Sustainable Cosmetics Summit
                           May 12th 2011
No Nukes, Green Beauty & the White Whale
By Remy C.

An afternoon at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit organized by the Organic Monitor.

Bill McDonough who was the opening keynote speaker introducing C2CCertified, is often coined saying that he supports nuclear power, as long as it's 93 million miles away! The issue of nuclear power and safe cosmetics have more in common than you might think. They are both based in an admission of what is considered to be acceptible risk, the precautionary principle, due diligence and resistance to change dependent on large conglomerates who profit immensely from the status quo.

I was pleasantly surprised and also quite thrilled to learn that my media request to cover this event was accepted. It wouldn't have been possible for me to go otherwise as the admission fee is quite steep, limiting participation to dedicated professionals. I was permitted to attend the first day afternoon session, the following CEO rountable, and the reception. I would miss Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics warn the next day, that "recent study shows radioactive iodine in the breast milk of women in Japan."

I'll admit, I cheated a bit, and timed my arrival to coincide with the tail end of the morning panel so I would catch up with Bill McDonough who I had not touched base with in a long time. We're trying to bring him on board as a full fledge member of Rock The Reactors, especially now that he is introducing an A19 LED bulb called Switch.

But Bill has reservations about being too vocal concerning his anti-nuclear convictions for fear it might upset his more corporate clients, and so Bill I'm sorry for outing you, but all's fair in love and war! Janet MacGillivray Wallace joined him for lunch. They are collaborating on a project together. Janet was with Riverkeeper for many years before moving to San Francisco. So I still harbor some hope that we can enlist Bill to do the right thing, and help us shut down Indian Point.

By searching twitter archives from that morning, and keywording #suscon and #sustainablecosmetics I read that Bill said two things that captured the attention of the audience: "How many of you know there are toxins in your products? Negligence is knowing better and doing it anyway." and also "Is it your intention to destroy the planet, is that your business strategy?" Harsh words that need to be put into context.

One of the main drivers in the chemical industry beleive it or not, is the beauty industry. Globally we spend over 190 billion dollars a year on beauty products and services, 20 billion in the US alone. There are over 256.000 beauty salons in this country. Worldwide L'Oreal's revenues reach 20 billion annually, making it the largest, most powerful beauty company on the planet.

So it's no surprise that back in the late 60's the theme of In Like Flint starring James Coburn was beauticians taking over the world! Or that in the TV series Fringe, a beauty conglomerate rules the planet. The beauty industry is a force to be reckoned with, with far reaching influence over the development of new science and patents.

Until the mid-2000s, organic cosmetics were pretty much limited to shelves of health food stores, founded in 1994 Jane Iredale first comes to mind, along with other small entrepreneurs making product in their kitchen. But something happened. The work that eco-pioneers like Bill McDonough were doing in the building industry, the development of non-toxic carpet fibers and cradle to cradle design protocols, the influence it subsequently had on sustainable clothing design, seeded dynamic and systemic changes in the fashion industry. Eco-luxury was born; wealthy, influential women were beginning to ask for a level of commitment to green ideals that became standard bearer and motivated the entire fashion industry to start improving the way it related to the natural world.

Women everywhere started reconnecting with their feminine selves, practicing yoga, dreaming of owning organic farms, leading to a very European explosion and rebirth of fresh food markets. Ingredients in everything were being questioned, the doctor in the lab coat from the 50's no longer inspired confidence. To quote Ani DiFranco in her song Decree: "And cancer, the great teacher has been opening schools downstream from every factory. Still, everywhere fools are squinting into microscopes researching cells trying to figure out a way that we can all live in hell."

It became self-evident that over the years, cancer, a disease that barely existed in antiquity, was now causing a great deal of pain, could be traced back to the poisons we are releasing into the environment, least of which the realization, that many are being rubbed directly into our skin from the formulations of top brand cosmetics! And yet, there still hasn't been studies done on retired fashion models or stage performers to analyze cancer rates in these professions.

This makes a conference like the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit very important in the grand scheme of things, because it starts connecting so many different disciplines, all reliant on each other to bring products to market. The greatest part of the beauty business is selling the dream of eternal youth. Anyone who has read Lost Horizons or seen Ursula Andress in the movie She knows how fleeting that aspiration can be.

Open any fashion magazine, the majority of advertisers tout skin care, lipstick, eyeliner, shampoo, escapes to far away spas... suddenly, this back to Earth movement is obliging the top name brands to reformulate both its ingredients and the way in which it appeals to women sensibilities. And so, editors of these magazines, must abide by some degree of ethical principle in regard to the featured ads that financially support their titles, confronted with an extremely difficult dilemma and task ahead.

In 2006, when we formed Rock The Reactors, we anticipated this change of perspective would take place, that most models, photographers, and makeup artists would embrace the green lifestyle, not only in their personal lives but also in their chosen profession. So we enlisted the sustainable fashion industry in support of a reconsideration of the cosmetics industry, in association with commitment to a nuclear-free future, and launched GreenMUA.

Green chemistry was becoming a buzz word, and soon Universities like Yale created dedicated science departments to address the rise in concern. My personal vested interest was to bring the sudden attention cosmetic giants were putting into the development of more environmentally benign ingredients to the service of better batteries, which we now know can be made from aerogel amino acid chains. In turn these strong bond proteins can be extracted from hemp seed. The Body Shop, now owned by L'Oreal, was one of the first large companies to introduce hemp based consumer goods to the mainstream.

Currently L'Oreal's top celebrity spokesperson is Eva Longoria, owns a green shopping mall in Portland, and sits on the board of advisors for dozens of environmental organizations. I suggested to Pamela Gill Alabaster, senior VP of sustainable development at L'Oreal, that her company has an amazing opportunity today to take the lead in the reformulation of beauty products. Last year it introduced their "Nature" series in selected salons. L'Oreal contributes generously to Faith Kates's Ovarian Cancer Research Fund who also owns the Next modeling agency, home of many green super models like Summer Rayne Oakes and May Lindstrom.

I mentioned to Liliana George, head of green innovations at Estee Lauder, that in my opinion, it all starts with the ingredients, everything else is branding and packaging. I think this boils down the message of this event. That no matter how many ways you try to green a product's image, if the ingredients themselves are not up to what we expect of the latest green standards, you will always fall prey to accusations of green washing.

The Sustainable Cosmetics Summit brings together some of the top executives in the beauty industry, and leaders from the much smaller, but increasingly successful organic cosmetics brands quickly grabbing important shares of the market. It's interesting to watch this marriage unfold, because it exists solely from the willingness and desire of these small brands to share their resolve with the giants in a genuine attempt to use green beauty as a flagship issue in our quest to save what's left of this planet.

It's in the way we harvest the botanicals that go into making these powders, oils and creams... instilling new respect for the land and its farmers... what cosmetics have in common with the agriculture of fibers for textiles. We want our emotional desire to change the world for the better to be contagious, despite the certainty that if and when these large cosmetics giants go full steam ahead with adopting these principles, they will continue to dominate the market, but what better way to save the world than with beauty as Dostoyevsky once wrote?

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