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Cosmetics Brands Leading Big Shift on Biodiversity

A new report reveals the top 10 lessons learned by a group of more than 50 leaders in the cosmetics, food and personal care industries that source with respect for people and biodiversity.

Aloe vera production is vital in Campeche — a biodiverse region in Mexico where landowners, cutters and suppliers are all indigenous people, mostly Maya. Employment is limited and young people often migrate away from their families.

“By creating a source of income near their families, we give young people a way to find work within their communities and not leave their place of origin,” says Guadalupe Bojorquez, general manager of Mexialoe Laboratorios — a leading supplier of aloe vera to the cosmetics, food, pharmaceutical and personal care industries globally. 

The aloe vera story is featured in a new report launched this week by the international non-profit, Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT), which puts forward the top 10 lessons learned by a group of more than 50 businesses that are leaders in sourcing with respect for people and biodiversity. The report includes cases from large cosmetics companies including NaturaWeledaThe Body ShopGivaudan and Yanbal Unique; as well as from global food companies such as the Martin Bauer Group.  

The Big Shift: Business for Biodiversity offers a practical and tested set of lessons from their experience on the ground, with examples as diverse as chamomile from Croatia to murumuru (used in hair products) from Brazil. Among the lessons shared are that companies should meet rising consumer expectations for ethical sourcing, work on the ground with local people, share economic benefits of research and development of raw materials with local communities, and contribute to restoring local biodiversity. 

Humans consume 7,000 plant species as food and use almost 20 percent of plant species for medicinal purposes. Growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity, especially among younger consumers, has made the market for natural products among the fastest growing in various industries. Healthy biodiversity is therefore central to companies’ ability to provide new and best-selling products in food, cosmetics, fragrances, and natural pharmaceuticals.

Eder Ramos, Global President of the Cosmetic Ingredients Division at Symrise — a major producer of flavors and fragrances — notes that “for Symrise, biodiversity is a valuable source of innovation and inspiration for creating fragrances, flavorings, cosmetic and functional ingredients that improve health, nutrition and well-being.”

The report states that halting biodiversity loss is not just the right thing to do, it is also necessary to ensure long-term business success. Companies that move to address conservation, sustainable use and regeneration of biodiversity are those ensuring availability of their key ingredients into the future.

Among the key lessons learned in the report:

  1. Biodiversity is our business. Businesses that undertake efforts to improve their impact on biodiversity along their supply chains do so because they see a strong economic case for their action, among other reasons. 

  2. Biodiversity means engaging on the ground. While company commitments have risen significantly, corporate action often lags behind commitments. Implementation and public reporting of concrete action on the ground is a significant challenge. 

  3. People and biodiversity are inherently linked. Long-term investments in communities are necessary to lift people out of poverty and ensure preservation of local biodiversity.

  4. Biodiversity regeneration is the next step. Companies are beginning to think not only of reducing harm to biodiversity, and conserving species that are threatened or endangered, but also about regenerating biodiversity in and around the sourcing areas. 

  5. Biodiversity means working in partnership. In the supply chain, close collaboration with suppliers and farmers or field operators is essential, since these local actors have important knowledge, must have buy-in for the actions and are the only ones that can make changes on the ground. 

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