How can cosmetic companies ensure biodiversity actions go more than skin deep?

13 November 2023

Strategic Director Adeline Serckx reports back from the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris, France where she spoke about the implications of COP15 for the industry. 

There’s a strong interaction between the cosmetics and personal care industry and nature. The production of products is reliant on nature as a resource: most cosmetics contain ingredients extracted from plants and animals, such as essential oils, alcohols and pigments.  

The industry also has significant impacts on nature. Use of land to cultivate raw materials, such as coconut oil, has direct and indirect impacts, which can lead to the destruction of natural habitats and ecosystems, pollution from pesticides and fertilisers, and soil erosion.​ 

Forward-thinking companies are showing strong ambitions to reduce their negative impacts. At the Summit, I was delighted to hear stories about the corporate initiatives already taking shape. While everyone acknowledges the many challenges on the sustainability journey, including data availability and traceability, there was also common agreement that sustainability is key for businesses and that sustainability credentials should cease to be a differentiator and become a ‘must have’. 

I heard about companies investigating the use of scoring systems to measure and communicate sustainability, like the EcoBeautyScore Consortium of more than 70 cosmetics industry stakeholders; about the Sustainable Coconut Charter market instrument to drive that sector towards a more sustainable, equitable and climate-friendly future; and about the ongoing work with supply chains from companies like Cargill Beauty, among others. 

While these were encouraging examples of leading the way, the rest of the sector cannot afford to rest on its laurels. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) agreed at COP15 sends a strong signalto businesses and financial institutions in terms of expectations regarding monitoring and disclosing risks and impacts; promoting sustainable consumption patterns; reducing negative impacts on biodiversity and increasing positive impacts; and mobilising private sector investment. ​ 

Its four goals outline a clear vision for 2050. Goal A is of particular relevance to the sector: 

Substantially increase the area of natural ecosystems by maintaining, enhancing or restoring the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems. Reduce by tenfold the extinction rate and risk of all species and increase the abundance of native wild species. Maintain the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species and safeguard their adaptive potential.

The GBF also includes targets that the sector will want to pay close attention to, for example:  

  • Ensure that areas under agriculture are managed sustainably, in particular through a substantial increase of the application of biodiversity friendly practices (Target 7)​. 
  • Reduce pollution risks and the negative impact of pollution from all sources, by 2030, to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services (Target 10)​. 

Relevant regulations are likely to follow in the coming years, as countries implement the GBF as per their domestic context via National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs).​ Indeed, large and listed cosmetics companies in the EU are already preparing for the reporting and disclosure requirements of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR).  

Various standards have been developed to enable companies to align with reporting directives, including the EU Taxonomy and ESRS. In my work – and indeed at the Summit – I've often heard from companies that they really want to get ready for reporting, but don’t know where to start. 

Using the TNFD LEAP approach can help.  

  • The Locate stage guides companies to identify priority areas based on what’s important for both business and biodiversity. For a cosmetics company, for example, they might identify coconut as a high priority, above direct operations. 
  • The Evaluate and Assess stages involve assessing impacts and dependencies and understanding risk and opportunities. Continuing the example of coconut, risks include the difficulty tracing it back to numerous smallholders that change from year to year, whilst coconut sourcing is often located in areas of importance for biodiversity. That also makes improving agricultural practices challenging. Yet, there’s also an opportunity to develop projects with these small producers - who often depend on the material for their livelihood - that bring positive social impacts alongside biodiversity improvements. 
  • The Prepare stage can be challenging as it requires companies to develop meaningful targets and actions, while target setting methods are still being developed. Draft guidance from the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) does exist for land use and freshwater targets, and the good news is that it can complement climate targets, helping companies develop joined-up strategies and plans. 

Here at The Biodiversity Consultancy, we offer a service for companies looking to take their first actions, helping them develop a strategy they can be confident will lead to measurable and meaningful actions. Find out more here  


Category: Company news

Business & biodiversity

Join our mailing list to get the latest developments in business and biodiversity

sign me up!