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Q&A with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

Exclusive Speaker Interview

Francesca Morgante from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was due to present at the 2020 Sustainability & Naturals in Cosmetics. Her presentation would have discussed the positive effects of sustainable palm oil in the cosmetics industry. 

Can you give us a sneak peek of your presentation,“ sustainable palm oil: a resource for the cosmetics industry to achieve environmental and social goals”?

Approximately 2% of the world’s palm oil (PO) and palm kernel oil (PKO) is used in cosmetics, while 3% is used in home care, however, at least 70% of all cosmetics contain either PO or PKO in derivative form. This means that even though quantities may not seem huge, every single cosmetic company has an opportunity to generate demand for sustainable palm oil, instead of conventional palm products which can be linked to negative environmental and social issues. During my talk I'll explain what certified sustainable palm oil is all about and how companies can get engaged with RSPO.

Why is this an important topic to discuss and what effect could it have on the cosmetics industry?

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are very versatile and have many different applications in the cosmetic industry, so how they are produced should be a priority. The strict sustainability requirements of RSPO include robust criteria on no deforestation, no planting on peat, decent living wage to name just a few. Sustainability is becoming a major issue for consumers. Yet even the worldwide trend of having clean, ethical and more natural products could pose a threat to the natural environment if the ingredients are not sourced responsibly. We must ensure our shopping habits are not at the expense of forests, wildlife and biodiversity.

How can cosmetics sustainability support the circular economy?

There are many natural ingredients that the cosmetics industry can source from by-products or from food waste for example. These ingredients should be seen as a resource and it's promising to see that there are an increasing number of cosmetics producers headed in this direction. Wherever possible we should aim for circular economic activities that support a sustainable planet, people and prosperity.

How can we make sustainability the core of cosmetics production?

By integrating sustainability in every step of production we can ensure that companies have a positive environmental, social and economic impact.

What are the trends and developments that will redefine the cosmetics industry in the next 5 years?

From my perspective, I have seen some exciting sustainable developments such as waterless products, solid shampoos, debate around whether we need 20 products a day or could we use five multiple-purpose products. Ultimately as a consumer, for me transparency is key. I expect honesty about ingredients, the processes involved and functionality

How is the industry meeting the challenges this presents?

With regard to sustainable sourcing of palm oil we have seen a growing demand from the cosmetic industry, both from big multinationals but also from indie brands. Recently a new initiative was established called ‘Action for Sustainable Derivatives’. This collaborative project promotes responsible sourcing and collective action to increase the sustainable production of palm oil and palm oil derivatives. It was initiated by Beiersdorf, The Body Shop, Croda, Estée Lauder and others; all RSPO members who have decided to work together to set a high bar for sustainable derivatives. In addition, referral standards for natural and eco-friendly cosmetics such as COSMOS and ECOLABEL have introduced sustainability criteria for palm oil more recently.

Why do you feel it’s important for companies to attend the Sustainability & Naturals in Cosmetics conference?

Sustainability is a complex issue and conferences of this kind can be inspiring. The challenges we face cannot be solved in isolation, therefore we must all learn from one another and use existing knowledge to create change. The time for excuses is over and I am sure many businesses and consumers are keen to do their own part.