Are Your Products Actually Sustainable? Red Flags To Avoid

Beauty News

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The typical 2022 consumer is more conscious and mindful than ever, and that’s something to be celebrated, for sure. However, sometimes, the genuine desire of consumers to find sustainable products is being exploited by brands. Yes, we’re referring to “greenwashing” and bluewashing” – AKA misleading marketing about a brand’s commitment to sustainability and benevolent social practices. In fact, according to Beauty Heroes, studies show that 40% to 70% of retailer sustainability claims are exaggerated, which is extremely worrying. Similarly, there’s a large discrepancy between 40-70%, which just goes to show how much grey matter there is when it comes to this subject. 

Refillable packaging is a perfect example of some brands trying to capitalize on the sustainability concept without actually putting in the work. Their refillable packaging claims sound sustainable, but is that refillable option actually saving plastic and packaging?


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In our own effort to help, we’ve curated a guide to help you know what’s fact and what’s fiction. 

Examining Sustainability Claims  

So how do you, as a consumer, make sure you’re not getting got? Especially if your intentions are specifically to support green movements and responsible manufacturing?

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So many companies greenwash their sustainability efforts and do so quite effectively,” says Corinna Bellizzi, a sustainability expert and host of the Care More Be Better podcast. “For example, they might use packaging they claim is sustainable or recyclable, but it’s not made from post-consumer recycled materials and/or is not curbside recyclable in most municipalities.Here are some red and green flags to be on the lookout for as you spend your dollars.

Sustainability Red Flags:

Ubiquitous use of plastic and “virgin” non-recycled materials
Lack of transparency about product and ingredient sourcing
Sustainability claims without data, numbers, or information to back up the claim
Little or no carbon-offset in regard to sourcing, manufacturing, and shipping
No website which provides an easy out for not being candid with consumers
Difficulty contacting the brand’s customer service team directly, which makes it next to impossible to ask questions about sustainability practices.

Sustainablity Green Flags

Using post-consumer recycled materials in the product itself (where applicable), packaging, and shipping materials
Uses recyclable and/or compostable materials
Reduced and/or lightweight recycled packaging (less waste, easier to ship)
Clear explanation, with factual data, outlining how the brand is offsetting its carbon footprint
Discouraging (or simply not offering) expedited shipping, which has a high carbon footprint
Vivid transparency about supply chain, manufacturing processes, current sustainability practices, and long-term goals
Sustainability certifications and reports from trusted third parties, such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Leaping Bunny, Forest Stewardship Council, Fairtrade International, and B-corporation status
Easy to communicate directly with the brand, and questions are answered clearly

On that note, Bellizzi says that a direct line to the company can offer more reassurances about their eco-related choices. Simply reaching out to the team and asking them about the brand’s commitment to sustainability can give you answers and reassurance.

A website or an Amazon listing is often ripe with hyperbole and misleading marketing spin,” notes Bellizzi. “If you ask where their ingredients come from, and where they are made, but are unable to get clear answers, that is a very good indication that their practices are not built to be eco-conscious or quality-assured.Buying local, or buying directly from brands you trust, helps support their efforts and the green movement overall.  

The Rise of Refillable Packaging

Refillable packaging is gaining quite a bit of traction these days and serves as a viable way for consumers to reduce waste output. The concept is brilliant, really: to keep the OG bottle for life, refill as needed, and never toss it in the bin.

Some brands are going above and beyond to help this concept land for consumers by creating uber-chic, high-quality packages you wouldn’t want to throw away anyway. For example: Bite’s gilded Body Balm refillable container, La Bouge Rouge‘s leather lipstick pouch that houses paper-lined lippies, and Diptyque’s shower gel refills. Other brands, including The Body Shop, L’Occitane, and Mugler, are making refilling even easier (and extra waste-free) by providing refilling stations at stores. We love to see it.

All that said, it’s important to check the receipts on a brand’s claims about refillable packaging. Does the refill packaging actually offset waste/carbon output compared to buying completely new every time? Or is another brand’s packaging less wasteful, in general, compared to a refillable bottle and subsequent refills? You also want to ask yourself whether you’re loyal enough to a brand to refill over and over again.

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Bottom Line on Sustainability

While the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra has been around for decades – and many brands truly are making a difference – the reality is that we’re just not 100% there yet when it comes to widespread sustainability practices. There’s also the reality that some retailers prey on the emotional desire people have to make greener choices.

All this means it’s the consumers responsibility to do some due diligence versus taking every claim at face value. We need to make more eco-conscious choices in our daily lives in order to positively signal the companies that create our everyday consumables,” says Bellizzi. Doing so helps brands stay focused on creating responsible products.”

It’s work, we know, but it’s important work.

Keen on going green? We asked beauty insiders to dish on how to consciously upgrade your beauty routine.

Disclaimer: Every product we review has been independently selected and tested without bias by our editorial team. Although some brands allow affiliate links, we never take payment to review products, so we may earn a commission if you purchase a product by clicking on one of our links.