We are experiencing a huge shift in consumer mindset as customers have become more interested in a company’s process over its product. This is particularly true in the nearly $500+ billion cosmetics industry, which does much to improve a person’s sense of self and wellbeing, but also has a great deal of waste taking a toll on the environment. More and more, consumers want “clean” or “green” beauty products, and as the public’s awareness of cosmetic ingredients increases, so does the demand for the clean beauty category.
We wanted to take a deeper dive into clean beauty and the best person to guide us is Mia Davis, Director of Environmental and Social Responsibility at Credo Beauty, the largest clean beauty retailer with 10 brick and mortar stores and a dot com business. Since joining Credo Beauty three years ago, it has been Mia’s job to launch the Credo Clean Standard to define clean beauty for Credo and make sure their 135 brand partners work with them to operationalize clean and remove ingredients on their “dirty list” from beauty products.
Mia chats with Convoy’s Head of Sustainability, Jennifer Wong, to share what it takes to operationalize sustainability into a company’s supply chain, how to maintain consumer confidence in clean beauty products, ways in which a company can integrate sustainability into its business practices, and what’s next on the horizon in the clean beauty movement. Her key takeaways are below.
- It is possible to standardize sustainability efforts in a supply chain: Companies can indeed have a strong sustainability and safety commitment in big picture thinking, but at some point in the evolution of the business, there will come a time when standards and practices will need to be clearly defined and established to continue to maintain certain operational ethos throughout the supply chain. (1:42)
- You can empower those in your supply chain to think greener: It is one thing when you make your own products and have a lot more control over your ingredients, but when you are working with other brands, there is a way to educate and empower those in your supply chain to ask those difficult questions about the ingredients they are using. (2:40)
- Clean in the beauty industry has evolved to encompass more than just eco or green ingredients: I’ve been a part of driving and defining clean as the nexus of a few different things: safety, sourcing, sustainability, and ethics all held together by transparency. (4:50)
- There will always be trade-offs in how impactful sustainability can be in beauty: It’s important to define clear brand pillars of what clean means to a company. It doesn’t mean you will always check off every box, but you are working to head in a direction of embracing the complexity of clean by taking into account safety, sourcing, sustainability, and ethics. These pillars could comprise something around animal welfare, child labor, paying people a living wage, etc. The bottom line is we need to embrace the complexity of everything that is involved in manufacturing a product. (6:10)
- Sustainability can indeed be incorporated into a business in many ways: Companies will always be learning and growing and revisiting how to incorporate sustainability into their business and weave it through a variety of programs like looking at packaging, or composting, or carpools, designing stores to reduce waste, shipping, etc. Depending upon how a business is set up, it’s important to try to thread sustainability at the store level, HQ, manufacturing, vendors, partners, etc. (8:28)
- Packaging in the beauty industry is a key area where brands can make a difference: There are over 100 billion cosmetic packages created annually and such a small fraction of them are used as refills. One of Credo’s biggest initiatives currently is in establishing sustainable packaging guidelines by addressing primarily ingredients and products. We recognize our role in this consumption and waste problem, and here is what we’re going to do to start to ameliorate or lessen our impact. We are working really hard to partner with packaging suppliers and brands to do things really differently in an innovative way to get more sustainable packaging into the hands of smaller companies. (10:43)
- Companies will need to get more serious about investing in sustainability: There has been a lot of lip service and cause marketing versus actual sustainability in the past. What we are seeing now is a much more meaningful push which is absolutely necessary because we are at a tipping point, especially with regard to the packaging and plastic, consumption and waste. The consumer is now demanding that companies be not only more mission focused in general but have key sustainability goals that they’re actually delivering on. (14:00)
Watch the video or read the transcription below.
Jennifer: Can you tell me about your role and responsibilities as the Director of Environmental and Social Responsibility at Credo Beauty
Mia: Yeah, absolutely. So, Credo is the largest clean beauty retailer. We have 10 brick and mortar stores and a dot com business at credobeauty.com. And when I, we’re still in, like, startup mode, but Credo has been around for a few years and when I joined the team 3 years ago, they already had launched with a really strong sustainability and safety, just kind of better beauty, ethos. But hadn’t really operationalized that. They had something called the dirty list which is, there is certain substance lists at Credo, but in order to make sure that all of the brand partners were following the dirty list and continuing to move the needle on sustainability, they needed more of a robust standard. So, I came on board and worked with Annie Jackson, our COO, and some other team members to launch the Credo Clean Standard. Which really defined clean beauty from Credo and made sure that we had, you know, like a [2:00] roadmap for our 135 brand partners to be working with us, along step with us, to really operationalize clean. So, for my role I’m really doing, I’m doing that. I’m creating standards, working hand in hand with our brand partners to make sure that clean, you know, is defined and operationalized, and meaningful.
Jennifer: One of the reasons why I like is that it’s so easy to buy clean beauty.
Mia: Yeah, thank you. Good. We have, you know, its different when you make your own products. When you’re a brand owner and you’re not just buying stuff that is kind of stock, private label, but you are creating formulas from scratch. You have a lot more control over the ingredients that you’re getting. At Credo, you know, as a retailer, we have to make sure that we’re working really closely with these brand partners to empower them to learn more about the tenants of clean as we see it and make sure that they are going back to those supplies asking hard questions about the supply chain so that customers, like yourself, can come in and have a really high degree of confidence that clean means something. So, it’s a complicated supply chain, it’s just really interesting and its really fun to work with these entrepreneurs all of the world on, you know, really pushing the envelope.
Jennifer: You’re a beauty pioneer in the clean space. You’ve created and implemented some of the most meaningful standards in the industry like at Credo, the clean standard there and then also with Beauty Counters, the ingredient selection process. Over your career in beauty and sustainability, what have you seen in changes of consumer preferences for these types of changes to happen?
Mia: Yeah. A lot has changed. You know, when I started doing [4:00] this work it was not even on the business side. I was the organizing director of the campaign for Shape Cosmetics, which is a national coalition of national organizations focused on public and environmental health that were working to introduce the concept of safety. So this was like in the early 2000’s. I was there around 7, 8, 9 and you know, it was really fun and interesting and there are some of the brands that are really pioneers in natural, safe, eco-clean beauty that are still around today that were our allies in the campaign organization or companies like EO or Everyone, Weleda, of course, Dr. Bronner’s, you know, some of these kind of more old school brands of the generation. And at the time, you know, the concept of safety and ingredient safety was something that was really new. Most people, if they were thinking about this at all, they were thinking about the naturalness, kind of more eco, organic natural. Which is, for me, really important and is a part of clean beauty. But the evolution that I’ve been, you know, a part of and I’m really hoping to create, and drive is to define clean as the nexus of a few different things. So, there is safety, there is sourcing, there is sustainability, and there is ethics. I see them as a Venn diagram, right. Where they’re kind of overlapping and clean is in the nexus here, in the middle. And they’re all held by transparency, because if you don’t have greater transparency about the supply chain and about ingredients in products then the conversation is very hard to have in any meaningful way, in any authentic way. So, I think to answer your question about where have things gone, what has the evolution really been in my career in clean beauty, its been pretty exciting because it wasn’t really clean beauty when is started. It was safe, it was like eco, or green. That kind of evolved. There were other terms [6:00] that came to play and now I think what we’re trying to do at Credo and with the 135 brand partners that we work with is to define clean as I said, with all these other really important pillars. It doesn’t mean that you’re always checking off every single box. It doesn’t mean that you always have ingredients with great safety data, you feel really confident about, you know, the hazard profile of that ingredient, and its grown really sustainably and you know that because you have the documentation to show. That’s what we want, that’s what we’re headed towards and sometimes you do get that, especially with a much more, you know, kind of simple formula that’s plant based, like even shea butter lip balm. It’s a lot easier to, if there is like 1 or 3 ingredients, it’s a lot easier to really check the box and have a super clean, confidently clean product. But when you have something like tinted moisturizer or concealer, or mascaras, or certain hair products, the formulas can get pretty complicated and you might have some data gaps, you might have some trade off and that’s not an excuse. Its more, I embrace the complexity of clean. If we’re really trying to define clean as really taking into account safety, sourcing, meaning is it natural, is it naturally derived, is it synthetic? Sustainability and ethics, for, you know, for us could be around animal welfare, around child labor, around paying people a living wage. Growing, not just sustainably but responsibly also for human, the human community. So that’s what we’re working towards. Embracing the complexity, it’s a big definition, but that’s, I think, where we need to be headed to really get us out of some of the messes that we’re in in regards to some of the consumer products and the lack of sustainability.
Jennifer: How does Credo beauty value [8:00] sustainability? How is it incorporated into the business strategy?
Mia: Yeah. Great question. Its always been a key tenant, its not a nice to have, it is core to who Credo is and to the founders. Now that we’re growing, you know, I mentioned earlier that we’re still kind of in startup mode. We’re in that place where I think we’re, like, growing out of startup mode but we still run, like, a pretty scrappy organization. Now that we’re growing, its time to make sure that sustainability remains core and that we weave it through all of the programs. So, everything from, you know, our partnership with TerraCycle around packaging take back. Just some really cool pilot programs that we’re just getting off the ground that are very neat regarding packaging to the fact that our headquarters composts and carpools, and, you know, we design our stores increasingly so. We’re designing our stores to be as thoughtful as we can about reducing waste because when you open the store, the amount of stuff that you need and waste is, its painful honestly. And we’re aware of that and we, again, talk about complexity, right. When you’re in the business to sell stuff, its inherently at odds with sustainability, right. We’re like, selling stuff, and opening stores, and shipping things around the country, we get that. So how can we, unapologetically, run the business in a way that makes money, makes the customers happy, it makes the brand partners happy, but that also doesn’t say, like, “Oh, we’ll just kind of, you now, offset a carbon emission over here or do something over here to make it feel like we’re checking the sustainability box.” You know. We’re trying to make sure that we’re really threading that through at the store level, at the HQ level and then, with our brand partners influencing [10:00] the supply chain to be more sustainable.
Jennifer: As you’re looking at the sustainability journey for the brand today, what’s the next priority you’re focused on?
Mia: So, we’re, you know, sustainability is, it’s a journey, not a destination, right. It will continue to evolve. There will continue to be a lot of challenges and we’ll see as a company where it makes sense for us to speak up, to be an advocate, to play a role, to be vocal and to put our money where our mouth is as well. So, it will always be evolving for Credo. The biggest initiative that we’ve launched in the last year is our sustainable packaging guidelines which are folded into this more comprehensive, you know, Credo Clean Standard. The Clean Standard started by addressing, primarily, ingredients and products. Like, the actual goop. But we knew that after we felt that we, we got the clean standard out to our brands, we felt like we had, you know, operationalized it and we had a better understanding of like, how to keep going, how to onboard brands with this program, that the next frontier was really to address packaging. And man, is it a sustainability problem. There are over 100 billion cosmetic packages created annually. And such a small fraction of them are used as refills. Like, they’re reusable or such a small fraction of them are recycled. Even some of the materials that are more likely to be recycled, like glass, its…we could have a whole different conversation just about the painful reality and what the data really shows about the recycling rates in this country and we need to fix that, for sure. But we launched the sustainable packaging guidelines in April of 2020 [12:00] to start to say, “Hey, we recognize our role in this consumption and waste problem, and here is what we’re going to do to start to ameliorate or lessen our impact.” One of the things that we’re doing is getting rid of single use products like wipes or sheet masks by 2021 and by 2023 any plastic that is used in packaging in the store, needs to be at least 50% recycled. Which is a pretty big number and pretty ambitious to do by 2023 but we’re really optimistic that we’re going to be able to do it. And we’re working really hard to partner with packaging suppliers and brands to do things really differently in an innovative way to get more sustainable packaging into the hands of these, mostly smaller, companies. You know, a lot of our brand partners are Indie beauty brands. They’re pretty little in the grand, like, global scheme. So, we’re going to be continuing to evolve the sustainable packaging guidelines. We set some goals that we don’t expect, we’re not going to be, like, adding a ton of goals, or kind of shaking it up. We have a roadmap, but how we meet those milestones will be a big part of my work and of our work at Credo over the next few years.
Jennifer: As other companies are thinking about their sustainability road maps as well, what do you think it’s going to take for more companies to invest in sustainability in a bigger way like you have at Credo?
Mia: Yeah. Well, I think that it’s happening more and more, which I’m really glad to see. When is started doing this work in the early 2000s, you know, I was looking at companies like, certainly, Patagonia, Cliff Bar, Luna Bar, Ben and Jerry’s as, and I still look up to all of them, they’re incredible corporate [14:00] stewards, but corporate responsibility and stewardship was still, like, very under, you know, it wasn’t happening. There was a lot of cause marketing. There was a lot of, more lip service than sustainability and I think what we’re seeing now is a much more meaningful push, which is so important and absolutely necessary because we’re truly at a tipping point, especially with regard to the packaging and plastic, consumption and waste. But I think that it will only keep growing, which is really good. I mean, that’s, its some tough times but its nice to actually be optimistic when I say that I think when the consumer is demanding the companies be, not only more mission focused in general, but have key sustainability goals and that they’re actually delivering on them. It certainly affects who we see shopping with us at Credo Beauty, which his awesome, I love that. So, I’m hoping that companies see, we can’t as a society, keep externalizing costs, leaving it for another generation to deal with, that the cost of petrochemicals, and plastic especially, is insanely, artificially low. It isn’t real and we’re all paying the price, the environment, human communities, and its absolutely got to stop. We have to stop making stuff this way. So I’m really hoping to be linking arms with other, you know, advocates, other organizations and certainly other companies that see that they have an absolute responsibility and a moral imperative to start to improve the way that we bring consumer products to market.
Jennifer: Thank you so much and congratulations on your success so far. Very excited to see your progress in the future.
Mia: Thank you so much for having me. It was fun talking to you.