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My role at Provenance puts me in meeting rooms and on video calls with incredible individuals that are working to change the beauty and wellness industry into a force for good. From product development innovators and industry bodies advocating for the environment to e-commerce managers developing sustainable edits and certification bodies ensuring best practice. Each day, I’m inspired by future-facing leaders to do more for people and our planet.

But to what extent are these efforts filtering down to customers? Are shoppers feeling empowered to shop ‘sustainably’ in 2022? How transparent do they think the beauty industry is? And what are the issues around which they want to see brands doing more?

We decided to find out. So, with London Research, Provenance surveyed 1,500+ beauty shoppers across Europe and America, and spoke with leaders from a number of brands and industry bodies, including Cult Beauty, Elemis, Douglas, Noble Panacea and B Corp Beauty Coalition.

What we discovered sheds light on just why trust in the beauty industry’s green commitments is so low. But it also gives us a blueprint for how to do better, and for how brands that are making genuine progress on sustainability can win the trust of sustainability-minded shoppers.

Shoppers are looking beyond price and performance

To win shopper loyalty, beauty and wellness brands can’t afford to focus solely on efficacy and value. Our research shows that 9 in 10 shoppers believe sustainability and other ethics-related considerations are important when buying beauty products. But even more striking is that 15% of shoppers now consider sustainability information more important than price, efficacy or the product description when buying a beauty product – and this figure rises to 18% for British shoppers.

If you’re holding your breath and waiting for the fad to pass, keep reading. Our findings indicate that interest in brands’ social and environmental impact will only increase as younger, more eco-conscious shoppers make up more of the market. Today, 44% of 18-36 year-olds say that sustainability and ethics-related considerations are very important when buying beauty and wellness products – that’s twice as many as those aged 55+ (22%). I was incredibly excited to see Faith in Nature’s decision to appoint Nature to their board last month – it may not have been a commercially-driven decision, but the research suggests that they will in time reap the rewards as a brand.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to beauty shoppers?

A huge number of brands are already responding to shoppers’ growing expectations around sustainability. But what exactly are shoppers looking for? Our research suggests that most brands are focusing on issues relating to nature (e.g. vegan) – whereas in fact, shoppers’ understanding of sustainable beauty is much broader.

Of all the claims that beauty brands have to date published with Provenance, two-thirds relate to Nature – this includes claims like Vegan, Coral Reef Safe or Organic. Whilst this is indeed a crucial area for beauty, brands’ tunnel-vision on Nature is not reflected in what shoppers are focusing on. Yes, 93% of beauty consumers believe that nature and animal welfare is an important consideration, but 90% also believe the treatment of workers is an important purchase consideration, 88% say so for climate change impact and 82% say so for commitment to the community. Brands looking to empower customers to shop in line with their value must also consider the impact of their products in these areas.

Confusion and skepticism are rife amongst beauty shoppers

When it comes to talking to shoppers, even the most well-intentioned brands are leaving shoppers disoriented by a wealth of buzzwords and ambiguous claims. Shaun Russell, Skandinavisk Founder and Chair of the Supervisory Board of the B Corp Beauty Coalition, put it best: “The beauty industry has always made a lot of noise about how it can make you feel better and now there’s a cacophony of noise about ‘clean’ and ‘environmental’ promises. You can understand why shoppers are confused and don’t know who to trust.”

Only a quarter of shoppers find it very easy to understand the criteria behind sustainability and social impact claims. Almost three-quarters of consumers (71%) are unsure what brands actually mean when they say ‘environmentally friendly’ and 62% say the same for ‘green’ claims. ‘Clean’ is yet another contentious term, which recently drew withering criticism from Stella McCartney ahead of her skincare line launch. Deloitte research tells us that 48% of shoppers feel a lack of information is holding them back from a more sustainable lifestyle. To truly empower their customers, we need to see brands providing clear, specific information about the impact of their products.

And it’s not just ambiguous language that’s preventing beauty customers from shopping more sustainably. In the wake of more and more high-profile ‘greenwashing’ controversies, brands must also address justifiable cynicism about ‘green’ claims. Our research shows that 79% of beauty consumers have doubts about whether to trust the industry’s sustainability claims. What’s more, less than 25% strongly agree that brands are transparent about the environmental and social impact of their products.

Independent verification is key to rebuilding trust

The data shows that shoppers are both confused and wary of misinformation, but it also clearly points to a path forward for brands.

Sharing proof of independent verification is the most effective way to assure shoppers that claims are fact, not fiction. 41% of the shoppers we surveyed considered independent verification as very trustworthy, making it far and away the most highly trusted source of sustainability information when consumers are in purchasing mode.

If beauty and wellness businesses want to stay relevant to values-led shoppers, they can’t afford to mark their own homework when it comes to their impact on people and planet.

As Laura Rudoe, Founder of Evolve Organic Beauty put it, “Independent certifications really help [us] stand out in a confusing market and provide our customers with transparent information on the leading work we do to be ethical and sustainable.”

Download your copy of Skin Deep Beauty, the 2022 report from Provenance.

To find out how Provenance can help your brand share verified claims with online shoppers, click here.

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