Unilever’s Bid to Make Beauty More Sustainable Might Just Work

unilever sustainable
Image courtesy Kevin Laminto on Unsplash

Unilever wants to find the ‘next generation of technologies and ingredients’, to make efficacious beauty products that have less impact on the planet.

Major conglomerate Unilever has put out a call inviting startups, scale-ups, and academic spinouts to apply to join its Positive Beauty Growth Platform, signalling a serious intention to move towards ‘equitable, inclusive and sustainable’ personal care products.

With brands including Dove, Vaseline, and Tresemmé under its umbrella, the conglomerate is a stalwart of the sector, laying claim to some eight percent of the global beauty and personal-care market.

But it has suggested that collaboration with disruptors likely holds the key to creating beauty products with the performance consumers desire, as well as a smaller footprint when it comes to the goods themselves as well as their packaging.

Image courtesy TRESemmé

“We’re creating the next generation of technologies and ingredients for our beauty and personal care products that are not only highly effective, but also natural and sustainable,” Richard Slater, Unilever’s Chief Research and Development Officer, said in a statement.

“Collaborating with disruptive new players in this space is going to lead to even more breakthroughs as we grow our business and portfolio for a future where people and planet can thrive together.”

According to the company, it is looking for partners to bring ‘brilliant functional ingredients that work with nature’ to its Beauty & Personal Care products and packaging.

The move follows Unilever’s efforts to boost its sustainability metrics. In 2021, it became the first major global company to voluntarily commit to put its climate transition plans before a shareholder vote.

“[C]limate change is the most pressing issue of our time,” said Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO.

“We welcome this increased transparency and in the plan we present,” Jope said. “We will be clear both about the areas in our direct control where we have a high degree of certainty of our route to net zero, as well as more challenging areas across our value chain where systemic solutions will be required to achieve our targets.”

Positive Beauty

This latest call is the Positive Beauty Growth Platform’s second initiative. Its first, launched last September, called on applications from companies in the social commerce sphere in a bid to create ‘business solutions and pioneer consumer experiences in new spaces’.

Almost 300 startups and scale-ups applied to get involved in the challenge, for a chance to ‘pilot their idea in collaboration with some of the world’s leading beauty brands’. Now many of the 33 short-listed candidates, which included seed-stage to billion-dollar businesses, are understood to be embarking on pilot projects with Unilever brands.

Its second challenge aims to find the next generation of biodegradable and sustainable ingredients and packaging. Interested parties will be able to present their solutions to the Unilever Beauty & Personal Care leadership and expert practitioners.

Image courtesy Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

Disruptors pitching the top ideas will then work with brands like TRESemmé, Vaseline and Love Beauty & Planet to explore partnership opportunities.

Baz Saidieh, Global Head of the Unilever Foundry, said: “Startup-led partnerships are an important pillar to drive growth and innovation. The Positive Beauty Growth Platform is proving a catalyst of finding the greatest startup innovations and powering experimentation at scale.

“For our latest challenge, we’re keen to engage and explore partnerships with innovators developing biodegradable and sustainable ingredients and packaging for the future – something we know is increasingly important to people around the world.

“If this call-out is half as successful as our last challenge, we should be in for some stunning collaborations.”

Consumers call for sustainable beauty solutions

Unilever’s initiative comes amid growing calls, from consumers, for beauty brands to be more conscious of the planet when creating products. Market research company Mintel has suggested that many shoppers are choosing to ‘buy fewer plastic products and expecting brands to make their products more sustainable’, a trend it says has been growing for several years.

According to Alex Fisher, an Associate Director for Beauty & Personal Care for Mintel, it is this consumer expectation, which she writes was ’emphasized by the pandemic’ that is pushing beauty brands towards innovations in sustainability.

Image courtesy Love Beauty & Planet

Indeed, market research data supports the idea that brands must keep up with consumer desire for sustainability, with a 2021 survey by The Pull Agency finding that 19 percent of shoppers want less packaging in their beauty and personal care products. Almost as many (17 percent) would like more ‘natural ingredients’ in products, and 15 percent say they want refill stations in stores.

Claire Rance, head of brand strategy at the agency highlighted how crucial it is for companies to work towards these goals, saying: “Beauty and personal care brands have to see sustainability as an opportunity to better connect and engage with their audiences.

“We’ve all seen how the environment has been positively impacted by the lockdowns and quarantines of 2020, and consumers expect brands to do their utmost to keep things moving in the right direction.”

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