Emma Lewisham has set a new benchmark in beauty with a circular business model that makes it the world’s first carbon positive beauty brand.
The beauty industry has had a problem with waste for as long as it’s existed. More than 120 Billion units of waste are sent to landfill every year making a significant contribution to the world’s global warming crisis. And, that’s not even accounting for the excess of resources required to create, source, formulate, package and ship ingredients, components or finished products.
Something needs to change, and none have taken that quite as seriously as Emma Lewisham, founder of namesake skincare brand Emma Lewisham. The scientifically backed, 100% natural skincare brand from New Zealand has been committed to finding carbon positive and circular solutions to address the beauty industry’s waste and pollution problems since its inception in 2019.
The brand spent the last 12 months working with world-leading independent environmental certification agency, Toitū Envirocare, to measure the carbon emissions emitted at each stage of its product’s lifecycle and have the brand independently verified as carbon positive at a product level. It was no easy feat but an important step in the brand achieving its goal of reducing its carbon emissions, rather than simply offsetting them.
Thanks to the creation of its 100% circular designed business model that sees refillable and recyclable packaging come to life, Emma Lewisham has created products that have a 74% smaller carbon footprint than that of the original packaging. And, unlike many other recyclable beauty brands, the team at Emma Lewisham are actually taking responsibility for this step in its circular model to ensure the products are actually recycled.
Although the brand is the first to adopt a carbon positive business model, Emma Lewisham is determined to not be the last. In the hope of accelerating the movement towards a circular beauty industry, Emma Lewisham has shared all intellectual property surrounding the achievement of a circular and carbon positive model with beauty brands around the world. The blueprint includes refill designs, sterilising processes, recycling and returns processes, packaging supplier connections, take back procedures and carbon calculation guides.
We chatted with Emma about her incredible achievement and why it’s so important to her to champion sustainability.
Can you tell us why sustainability is important to you personally and your brand?
I don’t believe we should have to compromise between natural products that have no controversial ingredients and ones that actually work. Nor do I believe that we should have to compromise between products that work and products that are sustainable or positively impact our planet. I created Emma Lewisham because I wasn’t prepared to make these compromises, over my own health, the health of our planet and the health of the people that we will leave it to.
When it comes to why our products are built on a foundation of sustainability, I believe this is the only responsible way to do business. We all now know that we are in a climate crisis, and I believe that any product that is created in today’s world should be helping to build a better one. When you see something that is broken and creating damage, you can choose to accept it and be a bystander, or you can choose to change it. I chose the latter, because as a business (and individual) I want to create lasting value – and to only grow while having a positive impact.
I truly believe we can thrive by giving more than we take. That we can profit from preventing problems, not creating them.
What have been the biggest challenges and learnings that have come from your pursuit of a circular business model?
The biggest challenge was understanding every aspect of our supply chain in order to gain the complete transparency needed to measure our carbon emissions. This means knowing where each of our 150 ingredients are grown, harvested, transported, stored, packaged, and so on. And this may seem like reasonable information to have on hand but it is actually incredibly rare that a beauty brand would have this information. The beauty industry has typically operated with a veil of secrecy for a very long time, so it was incredibly time consuming and difficult to gain complete transparency within our supply chain.
However, this step was absolutely crucial, being the foundational step in determining our carbon emissions. Reducing carbon emissions must be our primary focus if the beauty industry is to play its part in meeting global climate goals. And, reducing the beauty industry’s 120 billion units of annual packaging waste through refillable, circular packaging is the answer to reducing carbon. With estimations predicting a circular model of beauty could reduce beauty’s carbon emissions by up to 70%.
Can you talk us through how the retrieve and circulate steps of your plan actually come to life?
A key part of our circular business model is our free global takeback program – The Beauty Circle – where we take responsibility for all Emma Lewisham packaging, bringing it back to be either sterilized, refilled and redistributed, or recycled through a specialised recycling partner.
When our customers return to buy more of their Emma Lewisham product, they can simply buy a refill. Most of our products are designed to take refill pods which simply pop out and can be replaced with a full new one. And some of our products are refilled through our refill pouches.
When it comes to returning empty pods and pouches to us for reuse or recycling, we make sure this process is as easy as possible. We know that ease and accessibility is critical to getting engagement from customers. All you need to do is add a free shipping label for the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle Returns from our website. Then, drop your box off to your nearest post office.
At the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle depot we have a team who filter the material into pods that can be reused and pouches or damaged packaging that needs to be recycled. Any material that needs to be recycled we pay to be recycled through TerraCycle to ensure this actually happens.
Then all material for reuse – which is currently 78% of our packaging – is shipped back to us NZ (if coming from overseas) where we then sterilize it and reuse it. We also use the most environmentally friendly way of shipping, sea freight, which has a much lighter footprint than air freight. We also wait until a ship that is already scheduled to come back to NZ has spare capacity. This means that we aren’t putting an extra ship on the sea just for Emma Lewisham.
As we are always looking to reduce our carbon emissions, once we have sufficient growth in our overseas markets we will look to have manufacturing facilities there that can cater to refills.
How can other brands and businesses benefit from your decision to release your IP?
I hope that in sharing our Beauty Blueprint other brands can capitalise on our innovation and investment to accelerate their transition to a circular and carbon positive model.
Sharing our Beauty Blueprint wasn’t a decision I made lightly, as it is undoubtedly one of our brand’s competitive advantages. However, none of it matters unless other brands join us on a circular and carbon positive path. The problems we face are so much greater than the success of one business or brand, and if we are going to solve them, collaboration is key. We won’t be able to make a dent in the beauty industry’s waste and carbon problem alone, but if we collaborate instead of compete, we have the ability to create real change.
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