Many large beauty conglomerates are making lofty commitments to environmental change, but it’s been smaller brands setting the trends in this area. One such brand is BYBI, a buzzy skin-care company founded by UK-based entrepreneurs Elsie Rutterford and Dominika Minarovic. Despite its relatively small size, the brand’s sights are set on making a tremendous impact—and with its already carbon-neutral products set to hit Target shelves on January 17, the brand’s even loftier sustainability goals are looking increasingly attainable, too.
Why BYBI has such a focus on sustainability
BYBI, which launched in 2017, offers a 100 percent natural line of skin-care products, and the entirety of the line is priced at under $35. Efficacy and accessibility are core to the brand, but BYBI’s backbone and, arguably main differentiator, is its thorough commitment to sustainability at every stage of the supply chain. “Since we were starting a brand from scratch, we met everyone from the ingredient suppliers right through to the large-scale factories who have produced our products, and spoke to logistics companies who do shipping around the world,” says Rutterford. “At every touchpoint, we felt increasingly frustrated by the way things were being done.” The more the duo learned, the more they set their minds to making sustainability the “beating heart” of their brand.
What they quickly discovered, however, was just how difficult it is to build a truly sustainable brand, as opposed to one which relies on small tweaks and green-washed language. To figure out what would actually make a difference, they dove into understanding where the true enviromental impact of creating beauty products lies, and eventually landed their focus on carbon emissions. “As we did our research, everything led back to carbon,” says Minarovic. So in early 2020, they set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by the end of the year. To achieve this tight turnaround, they re-aligned their internal processes to reduce carbon emissions and then relied on carbon offsets to do the rest.
“You have to spend a lot of time figuring out exactly where all your ingredients are coming from, all the hands that they’re passing through, all the modes of transport, all the packaging used within that transport, the manufacturing, your packaging, and then distribution,” says Minarovic. This can be especially difficult because there are so many ingredients involved in any given beauty product.
The challenges that come with building a sustainable brand
Another challenge the company faces in their eco endeavors is that it can actually be more difficult to be sustainable when you’re dedicated to using natural ingredients. “If you’re using synthetics, you have less of an issue around natural biodiversity, harvesting, renewability,” Minarovic says. “So being one hundred percent natural can be a bit conflicting with our sustainability mission, actually.” To address this piece of the puzzle, the BYBI team created a “Susty Score” system for each ingredient, which assesses it on a number of factors including source location, plant renewability, using other industry’s by-products, and making sure that it’s not degrading the local biodiversity. Today, they only utilize ingredients with a low enivronmetal impact.
Packaging also presents a unique problem. The brand currently uses sugarcane polyethylene, recyclable glass, grasspaper, and plant-based inks in order to ensure that each component is recyclable. “We have never felt comfortable using any sort of plastic in the range,” says Minarovic.
While the two are hoping to build a brand that stands apart from others in terms of the depths of its sustainability commitment, it’s important to them that the brand has mass appeal. “We absolutely want to be attracting the people that are already thinking about sustainability but actually, the only way we will have a true impact in what we’re doing is if we’re able to do it at scale,” Rutterford says. “So we need to be attracting consumers who haven’t started thinking about this stuff yet.”
Why sustainability keeps customers coming back
Product efficacy has been key, too, as has been the brand’s use of mainstream ingredients with which consumers are familiar, such as alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. “We wanted [the line] to speak to a consumer who just really looking for high product performance,” she says. “And actually what we find is that when consumers buy us for our performance, they not only stick with us for that performance but also because they start to learn a bit about the sustainability efforts and mission that we have.”
For an increasing number of consumers, sustainability is what makes someone a lifetime loyal. “One of the reasons Target is so excited about having us is because of our sustainability mission, because they’re being pushed by their consumers to offer more,” Rutterford says. “We’re really starting to see a shift, and I think we’re ahead of the game in the beauty industry.”
The level of detail to which BYBI is already evaluating their sustainability is impressive, and yet it’s not enough for the company’s founders. Leaning on carbon offsets to negate the environmental impact that they can’t erase through logistical shifts is not their ultimate goal. “We are trying to build a carbon-negative supply chain that essentially absorbs more carbon than it emits, which is really challenging,” says Minarovic. “You can’t produce products that have no carbon impact—it’s virtually impossible.” It’s achieved instead by a process called sequestering, which Minarovic describes as an internal offsetting process (rather than paying external vendors to offset on their behalf.)
This is anything but the easy way out, which is par for the course, it seems, for these two determined entrepreneurs. “We could continue offsetting and calling ourselves carbon neutral for all of eternity,” says Minarovic. “We just didn’t feel like that was enough.”
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