Procter & Gamble – When It Comes To Sustainability, Birchbox Thinks Outside The Box
Household and personal care companies, their suppliers and their associations are well aware of the impact of climate change, and are taking major steps to reduce their impact on the climate. All of the major players in the industry, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, L’Oréal and Henkel, to name a few, provide updates on the moves they’re making to be more sustainable. In March, the Personal Care Products Council published a Sustainability Handbook. The Council said it provides practical guidance for advancing a company’s sustainability practice. More recently, in May, the American Cleaning Institute launched Climate Challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the cleaning products value chain and confront climate change. (For more on the efforts of ACI member companies, read the July issue of Happi.)
Much of the focus is on product formulations, but packaging plays a key role in sustainability efforts, too. Brands like Chanel, Origins and Dermalogica are developing biodegradable, recycled or micro-plastic free solutions. Other supply chain members are doing their parts, too. TerraCycle introduced Loop in 2019. The direct-to-consumer reuse program has expanded to 48 US states, received funding from P&G, and is now available at retail.
Birchbox was one of the first to recognize the power and the potential of the DTC model in the beauty space. Now the company is expanding its sustainability efforts with the rollout of Re.fil, which is designed to reduce packaging waste through refillable options. The first SKUs to debut are multi-purpose Beauty Balms that deliver moisture to skin. The Re.fil Beauty Balm is sold in a refillable case made from 100% recyclable post-consumer recycled plastic. Why the initial focus on the lips? According to Birchbox, one billion lipstick tubes end up in landfills every year. Plus, Birchbox Co-Founder and CEO Katia Beauchamp uses lip balm every day.
Beauchamp said the Birchbox community wants beauty products that work, are simple to use, and make them feel great.
“They expect this of us and our service—the way we curate their boxes, of what we sell in our shop, and of the products we create, so we’re always thinking of ways to deliver against that,” she explained. “We also know our community has a limited amount of time for beauty, and that they want to make sustainable tweaks to their routine but are looking for simple suggestions and ways to do that. Everything we do is about simplification and making it fun.”
Beauchamp said the multipurpose balm checks off all of those boxes. For example, it can be applied to lips, brows and cuticles, or anywhere there’s dry skin. In addition, Re.fil Beauty Balm is said to tame fly-aways, highlight cheekbones, and even soothe baby’s bottom! It comes in a really easy-to-use format, leaves a protective moisture barrier on the skin that is super smooth and not at all tacky, and, of course, it’s refillable.
“One of our friends of the brand, Katie Sturino, called it the ‘Swiss Army knife of beauty,’ it’s a product that we created so our community can have a go-to everyday product that also helps them make a small sustainable tweak,” added Beauchamp.
When all the balm is gone, the user removes the empty blue dish and pops a refill into the case. The refillable balm pods are sold separately on www.birchbox.com. The unique design means the Beauty Balm is 95% reusable. Birchbox says the clean, vegan formula leaves a soft, protective layer on skin to lock in moisture and block environmental aggressors. Key ingredients include a blend of natural oils, squalane, ceramides and chamomile.
Beauchamp called refillable solutions a huge part of the future of the beauty industry’s ability to cut the use of single-use plastics, reduce the amount of disposable waste, and minimize the industry’s carbon footprint. But why a refillable over recyclable solution?
“We learned that not everything makes it to the recycling center, despite consumers’ best efforts to recycle,” she explained.
That said, the entire package is recyclable. Each Re.fil Beauty Balm refillable case is made from PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic rather than virgin plastic, and the product comes packaged in a 100% recycled cardboard canister.
“We see the importance in parallel pathing both refillable and recyclable options for our customers,” added Beauchamp.
Recycling rates vary across the country and refill rates are even lower. Still, Beauchamp remains undeterred. She said early reviews are in and there’s a lot of excitement for the product. Through mid-May, there were 1,600 reviews and reviewers gave Re.fil 4 out of 5 stars.
“Through reviews, feedback through conversations between our community and our customer support team, and comments on social media, we’ve gotten a lot of enthusiasm for the fact that the product is refillable and anecdotal indications that consumers will continue to buy the refills,” noted Beauchamp, adding that the Birchbox team is combing through the feedback and learning more about what its community wants next, before making a decision on the next Re.fil launch.
Regardless what beauty category is ready for a Re.fil, it will require input from all of Birchbox’s partners. Beauchamp and her staff are in discussions with brands to better understand what they’re currently doing for packaging and manufacturing. Some brands that are really leading the charge that Birchbox currently work with are: [comfort zone], Davines, RMS, Acure, Amika, Sunday Riley, Klorane, Type A and Pai.
“Once we have enough information, we’re excited and ready to jump in in an advisory capacity to figure out how to help them become even more sustainable,” she explained. “We already work with and are seeking out more sustainable brands.”
Sounds like Birchbox’s sustainability plan has staying power.