for packaging today], except for the actuators [because] pumps and dispensing units are really hard to recycle — that’s basically where the frontier is,” skin-care founder Tata Harper told Glossy. She said she’s seen some new packaging innovations, like airless pumps without coils, but noted that the materials used, like plastic, are often undesirable to her consumers. “This is still a work in progress,” she said. 

Harper launched her eponymous line of plant-based skin-care products in 2010 from her farm in Vermont, where she grows and processes some ingredients and packages her products into glass bottles. The brand was acquired by Korean conglomerate Amorepacific in 2022 and currently sells DTC and in Sephora, Bluemercury and Neiman Marcus.

Mini sizes are also challenging to create since glass, which Harper’s customers prefer, can be taboo for travel. Harper currently uses bioplastics made from corn or sugar cane for the brand’s minis, but is currently looking for industry innovation to present a better solution. 

“Sustainability is a journey; you’re never 100% sustainable,” said Irene Forte, founder of an eponymous line of skin care that sources ingredients from traceable farms in Italy. “Our pumps, overcaps and lids are made of regular PET [plastic] because we still haven’t been able to find a sustainable solution for these that works and doesn’t degrade.” Forte said she’s also been unable to find a good solution for sampling sachets, which are single-use and rarely recyclable. 

Minimum ordering quantity requirements (MOQs) on more sustainable packaging materials are also a hurdle, as they’re often priced much higher than virgin plastic and require more testing, brands tell Glossy. “Compatibility tests on packaging are very costly and can take up to three months,” Forte said. “And there is still a high chance of failure with sustainable materials.”

Abbott Stark, co-founder and chief product officer of Ogee, a line of USDA Organic color cosmetics and skin care, agreed, calling packaging the brand’s biggest hurdle. “There are a lot of products that we’ve been unable to launch because the only way to launch them would be in fully plastic packaging,” Stark told Glossy. “And so we just haven’t done it.”

Even brands that launched with an eco ethos years ago still spend a significant amount of time and resources looking for packaging that consumers will appreciate. Ritual supplements, as well as Rahua, a 16-year-old line of natural ingredients-focused hair care that supports the Amazon Rainforest, told Glossy that finding materials that are compatible with their formulas is a near-constant challenge. One bioplastic or refillable package may work great for one product and then fail for another, making a cohesive brand lineup and quick-to-market production impossible. 

For some brands, however, it’s the planning and execution of transitioning materials that have proven costly, not the actual materials. In 2021, Hum Nutrition, a line of independently-tested supplements sold DTC and in Sephora and Nordstrom, transitioned its entire packaging supply from virgin plastic to recycled plastic. Walter Faulstroh, CEO and co-founder, told Glossy that the cost was only a few cents per bottle, but the transition required an outside vendor. “There are a lot of details one has to get right,” he said, adding that the company hired engineering company Better Future Factory and Bantam Materials to tag-team the process. 

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