Is Your Beauty Routine Increasing Your Carbon Footprint? Here's How To Fix It

‘Carbon neutral’ is the latest beauty industry eco buzzword, but how do you know if it’s legit?


Is your face cream contributing to your footprint? We lift the veil on the organisation that's here to help make brands' carbon neutral dreams come true. Photo / Luke Foley Martin

Leaping bunnies and fair-trade certifications aside, there are few dependable signs that demonstrate a brand’s values and provenance, and many of us rely on these credentials when exercising our purchasing power.

Sadly, “carbon neutral” is the latest to be added to a long list of ambiguous terms akin to “clean beauty” and “environmentally friendly”. It’s these and others that critics claim are the most common forms of greenwashing by brands who can’t issue consumers the kind of assurances that governing bodies can.

Enter the new wave of carbon neutral beauty brands that promise complete clarity when it comes to proving their eco-credentials. Set apart by their commitment to offset their carbon emissions to achieve net-zero status (more on that later), but this time with the bank statements to prove it.

READ: Clean Up Your Act: Consider These 7 Sustainable Beauty Swaps 

It’s this level of consumer transparency that was the key motivator behind the inception of Climate Neutral, an independent, non-profit organisation
that provides climate neutral certification for businesses.

Climate Neutral calls into question a company’s collective carbon emissions and offers third-party verification so consumers can shop with the confidence of knowing a company has taken full responsibility for its collective carbon emissions from the previous year.

I spoke to Jade Reiman, PR manager of Climate Neutral, about the importance of carbon neutrality, the rigorous process brands undergo to become certified, and how we can help.

Committed to the cause? Look out for the Climate Neutral label next time you shop. Photo / Supplied

WHY ARE CARBON EMISSIONS IMPORTANT TO ADDRESS?

How’s this for a scary statistic: there’s more CO2 in the atmosphere now than ever before, with recent estimates indicating a record high of 55.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).

“In order to avoid continuing on this path and facing the tragic impacts of climate change, like more frequent and intense incidents of extreme weather, we need to reduce global greenhouse gases way below current levels, starting immediately,” Jade says.

In response, Climate Neutral was born. The organisation offers a certification framework that makes carbon neutrality achievable for brands who otherwise thought it to be an insurmountable task. Climate Neutral’s three-pronged approach offers carbon measurement, verifiable offsets and reduction strategies.

WHAT DOES CARBON NEUTRALITY MEAN?

Carbon neutrality is achieved when a brand is balancing its release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by offsetting its emissions by contributing to schemes that tackle climate change.

Carbon negative (also known as climate positive) brands go one step further by offsetting more than it omits — first the carbon it produces and then extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an effort to reverse climate change.

Is your face cream contributing to your footprint? We lift the veil on the organisation that's here to help make brands' carbon neutral dreams come true. Photo / Luke Foley Martin

HOW ARE CARBON EMISSIONS MEASURED?

Since Climate Neutral launched in 2019, more than 230 brands have completed the organisation’s 1-2 year rigorous certification process to measure, offset and reduce their carbon emissions.

The organisation uses its own Brand Emissions Estimator (or BEE for short), a free carbon foot-printing tool for brands that spits out a carbon footprint measurement in a matter of days, Jade explains.

“The BEE assesses a carbon footprint and breaks down high-level areas for reduction that can be tackled first and have a meaningful impact.”

And although every industry faces its own pain points when working to achieve Climate Neutral certification, Jade says many of the basic carbon sources are the same — office energy use, travel and commuting emissions, packaging.

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“But the most significant nuance for most beauty brands is in the chemicals they use. Chemical production causes a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Few customers realise how much carbon is emitted throughout the production of their favourite beauty products. From extracting the minerals to manufacturing the products to shipping the box to their doorstep, there’s a long trail of carbon emissions attached to these products. Even your daily face cream or mascara has contributed to the 150-year rise in global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Emissions are either direct, from controlled facilities, such as fuel burned in company vehicles, or natural gas used to heat office space, or indirect, like purchased electricity. There are also indirect emissions from the supply chain, including from extracting raw materials, corporate business travel, employee commuting, shipping and so on.

“A company has to offset all of its emissions by purchasing verified carbon credits that meet our requirements. Finally, a company has to identify at least two actions it will take in the next 12-24 months to reduce its emissions within its operations, including its value chain. Companies that complete the process receive certification for one year.”

CERTIFIED BRANDS

Currently, there are only 15 Climate Neutral certified health and beauty brands on the Climateneutral.org website, including one that’s available in New Zealand: Patchology, which is available from Mecca or online at Meccabeauty.co.nz.

Mecca sister brand Glow Recipe features on Climate Neutral’s committed list, which indicates the brand is currently under way with the certification process.

Locally, plastic-free beauty brand Ethique is leading the charge with its climate positive status, which was awarded in March this year after the brand offset 120 per cent of its net carbon emissions. The brand’s carbon footprint is measured annually by EKOS, then offset through its work with carbon offsetting organisation Ecologi.

Snowberry skincare was the first New Zealand beauty brand to achieve Carbonzero status, along with being awarded the national Excellence in Climate Action award in 2019 for reducing its carbon emissions by 80 per cent across a seven-year period.

Carbon neutrality is achieved when a brand offsets as much carbon as it omits. Photo / Luke Foley Martin

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Support carbon neutral beauty brands by keeping an eye out for the Climate Neutral certified label on the back of packaging. For the full list of certified brands, visit Climateneutral.org/certified-brands.

And if you’re currently supporting a brand that isn’t carbon neutral, lobby them to do so. “We hope to give consumers a platform to demand carbon neutrality as the minimum sustainability standard for beauty brands,” Jade says.

“Consumer demand is the backbone of the label.”

Photography / Luke Foley Martin. Hair / Benjamin James for Ghd. Makeup / Hannah Richards. Styling / Manachya Wattanachayakul. Model / Moira from Super Mgmt. 

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