Sustainability & ethical labels in the cosmetics industry


President and Founder, Ecovia Intelligence, United Kingdom


As sustainability becomes more important in the cosmetics industry, we are seeing an increase in the number of sustainability charters, standards, and labelling schemes. Ethical labels in particular are becoming more visible on cosmetic & personal care products. This article gives an overview of this trend, giving details of leading ethical labelling schemes.

Ethical labels are nothing new. The first ethical label (trademark) was launched almost 100 years ago; the Demeter trademark was registered for agricultural products grown according to biodynamic farming methods in Germany in 1928. Chart 1 gives a historical timeline.


The ethical labelling trend has its origins in the food industry. Organic is now the dominant ethical label, with global organic food sales growing from almost nothing in the 1990s to USD 129 billion in 2020. Fair trade, Rainforest Alliance, Non-GMO Project Verified and Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are some of the important ethical labels in the food industry.


As consumers become more informed about cosmetic personal care products, they are seeking products without contentious synthetic chemicals and / or sustainability attributes. This trend is encouraging brands to adopt sustainability standards and ethical labels. Figure 1 illustrates some of the most popular ethical labels on cosmetic products.


Natural and organic are the leading ethical la ...