by Cristina Rivera Earl on Nov 09, 2021
We'd like to start off by congratulating Emma Lewisham for being the very first beauty brand to be certified carbon positive. As we understand it, it's a huge feat! For those who may not fully understand what being carbon positive means, can you briefly explain?
Thank you so much! Our carbon positive certification means that we take more carbon emissions out of the atmosphere than we put in- which creates a ‘positive’ environmental impact. You may have also heard this called ‘carbon negative’ or ‘climate positive’ which is simply because different certification agencies choose different names for their certification, however they all mean the same thing.
We'd imagine this was a lengthy process: how long did it take from start to finish?
Yes, it was indeed. To become certified Carbon Positive, we worked with Toitū Envirocare, who are a world-leading independent environmental certification agency. Over 12 months, we measured the carbon emissions emitted at each stage of our products’ lifecycle including growing, harvesting, transportation, product packaging and end-of-life. This allowed us to clearly see where we could reduce carbon emissions and enabled us to implement an extensive carbon reduction strategy as a first point of call. After reducing each product's carbon footprint as much as possible, we then offset our remaining carbon emissions by 125%, to become certified Carbon Positive under Toitū’s Climate Positive program.
This reduction strategy is a really important part of our certification as we don’t believe that jumping straight to offsetting is the answer. Once carbon is measured it can be simple to say, ‘okay, now we are just going to pay to offset this’, but we are committed to firstly reducing our emissions as much as possible prior to offsetting.
What motivated you to attain this behemoth goal?
The reason we are so passionate about a circular and carbon positive business model is because if the beauty industry is to play its role in meeting global climate goals, its carbon emissions must be reduced.
Each year, the beauty industry is responsible for producing 120 billion units of packaging waste and the production of this single use packaging is the industry’s largest contributor of carbon emissions. So, to reduce this carbon, we have to reduce packaging. And, the only way we can reduce packaging is to make it circular- meaning it can be reused over and over before being recycled as a final point of call.
While recycling is part of circularity, reuse (in beauty’s case refills), must always come first. Firstly, because typically, refilling requires significantly less energy and resources, therefore emits significantly less greenhouse gases. And secondly, what most people don’t realize is that despite most beauty packaging being ‘technically recyclable’ it requires specialized systems-- it is not recycled through local curbside recycling. So, unless someone is prepared to cover the cost of having it recycled, it ends up either in landfills, scattered through our oceans or burned into greenhouse gases.
So refills must be our priority as an industry. In mapping our carbon emissions, we have been able to prove that when buying our circularly designed refills (as opposed to brand new packaging) carbon emissions are reduced by up to 74%. In addition to reducing our products’ inherent carbon footprint through circular packaging, we chose to then offset what we can’t reduce in order to become carbon positive. This ensures that we are having a regenerative effect on our atmosphere- helping to reverse the effects of climate change.
What we're also struck by is the that fact that you're sharing all of the intellectual property that went into this process with other beauty brands. It's incredible and very generous of you. What's the reasoning behind this?
Sharing our Beauty Blueprint wasn’t a decision I made lightly, as it is undoubtedly one of our brand’s competitive advantages. However, none of it matters unless other brands join us on a circular and carbon positive path. The problems we face are so much greater than the success of one business or brand, and if we are going to solve them, collaboration is key. I have a young daughter, and on a personal level, I just can't imagine not doing everything in my power to ensure that I am creating a better future for her.
I hope that by sharing our Beauty Blueprint other brands can capitalize on our innovation and investment to accelerate their transition to a circular and carbon positive model. We won’t be able to make a dent in the beauty industry’s waste and carbon problem alone, but if we collaborate instead of compete, we have the ability to create real change.
It's possible that many don't really know just how massive of an effect the beauty industry has on the planet. Even we didn't quite fully know the extent! Can you tell us a little about that? And how all that Emma Lewisham is doing will make a difference?
Yes, I absolutely believe that people aren’t aware. I don’t think customers (and many businesses alike) are aware of the extent to which the industry’s single use packaging is a problem and the significant carbon emissions and waste it is responsible for. I also believe that customers are greatly misled with marketing around recyclable packaging. It makes sense to assume that if something is labelled “100% recyclable”, that you can simply put it in your home recycling bin and it will be recycled into something new. However, as I explained above, this is not the case. So, a huge responsibility we see as a business is educating our customers and industry peers around the impact of refills versus recycling and helping them however we can to implement solutions.
Can you explain what "allocating your carbon offset credits" means? Asking for a friend...
I know- it can be confusing! Essentially, every ton of emissions reduced by an environmental project creates one carbon offset or carbon credit. Companies (or individuals) can invest in these projects through buying carbon credits in order to reduce their own carbon footprints. These environmental projects are certified to be actively removing or reducing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere. Essentially buying carbon credits is the process of investing in green projects in order to balance your own emissions.
The brand has allocated 75% of its carbon offset credits to regenerating New Zealand's Puhoi Forest Reserves, 12.5% to supporting Gyapa's Cook Stove technology, and 12.5% to Malya's Wind Power Project in India. Why did you choose these initiatives?
We had a team vote to choose which organizations we invested our carbon credits in. We wanted everyone to have a say in which projects we supported as our team are the backbone of our circular and carbon journey.
We chose to invest in regenerating New Zealand’s Puhoi Forest Reserves as we are made in Aotearoa and want to ensure we are helping to regenerate the land that sustains us. Regenerating these forests helps with erosion control, biodiversity and conservation - ensuring that our land may continue to nourish us for generations to come.
We chose to invest in Gyapa's cook stove technology in Ghana as nearly 3 billion people in the developing world cook food and heat their homes with traditional cookstoves or open fires. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 estimates that 4 million premature deaths occur every year due to smoke exposure from these methods, with women and children affected the most. The Gyapa stove improves health by reducing exposure to toxic fumes and smoke, reduced household energy costs, improves the local economy by supporting businesses and providing employment as well as protecting Ghana’s dwindling forests.
Finally, we chose to invest in Malya’s wind power projects in India as they generate clean electricity, helping eliminate the use of fossil fuels while creating local community employment and lower cost electricity.
How do you envision the future of the beauty industry? Do you think many other brands will be quick to follow suit and adopt Emma Lewisham's circular model?
Firstly, I hope that within circularity, refills become the priority- recycling can’t be our focus as an industry. The fact is that beauty packaging isn’t being recycled and we know annually only 4% of plastic are. We also know refills and reuse (circularity) will reduce carbon and waste, so if we are serious about being sustainable, let’s focus here. I plead with other brands to move away from marketing their products as 100% recyclable (unless they have a take back program with specialized recycling partners in place). Customers believe they are doing the right thing by putting their packaging in their recycling bin, when in reality it’s going straight to landfill, our oceans or being burned.
I truly hope that other brands will follow our lead and that we will see an industry wide transition to circular, carbon positive and collaborative models of business. We no longer have time to operate in isolation, climate scientists estimate that we have less than 10 years left to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis so we must work together if we are to create a truly beautiful beauty industry.