Having green credentials is no longer enough to make products attractive to consumers. Savvy shoppers are now demanding ethical and sustainable guarantees from the things they buy too

Ethical sourcing and sustainability are increasingly in vogue for everything from food to furniture – and it seems that mindset is becoming just as important for healthcare products too.

Consumers are now more aware of the impact their buying choices have on the environment. This applies not just to what products are made of and packed in, but also to the ethics behind their manufacturing and the distance they travel to the retail shelf and how these impact on the environment. And they are expressing this awareness at the tills. “Customers are demanding that we don’t just look after ourselves: we must look after each other and, more importantly, our Mother Earth,” says Rose Brown, founder of PHB Ethical Beauty, a company that produces natural, vegan and alcohol-free halal beauty products at its facilities in the UK and Canada.

Buying trends

Graeme Hume, owner of Pravera, a UK distributor of natural and organic cosmetics and toiletries, believes that media attention has directed a groundswell of public opinion in two particular directions. “We are seeing a growing demand for vegan products,” he says. “Of course, increasing awareness of the dangers caused by plastic in the oceans is also driving consumers towards more eco-friendly alternatives.”

On the issue of plastics in particular, there is a growing trend towards using menstrual cups instead of plastic-heavy sanitary protection products. “At the last trade show I went to, there were three suppliers,” says Graham. “However, most of these products are made of silicone, whereas ours are made from latex rubber, which means they are fully recyclable and biodegradable. They last up to two years and after that you can put them in your compost heap and they will break down.”

Trust and transparency

With social media enabling consumers to question and take brands to task instantly when their actions cause concern or confusion, there also appears to be a genuine consumer demand for transparency in corporate social responsibility.

In its latest consumer trends report, market intelligence agency Mintel claims that at least half of all Europeans agree that the increased ability to communicate and fi nd information via social media and the internet is forcing companies to be more transparent. In future, Mintel predicts that consumers will expect greater transparency as standard, whether this is related to manufacturing processes or how efficacious a product is.

Jane Devenish, pharmacist at Well – which last year launched Dermawell, its own ethically-responsible range of skincare products – says this is especially important when it comes to companies that are focused on healthcare: “People want to be able to trust organisations who are supporting them with their health,” she says, “especially because they or others may feel vulnerable, and transparency with corporate social responsibility helps to build that trust. But this trend also feeds into the GPhC standards of acting in a professional manner, with honesty and integrity.”

Rose is not surprised by this. “For so long,” she says, “the industry giants have dominated with product after product of chemical-enriched, animal-tested and frankly dangerous formulas that with new found knowledge, you wouldn’t dream of putting in your home, let alone on your skin. They offer consumers affordable and healthy-looking products whilst knowingly distracting them from the dark side of their products. They are now answering for it due to the demand from forward thinking and active customers.”

Nonetheless, Graeme warns that labelling can still be misleading: “The Soil Association is trying to stop manufacturers using the certified organic symbol to mislead consumers because it often only refers to part of the product, not all the product, so consumers should be aware of that and it’s something that needs to be tightened up on.

“There is also no need to declare an ingredient if it’s in a medical product,” he says. “For example, did you know that most condoms are coated with a milk protein, which means they are not suitable for vegans, but you won’t find that listed on the packaging in most cases. We list all the ingredients in all our products for the sake of transparency, but many manufacturers don’t.”

The importance of truth

Integrity is a key theme here. “People have the right to know and choose what goes onto their bodies,” says Rose. “It’s tremendously important that customers are not deceived when purchasing products with their hard-earned money.”

With reputations at stake, Graeme says the integrity of the products he distributes is vital. “We rely on our brands to be ethical and sustainable so that our customers can keep buying from us with confi dence. And, of course, the other reason is because we are talking about protecting a planet that belongs to our children and grandchildren. My aim is to show that there are brands you can trust, that are not owned by big chemical companies giving dividends to shareholders. In fact, most ethical companies are still owned by the people who set them up, such as the Lavera brand we’ve distributed for 18 years, as well as Weleda and Dr Hauschka. My stance is that I won’t distribute a brand that isn’t owned by a person I know, as I feel I can only be confident selling something if I know the people behind it.”

Consumer benefits

In theory, this holistic belief that what’s good for the consumer is good for business goes full circle back to benefitting the consumer in other ways. For instance, says Graeme, there are psychological benefits to being an ethical consumer.

There can of course be perceived hurdles to overcome because some ethical healthcare products command higher prices than alternative options. Graeme’s response is that while these products may seem to be more expensive at first, in the long term, they can work out to be better value. “For starters,” he explains, “quite often, there is a lot less water in them, so a little goes a lot further. Plus, they usually lead to a quicker solution to a problem than trying lots of different products. You get what you pay for, so think of it as investing in your future: if it solves a problem, you’ve saved money.”

By making ethical and sustainable choices, it’s not just personal health that is being tackled. “We’re only just beginning to understand the huge impact we have had on our planet,” says Rose, “but it seems the general consensus is most certainly shifting towards a future that we can be proud to leave our children. We have the change that Earth needs in the palm of our hands, if we will it.”

Case Study: Puressential

Puressentiel was created in France in 2005 by Isabelle and Marco Pacchioni (right). Born from their interest in aromatherapy and natural active ingredients, the company offers a range of healthcare products for everyday needs, including relieving muscle and joint pain and promoting respiratory wellbeing, sleep and weight loss.

As part of its commitment to being an ethical and sustainable business, the company has implemented a ‘Pure Quality Charter’, which frames all stages of a product’s life from the selection of raw materials to the manufacture and transport of the finished product, and includes the preservation of nature at all production stages. “Harnessing nature’s purest and most powerful ingredients in a way that’s environmentally responsible and fair to producers has been the mission that Puressentiel has set itself from day one,” explains Simon McCandlish, UK managing director.

“For example, we are committed to safeguarding ecosystems and biodiversity through organic and carefully considered production methods, so we make sure not to draw on a crop excessively, which would risk endangering it, and schedule planting several years before possible use.” Puressentiel has also made a commitment to take care of the men and women who cultivate their crops, through the protection of their villages and families.

In addition, the company’s commitment to eco-responsibility extends to grouping merchandise for shipment to reduce carbon tax, and reusing barrels and other containers. And its green credentials don’t stop there. “Our tubes and bottles are recyclable,” adds Simon, “and our packaging and notices are printed on recycled paper or cardboard from PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) schemes with vegetable inks and are also recyclable.”

 

Case Study: Ben & Anna

In response to increasing fears about plastic polluting the planet, deodorant brand Ben & Anna has launched a certified organic, natural and vegan range of solid deodorants in cardboard tube packaging coated with a natural wax.

Explaining the thinking behind the product, managing director Jean-Pierre de Wild (right) says: “We heard the sad stories about the rubbish and plastic in our oceans and thought that we as a small producer should start to make a difference. We first had our deodorant in plastic packaging, but we thought: ‘Hang on, we have such a great green product, every ingredient is certified natural or even organic but in the end we put it in plastic and we all know how bad plastic is for our environment. So how can a product in plastic packaging really be natural? This is nonsense.’ And that was the start for us to think about paper packaging, which led us to this cardboard version made of certified wood that’s responsibly managed and recyclable.”

Jean-Pierre says the company’s goal for the future is to develop even more everyday cosmetic products in environmentally-friendly packaging and with natural certifi cations. “The horror stories about plastic in our oceans are so tragic,” he says, “yet so far no government in the world seems to be interested in this, so we all have to make a change to ban plastic from our daily lives.” 

This trend feeds into the GPhC standards of acting in a professional manner, with honesty and integrity

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