If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that the negative effect that humans are having on the environment. It was as if covid 19 put the whole world on a time-out to have a long hard think about the way we treat nature, the homeless, key workers and our hungry vulnerable children. During lockdown, nature bounced back, as the oceans became clearer, birds started to sing again, wild goats wandered into towns and air quality improved in cities.
We’ve all become more mindful of our individual responsibility, myself included. I have been making small changes such as being mindful to separate my plastics and cardboard recycling, using a cotton flannel and reusable cleaning pads for my face instead of cotton wool. I also buy products in bigger sizes and look for refillable beauty - every little change adds up.
Seventy per cent of the waste from the beauty industry comes from packaging, which inevitably ends up in landfill; we need to demand that our favourite brands take real action toward a waste-free future through 100 per cent recyclable packaging, reusable and refillable solutions. Bottles made with reclaimed ocean waste plastic, glass packaging, and innovations to make packaging circular and a complete ban on all sample sachets are all steps we can support today.
One brand leading the conversation and sharing its innovations with others is Ren Clean Skincare. In 2018, the brand made the pledge to become 100 per cent zero waste by the end of 2021. Ren is asking customers to support its direct competitors Biossance , Youth to the Peopl e, Caudalie and Herbivore because they are all aligned in the fight to save the planet with a #weareallies call to action. The more brands that commit to sustainability by 2025, Ren will help them reach it. Post-covid, post-Black Lives Matter, collaboration is the new way forward.
I caught up with Ren CEO Arnaud Meysselle to see how it was going and what we can all do to be more eco-aware beauty consumers. I’m a huge fan of Ren – scroll down for my top five product picks from the brand as well as my own limited edition Ateh Jewel x Ren Glow Edit, £80 with three cult Ren products worth £118.
Ateh Jewel: In 2018, you made a pledge to be zero waste by the end of 2021. Are you on track?
Arnaud Meysselle, CEO Ren: “From the moment we made that pledge all our products have complied to our zero waste mission using recycled material and being recyclable. Since 2018, we’ve added 12 zero-waste products. Launching new products that are sustainable is easier because, when producing them, you think sustainability first. What’s taken a little more time is to transition our existing portfolio and finding solutions for each of the existing products.
"Take one of our cult best sellers, Ready Steady Glow AHA Tonic, £27 , which we launched in 2018 before our zero waste pledge. It was zero per cent sustainable. We changed the bottle to recyclable plastic and then last year to recycled plastic. But the pump wasn’t recyclable. As we speak, we are moving the pump to a pour cap which is 100 per cent zero waste. Just by doing this, we are saving 4.4 tonnes of plastic from landfill and that’s just with the cap!
"We explained reasons for the change to consumers, as they loved the original pump, and 99 per cent said they prefer this new option. A few years ago, people would have said you’re crazy, consumers love the pump but once they understood why, they preferred it.
"There’s an appetite for sustainability because people are spending so much time at home and it has opened their eyes. They’ve been closer to their waste, realising what they are using, what they could reuse. This started with the fashion industry, sustainably wise they were bad but they are getting better with Stella McCartney and other activists leading the way, campaigning and now most are following their lead to reuse, buy vintage, and swapping. It’s brilliant
Sachet samples are the ‘dark secret’ of the beauty and personal care industry. What have you done about those?
"We have stopped the production of all sachet samples, which is indeed the dark secret of the beauty and personal care industry; 122 billion sachet samples created for the industry every year are ending in landfill because none of them are recyclable. We’ve saved around 4.5 million sachet samples from landfill. Today we are 60 per cent sustainable. With 20 SKUs [product units] left to transition by the end of 2021, we are on track!
"For the sample size of our Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30, £32 , we created mini tubes instead of sachets, made from recycled plastic which is great as it's part of the circular economy. The challenge is that because of its size in many places in the world it won’t be recycled. So we found a solution to make all our new samples 100 per cent universally recyclable, which we will be launching in a couple of months. People asked us if we wanted the exclusive on this technology but I said no, we want everyone to have access to this, we want all our new brand friends who are interested in these solutions to be able to use it too."
How have people responded to zero waste skincare?
"There was a piece of research three years ago in the US where consumers were asked if sustainability was important when buying beauty products and five per cent said yes, now it’s ten times more! Being in the fight to protect the planet gave everyone in the company a reason to get out of bed every morning. The consumer response has been phenomenal. The sales have grown really quickly and our retailers such as Sephora, Space NK and John Lewis have been really encouraging us. We managed to show that you can be sustainable and successful: zero waste is the new luxury.
"There are a lot of setbacks too. In the background, we tried options that failed but we tried again and now it’s working. We’ve swallowed the financial impact of this without price increases for the consumer because we are the sinner why would we ask people to pay for our sins?"
How are you encouraging other brands to be zero waste? Which ones are doing well?
"I’m super proud, being able to inspire founders of big brands, who are coming to see REN saying they are inspired and love what we are doing. We discuss and exchange ideas, Caudalie is a huge brand that are on track to be zero waste by 2022. Pioneers such as Aveda , The Body Shop , L’Occitane are all making efforts. I want to celebrate our competitors and encourage more to join this mission. It’s a positive sentiment, we need positivity and unity, we all need to join together, it's beyond our brand, it's our planet.
"It’s not a race for us, we are the first to reach zero waste but that’s not the point, we want to see more and more people doing the right thing and taking action. When I see on Linked In or on social media, a brand launching new innovation, promoting upcycling, repurposing their jars – it’s so exciting and it’s what we need. We are in it together, the more people the more ideas and to be challenged is exciting
What can we do as beauty consumers to make better choices?
"If you like natural brands. make sure that once it’s finished the bottle doesn’t end up in landfill- what’s good inside needs to also be reflected outside. Make brands accountable, I’m not trying to get people to switch, I’m just asking people to realise that all the efforts that the brands are putting into choosing the right ingredients also need to give the same effort to choosing the right packaging solutions to limit the impact on the environment.
"Recycling is difficult, it relies on waste management companies who are working with the councils. On average even if the product is 100 per cent recyclable, there’s only a 50 per cent chance that it will actually be recycled – in certain places it's only 20 per cent. Unfortunately, right now we cannot do a lot about this. What we can do is choose recycled material, because at least you haven’t created new virgin plastic and instead you have kept the product in the circular economy. Think about refills
"It’s about consuming better and mindfully - finish your products, follow online tutorials on how to recycle properly (if the pump isn’t recyclable put that in general rubbish, so that everything in your recycling can be recycled.) Put pressure on your councils to make sure recycling is improved, as brands can’t do this on their own. We need everyone to be part of this change.
What will the future look like for sustainable beauty?
"In the prestige (luxury) market there are still those that think people need big boxes and lots of packaging. I can tell you it’s not true. I hope there will be a famous luxury brand who will have the courage to do the right thing, not to be afraid of the reaction of consumers. Consumers want sustainable solutions and the technology is there and ready to be used. You can be sustainable and luxurious, you can be sustainable and beautiful. We’ve been the pioneers; we invite more and more brands to join us and hopefully, top luxury brands will also join and become sustainable. It will be a massive win for everyone especially the planet.
Ateh Jewel’s top eco skincare picks from Ren
“All the packaging in my picks is recyclable. The body oils come in recyclable glass bottles and the Brightening Dark Circle Eye Cream is also made from infinity packaging, a plastic technology developed by Ren, allowing the plastic to be infinitely recycled without losing quality."