‘We’ve rewritten the rules’: The first carbon positive beauty brand

The cost of looking good has taken its toll on the planet but rising skincare range Emma Lewisham is removing any green guilt that comes from your daily dose of moisturiser by becoming the first carbon positive beauty brand.

“What we can now proudly say is that we have rewritten the rules of beauty with a business that is circular designed and certified carbon positive,” founder Lewisham said from her home in Auckland, New Zealand.

New Zealand skincare entrepreneur Emma Lewisham is leading the way towards a more sustainable beauty industry.

The fledgling brand, currently stocked in David Jones and on Net-a-Porter, has introduced recyclable and refillable packaging featuring a carbon number, showing how many kilograms of carbon is emitted in the creation of each product. The carbon cost of each product is then offset by an additional 25 per cent, making Emma Lewisham the first carbon positive beauty business.

“It’s not just about measuring and then offsetting our impact. We are focused on reducing our carbon footprint to the lowest possible number and implementing strategies, such as moving to a circular business model, to illustrate this is more than just offsetting for us. We are doing the work.”

Emma Lewisham is focusing on recyclable and refillable products as part of a circular beauty business model.

Along with big promises, the beauty industry is known for its big pollution problem, producing an estimated 120 billion units of packaging every year according to Zero Waste Week. Many of Lewisham’s peers focus on producing recyclable products in their sustainability statements, which fails to fully address issues of waste.

“What people don’t know is that virtually no curbside recycling systems actually recycle beauty packaging,” Lewsiham said. “Although products might technically be recyclable, the economics just don’t stack up, so it ends up in landfill.”

Abandoning a corporate career with a Japanese technology firm, Lewisham spent three years researching her 100 per cent natural skincare line before launching in 2019, recognising that sustainability was an equal priority to reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

“I could see that the current business model was archaic. We have flipped the whole model by prioritising refillable and reuseable packaging.”

The carbon positive accreditation comes from Toitu Envirocare, a leader in carbon mapping that works with brands such as Kathmandu, Maggie Marilyn and the Firmdale Hotels group, funded by the New Zealand government.

“They have never certified anyone to this level before. We had to do incredible work, seeking certification across our full supply chain, to discover our carbon numbers and identify areas that needed to change.” One of those changes was creating warehousing in Sydney to reduce air freight costs, with Australia the largest market for the range.

While most chief executives in the highly-competitive beauty industry would rejoice at an endorsement from genetically-blessed Oscar-winners and supermodels, a letter from anthropologist and primatologist Dame Jane Goodall makes all of the hard work worth it for Lewisham.

Fangirl moment: Dame Jane Goodall has endorsed the work of Emma Lewisham.Credit:AP

“Emma Lewisham may be setting a new benchmark in beauty, but they are also setting a
benchmark for how all industries should be operating – circular, waste-free and carbon positive,” Goodall wrote. “I wholeheartedly endorse Emma Lewisham’s Beauty Circle and all the systems they have put in place as a business striving to make the world a better place.”

At high school Goodall’s work was an inspiration for Lewisham, leading to a recent letter to the activist sharing her company’s mission statement.

“I was just excited by the fact that she might read something that I’d written,” Lewisham said. “She doesn’t really do endorsements so this was pretty cool.” It’s the closest the softly-spoken and analytical Lewisham comes to fangirling and letting her corporate guard down during our interview.

Landfill in Victoria. Most recyclable beauty packaging ends up contributing to our pollution problem.Credit:Joe Armao

The business’s carbon offset payments are currently used to fund the regeneration of New Zealand’s Puhoi Forest, support the introduction of innovative cook stoves in Ghana and contribute to a wind power project in India. “We’d love to be in a position where we eliminate the need to offset altogether.”

Having achieved carbon positive status, Lewisham is also sharing her business model with the industry to generate further change. She will, however, be keeping the coveted products’ formulas a secret. “People aren’t going to buy something, no matter how good it is for the planet, if it doesn’t work.”

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