Beauty and the Green Consumer

Five ways for eco-friendly brands to get their message across to consumers

As beauty brands work to reduce their environmental impact, consumers are increasingly overwhelmed and skeptical. Despite all the progress, Cone Communications’ 2012 Green Gap Tracker uncovered that only 44% of U.S. consumers trust brands’ environmental claims.

Honest and transparent communication about sustainability efforts is essential to alleviate skepticism and build consumer preference, and packaging is a key platform. Following are five ways to help communicate your brand’s responsibility journey.

Realize the Value in Green Claims

Eight in 10 consumers don’t believe that companies are doing all they can to address a product’s impact. However, about three quarters of women consider the environment when shopping, so the first step is to begin to consider green claims as a vital part of product positioning. An integrated effort that includes concrete information on pack or at point-of-sale is valuable.

Be Authentic

Be sure claims are specific and meaningful, as eight in 10 women are willing to boycott if they feel they’ve been misled—and news travels fast in the age of social media, particularly with the recent prominence of online petitions. Petition sites such as and Care2 feature multiple consumer-driven petitions targeting a wide swath of beauty brands on a variety of issues, from animal testing to concerns over plastic present in facial scrub formulations. When petitions gain momentum, they can spark action from companies: Both Bank of America and Girl Scouts of the USA have made policy changes as a direct result of consumer action on the sites.

Prioritize the Message

On-pack real estate is at a premium, so how do you decide which environmental messages are most important to feature? While a product’s disposal often has the least impact in terms of the overall product lifecycle, it’s an element over which consumers have direct control. In addition, consumers find messages about product disposal to be influential: 42% of consumers say they’re most influenced by messaging related to environmental impact of product disposal. Empower consumers with information about how individuals can minimize their impact after final use—or provide a solution in-store and drive retail traffic. For example, M∙A∙C’s Back To M∙A∙C program provides consumers with free lipstick or eyeshadow when they return empty M∙A∙C cosmetics containers. Through its Return to Origins recycling program, Origins accepts empty containers from all brands.

Deliver a Relevant and Balanced Message

Strapped for time, yet still wanting to minimize their impact, 73% of consumers are looking for more information related to environmental impact directly on a product’s packaging. Visual and precise messages help: About 80% of consumers are most influenced by a symbol or certification, such as Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ Leaping Bunny, or a message with specific data, such as “contains no sulfates or parabens.” Be sure that eco-claims are carefully balanced—or better yet, integrated as appropriate—with other priority messages, such as convenience, innovation or product effectiveness and safety.

Go Beyond the Package

While managing and communicating impacts of individual products is important, companies should align these efforts with larger corporate efforts for minimizing environmental impact. Sustainability platforms such as Avon’s Hello Green Tomorrow bundle the company’s efforts to reduce environmental impacts throughout product lifecycle, from using less palm oil in products to using Forest Stewardship Council certified paper sales brochures. A platform can provide a framework and context for eco-claims about specific products, demonstrating credibility and commitment beyond the product level.

About the Author

Amelia Brandt is an account executive in the corporate responsibility discipline at Cone Communications. During her time at the agency, she has worked on accounts including Timberland, L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters North America and Biogen Idec, among others.