The global beauty and skincare industry is responsible for huge amounts of waste; however, one UK-based company is working on solutions to reduce its contribution to landfill. As the nation moves out of lockdown and into what feels like a Covid-19 ‘hokey cokey’ situation – yes, it’s safe to go out, no stay indoors – there is a growing movement of people looking for the positive outcomes of quarantine.
For anyone impacted by illness, loss or unemployment, one can understand how these past few months could challenge even the most optimistic of mindsets. However, for many it forced a pause that effected a re-evaluation of the way they were living. It’s also raised awareness of consumption choices.
Sitting in the middle of a Venn diagram of pause and changing consumer demands is Clare Hopkins, the co-founder of skincare company Balance Me. In this new age of the Zoom meet-up, we are chatting about sustainability in our respective home offices. The pause in commuting has meant that Clare and her co-founder and sister Rebecca have the opportunity to spend more time directly communicating the brand’s message of natural ingredients and reduced packaging through its Instagram account.
“The thing with Instagram, and with a lot of social media through this time, is that people are craving personal connections. We're going to see more people educating themselves around what's actually going into their beauty products,” says Hopkins, who posts not just news on the brand but also interviews with beauty insiders and journalists.
A recent consumer sentiment report by Price Waterhouse Cooper echoes Hopkins’ insight, with the accountancy firm stating that ethical consumption choices is growing and particularly stronger among younger generations. This is surely good news for Balance Me, which the sisters launched in 2005 after they both developed sensitive skin reactions following stressful careers and wanted to share their natural alternatives. When they re-launched the brand in September of last year, they were able to further reduce their packaging as part of the overhaul. And in what appears to be a prophetic decision, the sisters chose a Venn diagram style logo to replace the motif they originally launched with. Clearly, they could not have predicted a life-altering pandemic, but the logo is a timely representation of not just their approach to the planet, but also how we should all be living going forward.
“We've not been wasteful with packaging [in the past] but last year when we were rebranding, we did a whole analysis of our packaging and thought about how we could make [the brand] even more sustainable … [For example] we discontinued sheet masks, although the bamboo sheet mask was biodegradable you have to put it in a metallic pouch. So instead we offer a mist in a glass bottle. We took all the great ingredients from it (the sheet mask) but deliver it to a customer without using lots of packaging. It’s about trying to do our best for the environment and also deliver really good quality skincare.”
Although Balance Me is not a low-cost brand, it is by no means as expensive as some of the potions on a typical department store beauty counter. Yet Hopkins says the cost of producing a Balance Me product in some instances can be higher than one offered by a global brand due to the quality of ingredients the sisters insist upon. Often, says Hopkins, consumers are paying for the marketing and packaging rather than the product itself.
“With some brands you get a cream and once you've opened up this very luxurious looking jar you can see where the money goes, and that depresses me a bit.” She adds, “I think that will be a driver of change, because people will start to see that jar not as luxurious and beautiful but how much plastic is being used.”
The beauty industry is notorious as a purveyor of single-use plastic, as well as the tonnes of paper and cardboard that typically accompanies purchases. In 2018 Zero Waste Week, an annual awareness campaign, reported that more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, most of which is not recyclable. Hopkins is a firm believer in consumer power, and how it can shape the corporate landscape when it comes to making better environmental decisions. She cites the growth in natural products, a market that has expanded since they launched Balance Me.
“I think it's everyone working together, so if the consumer demands it, the brands will deliver it because they'll know that it’s commercial. You hope that they [the brands] also have a vested interest in the environment as well. We saw the trend in natural – when we started, people were telling us the products would not work.”
On an Instagram post for Earth Day this year, Hopkins talks through the changes that Balance Me has made to the packaging for its product line. They have made what feels like some common-sense changes, such as manufacturing the pipettes so they can be dismantled, and the parts recycled accordingly.
“We work with an [packaging] expert, but things have got to also be fit for purpose. We look at how we can make things as recyclable as possible,” she says. “One of the changes we made is to put triangles on all of our products because I think a lot of the time consumers don't know what everything is made of and whether they can or can't recycle it. We need better recycling in all of our councils too. Our consultant shared a map with us and there are still parts of the UK where you just can't recycle anything.”
Hopkins points out that another issue for the industry in moving towards more environmentally friendly packaging is the reality of what it looks like. The higher the percentage of recycled plastic that’s used (known as PCR – Post Consumer Resin) the weaker a bottle can be and also the colour tends to be grey. Balance Me’s containers are all slightly off white. It’s a move that other niche brands, such as REN with its ocean plastic bottles, have been pushing but the trick is to convince a mass market to accept the grey hue.
“I think it's going to be a journey of customer perception that a grey bottle is actually beautiful, it's not dirty,” says Hopkins. “The younger generation are impatient, and they are on this now and it's really good because our kids are much more aware of the planet.”
For the Hopkins sisters, growing up with a mother that was not wasteful was an education in how to conserve resources, but it is also their own passion for the environment that has underpinned the brand’s reduced packaging direction.
“We did it because we set out to do the right thing,” says Hopkins. “When it's your own brand and you put your name to it, you need to be proud of it. We don't want to be just pumping loads of bad products or packaging out, you know it has to feel right. I think new opportunities will arise, that we've all just got to be open to them,” she adds. “There will still be business opportunities for people, but actual behavioural patterns are changing, and I think it will have to be along more environmental and sustainable lines. The reason we're in this [pandemic] is because we're exploiting wildlife, exploiting the environment. That has to change.”