Podcast: Episode 32, what solutions against greenwashing?

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Summary of the episode:

  • What is greenwashing and why does it exist?
  • Two solutions against greenwashing: COSMOS certification and Life Cycle Assessment .


Greenwashing is a subject that comes up a lot in the world of cosmetics. This article will explain what greenwashing is and how not to fall into the trap of this fraudulent marketing technique. This will be structured around several parts, first an example of greenwashing, then what life cycle analysis is and finally how life cycle analysis fights greenwashing .


It is the communication techniques of certain unscrupulous brands suggesting that the product is eco-designed when it is not.

plowed field and planted field, showing strong contrast.

The term comes from the English or green means green and whitewashing means bleaching it would therefore be a green bleaching or greenwashing.


French consumers are increasingly committed to the environment in their consumption.
The sincere commitment of certain brands to the environment is now a strong argument for the consumer to make a purchase. However, eco-design is generally longer, more costly and more challenging.

Some marketers will therefore suggest that the product has been eco-designed to take advantage of the appeal of certain customers without putting in the human, technical and financial resources to develop their product in a sustainable manner.


An example is the mention on the front of a tube of “organic French apricot cream” when the cream does not meet the organic standard or is not even French . It's misleading, indeed the organic and French claim refers only to the apricot and not to the finished product, while it is clearly written on the front of the tube.

Another example would be a brand that has a natural or organic name when the products are not . If there are illustrations of plants, of nature on the packaging, this also does not mean that the finished product, therefore the cosmetic in question, is natural. A kraft paper packaging or an ethical accessory is also not a guarantee of commitment. Also be careful, if a brand has some certified natural or organic products, this does not mean that all of its products are certified. Organic certification is issued to the product and not to the brand.


We can rely on organic labels which are recognized in the industry, which have a demanding charter behind them to ensure that the product is actually committed (to better understand the COSMOS standard, there is episode 18 ).

cosmos ecocert

It is a standard that has two certifications : a natural certification and an organic certification. Certifying bodies such as Ecocert or Cosmebio review product formulas and their packaging to issue certification.
This goes well beyond what the consumer can analyze alone because they have access to confidential documents such as the product formula for example.

They are also in contact with the material suppliers to have access to the manufacturing process and to ensure that each material has been made following a manufacturing process that is as green as possible.

cosmos efficiency, organic certification

This is the great strength of COSMOS because they issue certification to finished products but also to raw materials, they have a global vision of the product . Identifying a COSMOS certification is therefore a first solution to avoid greenwashing.

However, if your product does not have certification, don't panic, that does not mean that it is necessarily more impactful for the environment. This surely means that the brand has not invested financially and humanly in the certification. Certification is expensive and time-consuming . It's an annual cost, therefore recurrent in addition, and they require a lot of paper to check everything and therefore it's a lot of administrative / quality control to do for a small structure.

Personally, I think it's a good proof of quality for the consumer, which is why I wanted to invest in Mastel products so that the treatments would be certified organic according to the COSMOS standard . I'm not saying that organic products are much better for everyone, and that everyone should buy organic.

I liked to select raw materials that come from organic farming that works with less water pollution, less soil pollution and better biodiversity in the fields. Despite this, not all materials are organic in certified organic cosmetics. You just have to be fully aware of what you are buying and not give your purchasing power to a product, a brand that does not meet our expectations or even deliberately misleads us.


A very good solution against greenwashing is to ask an environmental agency to carry out a life cycle analysis (which we have done for Mastel products). Life cycle analysis, which you may hear me call LCA , is done over the entire product cycle, so it is multi-stage .
It will take into account the design, the extraction of raw materials, the manufacture, the transport, the use and the end of life of the product. End of life of a product, it's a term that sounds a bit strange, it means that the recyclability of the product is taken into account, where does it end up when we throw it in the trash, can we recover it?

LCA is a recognized and standardized method, that is to say that the results will be the same whether it is agency A or agency B that does the analysis.

comparison of CO2 emissions and water consumption cosmetic life cycle analysis

It is also a multi- criteria analysis. Because the analysis takes into account different environmental impact such as the quantity of CO2 released during the life of the product, which will therefore have an impact on climate change, or the quantity of water used, the acidification or eutrophication of water, all three of which have an impact on the water footprint. The goal is that if you try to reduce the impact of your product by changing or adapting the development, you don't make a transfer of impact that would not make sense.

Would you rather save a sheet of paper to fight against deforestation if it is at the expense of the pollution of all the oceans?


It is a report that will quantify the impact of each stage of the product's life cycle on various chosen environmental criteria .

The most telling results are available on the mastelcosmetics.com website, on the product page in the "Eco-Responsible Guarantee" tab. Reviewing the results of our LCA, I was surprised to find that the cultivation of jojoba and shea had a strong impact on ecotoxicity .

A raw material decried in the cosmetics and food industry, moreover, is palm oil. We can also question the impact of palm oil because we know that its production leads to deforestation. If different industries use it so much, it is because it performs better than other oils . It takes less palm to produce the same amount of oil as it would take to produce coconut oil, for example. A single hectare of coconut trees allows the production of 0.7 tons of coconut oil, while a hectare of oil palm trees produces 3 tons of palm oil.

palm oil, from the palm tree

When raw material producers need fat to produce their raw material such as surfactants, they more easily turn to palm oil because the crop has a better yield and requires far fewer trees for the same results.


The purpose of the life cycle analysis is to know which raw materials or product life cycle stages have the greatest impact and what are the solutions to reduce them. It is a tool that takes on its full meaning during development, so it is possible to make more informed choices. For example, we know exactly that choice B reduces the amount of water used by 20% compared to choice A.

When developing our oil, we experimented with different cleaning agents.
Yes, because the oil is a 3-in-1 oil that removes make-up, cleans the face and cleans the beard . It therefore contains a combination of different cleaning agents. These cleaning agents also allow the oil to emulsify, thus transforming into milk during rinsing, to avoid any greasy finish. These cleaning agents, like all other raw materials, have an impact on the environment. So we experimented with different combinations of cleaning agents, and today we are able to say that the one we chose has a lower impact than the one chosen initially.


For the consumer, the life cycle analysis is the best proof of the brand's commitment to ecology because it is an analysis that is not mandatory. It is expensive (several thousand euros per product) and is also very innovative in cosmetics. We were the first cosmetic brand to work with our environmental agency!

After the report is submitted, if the brand is transparent, it can give consumers quantified results of its life cycle analysis. This allows them to know in full transparency the impact of the product, and to compare it with a comparable product. Do not compare a cream with a shampoo for example because the use is not the same, so it is normal that the impacts are also different. Again, you can see the results on our website, such as the water consumption and the CO2 emissions of our products.

life cycle analysis result with CO2 emissions and water consumption per liter

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A chemist in the cosmetics industry for more than 5 years and a graduate of the Natural Raw Materials in Cosmetics Master's degree from ISIPCA, Julie is an expert in the development of natural cosmetic products.