How Life Cycle Thinking is Boosting a Brazilian Cosmetics Firm

For Brazil’s NATURA Cosméticos, sustainability has been at the centre of its business strategy for more than four decades – a “guiding principle” since the company was founded in 1969. But this manufacturer of cosmetics, fragrances and toiletries has also moved up a gear in recent times, from simply thinking about sustainability to now applying Life Cycle Thinking across its value chain. This is how NATURA’s management has taken on the challenge.

As a company, NATURA has been aware of its environmental responsibilities for quite some time. Since the 1980s the company sought to minimize its environmental impacts with a host of initiatives, including the use of refill packaging, a self-declared eco-label for all its products, and since 2007, a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Corporate Inventory. But now the company is more aware than ever of the opportunities that it can gain by applying Life Cycle Thinking to its commercial operations.

“Cradle to grave”

NATURA operates in seven countries: its domestic market of Brazil in addition to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, France, Mexico and Peru. And although its international operations account for only a small share of the business, NATURA has proven itself eager to manage the environmental impacts of all its products.

The company says it “considers the complete life cycle of products, starting from raw materials extraction (cradle), [through the] industrial production stage, distribution, use and disposal (grave).” This ‘cradle to grave’ appro

ach made the company an ideal candidate for road testing an Organizational Life Cycle Assessment (O-LCA) methodology, something which it duly undertook in 2013 within the framework of a Life Cycle Initiative project. NATURA joined as a road tester of the O-LCA project in 2015.

In this pilot project, NATURA reported on all 10 cosmetic product types sold in its domestic Brazilian market during the 2013 reference period: beard, hair, body, deodorant, makeup, body oil, perfume, sun protection, face care and soap products.

From “hotspots” to action!

The company modelled its activities and operations in two parts: a bottom-up approach considering both upstream supply chain activities and downstream activities (such as transport and end-of-life phases), as well as a top-down approach, taking into account the impacts of corporate activities.

The results show that major impacts are concentrated in the extraction and production of ingredients and packaging, followed by the use phase that demands water and energy to use rinse-off products. The main impacts of NATURA’s activities are land use, fossil depletion, and climate change, due to the amount of ingredients of plant origin (particularly palm oil), transportation, and plastic for packaging materials.

The need for ‘regionalized’ life cycle inventory data

But the step towards Life Cycle Thinking was not without its challenges. The O-LCA study, although confirming NATURA’s ability to gather data from its suppliers, did require vast amounts of this data. It meant “a high level of management complexity” for the company.

Moreover, the study highlighted the urgent need in Brazil for truly regionalized life cycle inventory data. This is one of the more pressing needs for Latin America if Life Cycle Thinking is to become a major catalyst for better business. NATURA earmarked specific actions to be taken in future to improve data collection, such as developing site-specific models for its ingredients, for example the “agroforestry system cultivation” of palm oil.

The experience of NATURA Cosméticos shows that for an ambitious company, embracing Life Cycle Thinking across the value chain makes real business sense and can lead to truly rigorous methods within the company:

“The next step for NATURA’s corporate strategy is to internally manage the environmental impacts of each individual product, in all about 2,600 different products,” says NATURA.

Life cycle science for a life cycle future

NATURA has found that using LCA science to measure the environmental impacts of its supply chain has greatly boosted its practices and really embedded sustainability into the company’s business model.

As an organization with nearly 8,000 employees and an ambitious corporate strategy, the stakes are high for NATURA Cosméticos, both in Brazil and abroad. But the push towards more Life Cycle Thinking means that this cosmetics innovator is one step ahead of the competition, taking advantage of new practices which will allow it to penetrate ever-more demanding markets based on its green credentials.

For NATURA Cosméticos, Life Cycle Thinking means more than just “business as usual” – it means a sensible, balanced approach to business success.