There is no better feeling than opening up a brand new package of your favourite beauty products. Wrapped carefully in bubble wrap or wrapping paper so that they don’t crack or break during shipping. You’re throwing it all to the side anyways and there at the bottom are those new products you ordered. Heart eyes for days, you can’t wait to open everything and try it all out. But pause that excitement for just one minute and ask yourself: how wasteful is all that packaging? The bubble wrap, the sealed plastic wrap or sticker keeping the box from opening and then the plastic carrier for the product? It all becomes really wasteful.
We’re living in a world where people are starting to realize and understand the excessive amounts of plastic (that is mainly used for packaging!) found in our oceans and land are dangerous to humans, wildlife and the earth itself. We need to take better care of the planet and consume accordingly especially when we purchase something with plastic packaging. Did you know that an estimated 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, most of which are not even recyclable? Scientists are suggesting by 2050, about 12,000 metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or the natural environment. That’s about as much weight as 3,000 Asian elephants!
If you didn’t know, you’ll know now that Ethique is the world’s first regenerative beauty brand. They are a 100% plastic-free, cruelty-free, B-Corporation (like The Good Tee!), founded in New Zealand by Brianne West. This passionate entrepreneur started the sustainable beauty bar brand in her kitchen with the support of her mother. She no longer works in a small kitchen but a lab backed by like-minded good humans with the same guiding mission: healthy products, made with sustainable, naturally derived ingredients. I’m so honoured to have had the opportunity to chat with Brianne about starting Ethique and how she took the concept of solid products and created a worldchanging company.
What made you start Ethique?
I started Ethique out of frustration for the abhorrent amount of waste created by the cosmetics industry, and in particular, the amount of plastic and waste created by our bathroom essentials. I figured out that up to 95% of your bottle of conditioner is made up of water - which is just ridiculous considering you have water in your bathroom! I have always been deeply passionate about the environment and science and so I set about learning cosmetic chemistry (I was completing my Bachelor of Science at university at the time), and looked to formulate a solid shampoo. I figured that switching to a solid product would be the answer not only to the water waste issue, but also plastic waste.
I used to create small 1 kilogram batches of shampoo with the help of my Mum, selling them online on a website that I built myself (which is embarrassing to look at now), and surprisingly, there was huge demand! From there on, we’ve been steadily growing and putting more and more bars in showers around the globe.
For someone who may not know, why is being palm-oil-free essential, especially for a skincare/wellness brand?
There are quite a few concerns with palm oil. It’s devastating for people, the planet and the animals we share it with. Palm oil’s global demand is incredibly high due to its versatility as an ingredient and low price but the industry, as it currently operates, is hugely destructive, wreaking havoc in Indonesia, Malaysia and increasingly, parts of Africa – places protected by very little environmental oversight.
Farmers local to palm producing regions often – and understandably – succumb to pressure to provide for their families, slashing and burning critically important, ancient rainforests to plant palm monoculture plantations. The result of refusal would likely be that they’re forced from their land and rainforests would be lost anyway. The complete absence of fair prices paid by the large multinationals that buy the oil compounds the problem. In addition, harvesting this palm oil at such an unsustainable rate is causing mass deforestation, displacing native people and pushing many species like tigers, orangutans, rhinos and elephants to the brink of extinction by destroying their habitats.
The unfortunate irony is that palm is the most efficient oil on the planet to produce. Compared to coconut palms, it requires just 25% of the land and water to produce 1 litre of palm oil, versus 1 litre of coconut oil. Sustainable palm production would be the best way forward, but it’s a massive challenge. Currently, it’s impossible to separate sustainable from unsustainable palm and the existing standards don’t ban deforestation or the immensely problematic development of palm plantations.
So we’ve made all our products 100% palm oil free and we’ve got the accreditation from Orangutan Alliance to confirm that there are no traces of palm oil or its derivatives in any of our products or supply chain.
Your brand has advocated a lot for fairly sourced ingredients and a plastic free world. What is something you have personally learned during this process?
Over 40% of total plastic use comes from product packaging and only 9% of plastic that has ever been made worldwide has been recycled. There is a huge problem with plastic and it doesn’t get addressed enough especially in the cosmetic industry when so much of the packaging is made from plastic. At Ethique, we’re proud to be 100% plastic free and we started #giveupthebottle to help everyone ditch the single-use plastics and make the switch to solid bars and compostable packaging.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability to us at Ethique is a combination of steps we take as a business. Our packaging is home compostable and sourced from New Zealand’s certified sustainable forests. This means that it is a renewable and regenerated resource, that also supports an industry in some of NZ's rural communities. Our ingredients are fairly and responsibly sourced and our products are 100% plastic free. We donate 2% of sales to charity annually and support local organisations around the world who work towards similar environmental causes such as but not limited to Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors, Helping You Help Animals (HUHA), Rainforest Trust, and Project Blue. We’re also a living wage employer, climate positive (more on this later!), palm oil free, cruelty free and vegan. Ethique is about caring for our planet and everyone/everything that calls it home.
What has been your proudest moment for Ethique?
This year, we received a B-Corp ‘Best for the World’ recognition for Community Achievement. The recognition is given to those B Corp organizations that have scored in the top 5% of their employee size group for their efforts in the community, which includes charity, investment in diversity and educational opportunities.
Ethique has contributed to a lot of initiatives. Is there a project that gave you some surprising results?
An initiative that has led to great results has been our Earth Day collaboration with our partner, Offset Earth, a gold standard accredited carbon credit provider. For every order placed starting April 22, 2020 until forever more, we would plant a tree (or mangrove). And as of May 15th 2021, our customers have planted over 212,500 trees and offset over 1,167 tonnes of carbon dioxide! Our goal is to plant 400,000 trees by the end of 2021. This would offset over 26,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which is over double our current footprint. Because of this project as well as many other synchronous initiatives, Ethique has been officially declared climate positive. As of March 2021, we are proud to offset 120% of our carbon emissions, which has been measured annually by EKOS.
Where do you see Ethique and yourself in 5 years? Any exciting things coming up for Ethique?
We always have one eye on the horizon and have lots of fun things planned! Our main goal is to save the world from plastic bottles and this means we are constantly looking at ways we can increase our impact. Some of our goals for the future include saving half a billion plastic bottles from being manufactured and disposed of in landfill by 2030. We also want to increase the reach of our Super Soap Project and we have some super secret product launches coming soon.
Ethique is showing no signs of slowing down and we are rooting for Brianne and her team! How amazing is it to be a woman-owned ethical sustainable brand that is completely plastic-free?! For all our zero-waste living readers, Ethique is definitely one of those brands you should have in your home!
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