Last month, an announcement from two major Irish retailers was met with widespread praise for their stance on sustainability. Brown Thomas and Arnotts removed all plastic-based cosmetic glitter products for sale across their beauty halls and websites as part of their ‘Positive Change’ sustainability programme.
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It highlights the Irish public’s appetite for a more sustainable and planet-friendly shopping experience. While it seems a small thing, Brown Thomas and Arnotts point out that when glitter is washed away, it can enter our water systems, contribute to ocean pollution and damage our ecosystems.
Diana Geraghty, head of sustainability for Brown Thomas and Arnotts, said the move is the brands’ way of helping customers make sustainable choices.
“We're trying to be really proactive and help our customers make sustainable lifestyle choices and changes,” she says.
“Sometimes it's difficult to know what's the first step: What can I do to make a tangible sustainable change? We're helping the customer to make a more sustainable choice. We're also highlighting examples of where microplastic might exist where people may have thought it didn't before.”
It’s not the first time Brown Thomas and Arnotts have taken such a stance.
“We removed single-use plastics across the board in 2019 and we're part of Repak’s Plastic Pledge. We banned microbeads back in 2016. We’ve made it easier for the customer to identify sustainable products on our websites. It's about making sustainability more user-friendly for our customers.”
In addition, the brands recently began selling second-hand items.
“For the first time, we're selling pre-loved bags online. Our in-store Circular Room has a broader range of pre-loved products and we're also bringing in furniture into that area. We're also looking at our fashion and how we can allow customers to be stylish and up to date but also reduce unnecessary consumption.”
One of the brands that can be found in Brown Thomas and Arnotts is the Max Benjamin line of home fragrances. Director Orla Van den Bergh runs Max Benjamin with her brothers, Mark and David, in Wicklow and says they are always striving to make their products more sustainable.
“Sustainability is part of all our new product development, it's the first line of our criteria. It's at the forefront,” Van den Bergh says.
The brand is known for its luxurious candles and it is the first Irish company to introduce candle refills.
“We started by creating refill options for our current offerings to change a product from a single-use product into a multi-use product. You can be sustainable if you use your vessel multiple times. Our packaging is fully recyclable and our fibreglass vessels are recyclable in the clear glass bin.
"That was a conscious change for us.”
Van den Bergh says the brand will go one step further in its efforts with an upcoming range of products.
“We're focusing on 100% natural and breaking into the wellness space. We'll be bringing out a new range and it's 100% natural and absolutely gorgeous.”
From the items we use at home to the products we use on our skin, there is always room for improvement, says Nicola Connolly, founder of Nunaïa. Connolly brings over a decade of hands-on experience in South America to her brand and ensures it is as eco-friendly as possible.
“We are probably one of the most sustainable Irish brands on the market at the moment,” she says.
“My career was in sustainability. I worked in South America for 12 years with indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands and helped them to build sustainable businesses with nature.”
Connolly says Nunaïa, which is manufactured in Co Tipperary, uses all-natural ingredients and is among the highest organic certified products in Europe.
“We operate with a soil-to-skin ethos. We use 100% natural ingredients. We are Ecocert and Cosmos organic certified, we actually have the highest organic certified products in Ireland and one of the highest in Europe.”
It’s not just the product that’s eco-friendly — even Nunaïa’s packaging is nourishing.
“Sustainability goes into everything we do and that includes our packaging. We have just started moving over to mycelium packaging. It's grown from mushrooms. It contains lots of nutrients so it actually nourishes your soil.”
She is critical of the greenwashing she has seen, where brands falsely claim to be organic or earth-friendly.
“You can say your product is natural or organic or sustainable but there's no regulation around the use of the term. Don't be fooled by the words ‘natural’ and ‘organic’. Read what's on the label and look for the certification logos.”
Managing director of Codex Beauty Labs Europe, Tracey Ryan says consumers can make an impact through their personal use of products.
“Use bar soap instead of liquid soap,” the Cork native suggests.
“We carried out a carbon footprint report on our bar soap versus liquid soap and found that the consumer gets more uses out of bar soap — up to 80 uses. You can use our bar soaps for handwashing but they also double up as a body wash.”
Ingredients in the brand’s Bia Collection are ethically sourced from Ireland, while the Antu range is ethically sourced in Chile.
“Simplify your routine, and look for multifunctional products in order to cut down on purchasing lots of individual products,” Ryan adds.
“Be mindful of how much product you use. With quality skincare products a little bit goes a long way. Follow the instructions on the packaging for guidance on how much to use.”
Another way brands are being sustainable is by creating a core range of practical, multi-tasking products.
“We want them to be flexible, practical, unisex. They’re for everyone in the family and they're multitasking products,” says John Murray, head of sustainability at Modern Botany in West Cork. The brand is known for its natural skincare, but they have also created a refillable natural antiperspirant deodorant.
“We wanted to create a unique, innovative, natural deodorant that also works as an antiperspirant. We did a lot of research into that to make it 100% natural, to make it aluminium-free. To our surprise, that product took off in Ireland but it really took off in the UK.”
Modern Botany uses the science behind plants to create its products and Murray says they have seen a huge consumer appetite for natural, sustainable cosmetics.
“With all the cosmetic companies rising up in Ireland and around the world, people are looking for natural alternatives. It's becoming a way of living,” he says.
After setting up Modern Botany in 2016 in Schull with Dr Simon Jackson, Murray says a piece of West Cork will be in some upcoming products.
“In our new products, we're going to introduce seaweed for the first time. It’s incredibly nourishing for the skin and really hydrating. We've been foraging it from the seashore after high winds. There's no impact on the environment whatsoever.”
In addition, they have also begun growing some of their main ingredients to reduce their carbon footprint and seeds are available from their online shop.
“We've grown Roman chamomile, German chamomile, calendula [marigolds, to you and I] and flaxseed, an old Irish plant that’s great for anti-ageing and deep moisturising your skin and is very underutilised. The more growing we do, the fewer carbon emissions and CO2 in the atmosphere.”
In nearby Bandon, Mark Clifford says SOMEGA is changing the way we take supplements.
“We really look at sustainability, recyclability, and waste reduction when we design the products from the start,” he says.
“One of the things that come up for us a lot is single-use sachets. From a sustainability point of view, we just wouldn't incorporate them into our product or packaging because of the damage they do to the environment. From a design point of view, sustainability is at the very core, not as an afterthought.”
Clifford says he and co-founder Dr Paula Gaynor have seen a growing demand from customers for sustainable products and packaging and thinks customers and companies can inspire change.
“There's a push and pull, and we see consumers themselves are pulling but we need to push too. The more companies that don't use single-use plastics, the more there's a bigger market for technology companies to develop alternatives.”
He says SOMEGA stays true to its sustainable instincts and it helps him to sleep better at night.
“We’re a small company, but in whatever we do we just want to be true to the ethos we have and that our customers have as well. None of us want to feel like we're polluters of our environment.”
Clifford believes if more companies pull away from single-use plastics, the bigger the impact on the world’s poorest communities.
“We are connected globally in so many ways. Whatever little we do here has a ripple effect on the communities that are affected worst by pollution,” he says.
“Single-use plastics are the main problem. We need to do better ourselves and governments around the world have a place to push that agenda as well.”