Green Marketing – the cosmetics industry between credibility and greenwashing
The mega-topics of “environmental protection” and “sustainability” have dominated much of the social and scientific discourse for years. And even if the discussion about the right way out of the pandemic is currently dominating, it is impossible to imagine the future without them. The discrepancy between growth targets and the finite nature of our resources is so obvious that it needs to be addressed. Both consumers and companies have recognized this. But what are the consequences? In her master’s thesis, our colleague Lena approached this question with regard to the cosmetics industry.
The sustainability megatrend has generated a veritable boom of activity in recent years. From fashion companies turning to fairly produced cotton, to IT companies switching to green IT, to the automotive industry pushing the advancement of electric mobility, to advertising manufacturers reducing plastic packaging – suddenly everything is green. A rethink can also be observed among consumers. Issues such as reducing plastic waste and food waste, as well as social responsibility, are increasingly coming into focus. How credible is all this?
Sustainability – not a new insight
The basic idea of sustainability is not new, but merely repackaged. Because the origin of sustainability can be traced back to 1713 and forestry and forms the understanding of today’s ecological sustainability: no more wood should be cut per year than will grow back. Sounds logical? It is! However, the real challenge has always been to implement it consistently. In any case, it would be fatal to reduce sustainability to the ecological dimension. Because today it encompasses much more: social, economic and cultural as well as health aspects form the pillars of sustainability. At the same time, this is precisely what makes it so complicated: Sustainability is multi-faceted and triggers different associations in people, so that it is also difficult for companies to meet the demands of consumers* without running the risk of being accused of greenwashing.
In her own, non-representative study, Lena took a close look at the cosmetics industry in particular. This is because sustainable cosmetics are increasingly gaining market share and the associated interest of consumers* is growing. She therefore investigated the question of how strongly consumers weight certain sustainability criteria when they are asked to declare a cosmetic product as sustainable. The result: “The product is the key”. Environmentally friendly packaging (reusable, recyclable, degradable) emerged as the winner from the criteria identified. And the avoidance of child labor and health aspects, e.g. the use of natural and non-harmful ingredients, are also high on the list. In addition, overarching ecological criteria are strongly weighted by consumers* – not particularly surprising when you know where the term “sustainability” comes from.
So is it enough to use sustainable packaging? Lena comes to a clear conclusion: Yep! Of course, sustainability efforts should always be credible and genuine – after all, there is a huge risk of damage to a company’s image if it is convicted of greenwashing. At the same time, however, it must be emphasized that sustainable packaging can at least be a small start. After all, one cannot and should not ignore society’s overall striving for sustainability. This is also against the background of the realization that opinion, attitude and behavior of consumers today still diverge strongly in most cases, i.e.: Despite the statement that sustainability criteria are particularly important to one, consumers are reluctant to give up the products they prefer. And especially not if they are also offered at attractive prices. The future will show whether this changes. And further studies on the subject will help companies to adjust correctly and in good time.
In any case, it will be exciting to see which companies will consistently focus on credible green marketing instead of greenwashing in the future. Because one thing is clear: It will become increasingly difficult for companies that have not paid attention to sustainability to date to remain competitive. And this is especially true with regard to Generation Z, which has come of age with the discussion about climate change. Lena’s impressive master’s thesis also proves this.