Through An Indigenous Lens: The Sustainable Lifecycle
Bio doesn't always mean better.
It’s no secret that the beauty industry is notorious for its negative impact on the environment. Today, the highest standard of sustainability is achieved when we look beyond the environmental concerns, like the safety of using products and its social impact (think unfair trade). Together, the three major domains of sustainability are social, economic, and environmental. This highest standard of sustainability is a process that meets the needs of today without compromising the next generation. For one, in honour of the Seventh Generation Principle adopted for generations by our Iroquois friends, we like to look at sustainability a little differently: a process that meets the needs of today without compromising the next seven generations. We are redefining the age of retail-driven beauty through the practice of nature’s guiding principles while helping every Indigenous kid on the planet see and feel their value in the world. The consequence of meeting today's highest standards of sustainable production and beyond is to embrace sustainable cosmetic production at all levels: Design, Raw Materials, Packaging, Distribution, Consumer Use, and Post-Consumer Use.
The reality is, there are no design practices, packaging material or raw material that can be considered 100% sustainable. We learned that sustainable design is far beyond its visual component, it’s about creating an object or thing that solves our 3 domains of sustainability: environmental protection, social development, and economic development. This is about building a future, not a structure. When you learn to ask the right questions, the visual component takes up such a small fraction of our design process. How does the product fit in the packaging, researching our materials? How much energy is used for each? Is this material safe to apply to the body? How does material A react with material B? What is the longevity of this material? How can the material be disposed of? The satisfaction of sustainable design is beyond the visual and the thinking behind the conscious consumer, it’s a progression towards a headspace that allows us to connect with the rhythms of nature and our ancestors. Nature is perfect and fully recycles itself, and we know our ancestors successfully mimicked nature for generations without waste. As a beauty brand living in today’s ecosystem, we can’t mimic nature perfectly, but we have this crazy goal to get there as closely as possible. There are too many modern technologies that fight against nature rather than work with it, but with beautifully crafted design, we can merge the two together. Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
Bio doesn’t always mean better. Every material out there has some form of environmental and social impact associated with them. A challenge we face as a beauty brand from its raw ingredient selection to the distribution phase carries some blurring within its supply chain transparency. The sustainable impact of a material can be closely identified when we fully understand its sources and processing, but with the hesitation of sharing competitive knowledge between manufacturer and brand and the lack of material source documentation significantly adds to the challenge of selecting sustainable materials. In the beauty sector, we can classify raw materials as follows: emollients, emulsifiers/surfactants, hair conditioners, polymers, solvents, preservatives, fragrances, UV filters, sunscreens, colourants, pH adjustment, chelating agents, exfoliators, and water. For nearly 100 years, the use of petrochemicals (mineral oils and petrolatum) in the beauty industry has proven to cause alarming sustainability concerns, and competitive manufacturers now invest in innovation in search of sustainable alternatives to meet the sustainability demands of our consumers. Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
We can define sustainable production as the process of creating goods and services that help conserve energy and natural resources that are non-polluting and economically viable. Outsourcing continues to be a problem as you don’t know exactly its energy consumption or carry the innovation to calculate the impact. Same goes with water. Nature carries our medicines - Remember the ban of plastic microbeads? A synthetic polymer used in exfoliant beauty and oral care products, hurting our waters and wildlife. Now the industry has turned to nature to use biodegradable and natural microbeads coming from shells, barks, nuts, and minerals like mica, salt, quartz sand and silica to keep our skin feeling and looking beautiful. However, natural ingredients still carry impact. For example, waxes are subjected to complex extract and purification processes. Even if it’s natural wax, it has a higher melting point, so its extraction process of high energy expenditures results in impact. Sustainable options can be very expensive, and that price is reflected in the cost of sustainable beauty products. Even though fatty acids and fatty alcohols are natural derivatives, their common synthetic processes are often unsustainable. But, Lecithin, (a phospholipid extracted from soybean, sunflower seed, or egg yolk) is a suitable natural option. It’s just a very expensive option to formulate. Going back to supply chain transparency, it’s hard to gain trust with manufacturers. They don’t care quite as much as we do about building sustainable production systems, often setting minimum quantities with the goal to make as much as possible. So, if all your products don’t get sold, what happens to the rest? Our next step to a better production system is moving our process in-house. With the successful completion of our lab this week, we look forward to moving our production in-house so we can confidently control our ingredients, processes, and make what we need! Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
Packaging matters. And when you throw something away, it doesn't really go "away", it’s got to go somewhere. The cosmetic industry is infamous for storing products in luxurious packs with multilayers - increasing degradation time, waste, and an increase of environmental pollution. To achieve the highest standard of sustainable packaging, we need to ask ourselves: is this material recyclable? Reusable? Biodegradable? Is this packaging mandatory? Now that we enter packaging, hopefully these questions have been evaluated during the product design phase. The beauty industry is also notorious for using so much plastic in packaging - Why? Because it’s cheap. Paper wood? More expensive. We opted for wood for our SUSTAIN Eyes pencils to limit our plastic pollution problem in the beauty industry. It’s alarming how many cosmetic "pencils" out there are made of plastic. An additional expense from our wood is that it comes from protected cedar forests. Plus, we also loved the idea of packaging our SUSTAIN Eyes pencils in seed paper boxes; a package that has the capacity to fully recycle itself and give new life. At Cheekbone Beauty, we’re constantly redefining what throwing away means and how we can apply biodegradability and reusability to its potential through an Indigenous lens. We are redefining what retail-driven beauty should be as we challenge excess packaging and multilayers in the beauty world so we can limit our environmental impact. Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
Sustainable distribution is the conscious effort of transporting goods from manufacturer to vendor and vendor to customer with the lowest possible impact on the ecological and social environment. This includes the process from storage, order processing, picking, packaging, vehicle loadings, and delivery. While carbon emissions, electricity and water usage are taken into account, one of the most important factors to consider is the type and amount of fuel being used in transportation. As much as we want to use the most sustainable supply chains available globally and want everyone from around the world to enjoy our products, adopting a sustainable distribution method is restricted and challenging. At least, we can do better at limiting our supply chain distribution with our commitment to moving product production in-house to take more control and reduce the impact caused by shipping, while being more conscious of the weight and size of our packages. Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
You are important in this lifecycle process. We can define sustainable consumer behavior as a conscious action that results in a decrease in environmental impact and the minimization of natural resources across the lifecycle of a product. The base includes multiple variants - the habits and lifestyle of the consumer, product type, quantity, and frequency. Cosmetic brands carry responsibility with their words when reporting on "sustainable" packaging or “clean” beauty. Many plastics are capable of being recycled, but most of them never are. It’s also the responsibility of cosmetic brands to educate consumers on how to efficiently dispose of their product. Being in the customer's shoes, we know that choosing the most sustainable action is often time-consuming, effortful, or difficult to carry out. How can we help each other break down this barrier? Let's help each each other love and respect biodiversity like our people and ancestors do. A customer expects that the product of a business has been designed, tested, and produced in concern of environmental and societal impact. Well, it works the other way too. While we are responsible to educate our customers of proper use and disposal, the moment our product is in your hands, we no longer have control. The rest is up to you. Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
It’s the circle of life. The Post-Consumer Use phase is our last phase, and is also highly dependent on the strategies created in our first phase. We have to ask ourselves: How much water is associated with the packaging? Did you consider water contamination? What about soil contamination? How much environmental pollution is produced? The positive and negative impacts on biodiversity? Biodegradability of the packaging? Reusability? Recyclability? The strategy of recycling is outdated and mistakenly considered as more beneficial to biodegradability. Recycling is no longer the answer to our sustainability problems, because most of the items you recycle are never repurposed. Even with recycling, America produces more waste per capita than any other country on the planet. Recycling, which was once considered our solution, is now a bigger problem. It’s time to say no to virgin plastic, we have responsibility to do better. Buy less. Use less. Take only what is given, and treat it with respect.
We still have a long way to go. The term “sustainability” has gained prominence in many types of industries, and the beauty industry is no exception. As a small business, we’re incredibly grateful of our current accomplishments as we now celebrate the launch of our innovation lab. Our journey towards understanding how these new innovations fit into today’s ecosystem is just the beginning, and we’re excited to be sharing every step of the way with you! Here’s to crafting high-quality cosmetics through the marriage of Indigenous wisdom and innovative technologies in respect to the rhythms of nature as we help every Indigenous youth on the planet see their value in the world.
The team at Cheekbone Beauty
Sources: Sustainability Calculator A Tool to Assess Sustainability in Cosmetic Products