Why this sustainability specialist is so positive about the future
Louis Rind-Nygaard: ”My hope is that you can compare two competing products and see their impacts such as global warming potential, biodiversity, land use change, resource depletion — and of course the carbon equivalent”.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
October 11, 2023
Founded by Andrea Rudolph in Copenhagen in 2009, Rudolph Care was the first skincare brand to be certified with both Cosmos Organic and the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. Viewing himself as an ”all-round sustainability generalist”, the brand’s Sustainability Specialist Louis Rind-Nygaard (pictured above) combines a technical know-how with a clear passion for sustainable solutions, aiming to be at the forefront of the constantly evolving sustainability landscape.
— We really want to do the right thing, not just the most economical thing. We invest in research on solutions that will bring us closer to our long-term goals as opposed to only looking at short-term solutions, and that is what is reflected in our products as well, he says. We do not only care for the immediate effect on the consumer but also the derived effects along the value chain of the product such as indirect impact on biodiversity, land use, human health, and use of hazardous substances. When using a product, it goes one of two places; either you absorb it or it will enter the environment. We must make sure that both scenarios are safe.
Is it challenging? For a beauty brand, it seems like there are so many verticals to handle.
— For sure — especially when you want to be in the selective luxury segment. Luxurious packaging is challenging to eco-design, by limiting your weight, using mono-materials, and having a very limited assortment of printing and processes that you use to mitigate the actual environmental footprint of the packaging. For example, we have chosen to give up frosted packaging because it was yet another process adding to the environmental footprint of the finished products. We had beautiful shampoo bottles in polyethylene, which had a nice touch to it, that we transitioned into recycled plastic which is less luxurious. So, we’ve made compromises to accommodate some of the more responsible material choices as well. And we always strive for the highest degree of recycled content in our packaging while maintaining food-grade quality contact material.
— We are currently facing huge obstacles in trying to accommodate the ability to refill our products. All our formulations contain low levels of preservatives due to our certifications and our own values. This makes it really challenging to do any meaningful refilling schemes because they are exceedingly vulnerable to foreign bodies such as bacteria. They are basically growth beds if not stored hygienically and protected from the atmosphere surrounding them, which act as huge limitations in the viable solutions available. We use pumps for most of our products to protect the formulation and we can’t do ’pour over at home’ for most of them, because then we wouldn’t be able to guarantee the six months opened shelf life.
— So, this is one of my biggest dilemmas; the lack of preservatives is one of the things that makes the formulation sustainable but it’s one of the biggest limitations in making our packaging more sustainable. So far, we have been working towards mitigating the single-use impact of our packaging. For example, tubes are not inherently aesthetic, but they are incredibly material-efficient relative to the amount of product that they contain. Pumps are inherently very hard to recycle, but they provide very good protection for the formula itself as well as making sure that you do not get an excessive amount of product when you use it. These are some of the considerations that we dwell on in terms of our efforts to make our products more sustainable — you have to adopt a lot of lateral thinking while still keeping an overall aesthetic approach.
We’ve also seen Greenpeace reporting earlier this year about how bad it is with recycled plastic and that it can’t be the solution.
— And that is the dilemma again; we want to move away from plastic, but when you’re looking into single-use, plastic becomes the most viable option from a carbon standpoint. We have had quite a few projects involving bioplastics, including one made of a mix of seaweed and biodegradable plastic which was very promising from a carbon standpoint. However, the EU released their Plastics Strategy and it relies on increasing the mechanical recycling of plastics — and biodegradable plastic is not mechanically recyclable. It is compostable under very specific circumstances but if you sort it as plastics, you’re contaminating the whole plastic fraction. And we still don’t have an infrastructure for industrially composting biodegradable plastics. You currently have to sort it as rest waste, which is then incinerated and that is one of the least desirable end-of-life scenarios.
— We’d really like to at least have the opportunity to do more in aluminium but our certification Nordic Swan Ecolabel prohibits us from using metals due to the fact that is an incredibly environmentally intensive process to extract, process, and manufacture virgin aluminium. PCR aluminium is a different story where you can mitigate a lot of the environmental impact by just using recycled aluminium. Glass is an excellent substitution as well, which we use a lot of, and most of it is made from recycled glass.
What have you learned from these years, given all the challenges?
— One of the main topics is that we need to foster corporations and opportunities where we can collab with other brands in order to make meaningful solutions that can be adopted, not just by one brand but a multitude of brands. We’re a part of the B Beauty Coalition, which is about 70 companies from the beauty industry who are all B Corp certified and work together in trying to find new packaging solutions or at least share their experiences regarding the most sustainable business practices. We really need to have someone establish an infrastructure that allows for the reconditioning of the packaging so that it can be taken back by the brands themselves. And then the brands need to design their packaging for reuse. We have to shift away from mitigating the single-use impact which is a communication exercise in educating your customers to shift their mindset and habits. If people don’t adopt the new solution and still treat it as a single use of product, you’ve made a higher material investment and therefore a greater environmental footprint. There’s a multitude of factors which must mature together in order to make a really meaningful venture across the entire industry. And yes, the individual brands can achieve a lot of it by themselves.
And what you’re saying is that it would be meaningful with more partnerships. How good is the beauty industry to collaborate?
— We’re peers and share a lot of the key issues that we are facing. In the Beauty Coalition, it is across six different continents and 63 different countries, so it’s not like you are in direct competition, you can share a lot about what is the best business practices given your company’s context without compromising. Partnerships are the way forward — we have to establish packaging systems that foster reuse and closed-loop circulation and think of systems that can be broadly adopted and make packaging more sustainable through mitigating the emissions of distribution and the standardization of cleaning processes and refilling. One of the drawbacks of unifying these packaging solutions is, of course, brand differentiation — brands use their packaging in order to differentiate themselves from other peers.
What’s required in order to get this infrastructure for recycling?
— It’s about creating the economic incentive by making it more expensive to create single-use alternatives as opposed to legislating your way out of it. If there’s an economic incentive, people will start to move towards more viable solutions. Thankfully, with both the Extended Producer Responsibility and the EU Taxonomy, these things are turning some gears in different companies. Many are trying to establish take-back solutions or closed-loop systems for more high material flow items such as household items. You can go down to the grocery store and deposit your bottle and then it gets taken back and cleaned and then you’re supplied with a new one where you keep your deposit. However, currently, there still isn’t a match between the truly beautiful aesthetic and consumer-friendly alternative to beauty packaging.
We’ve come a few steps on the road, but it’s a long way to go.
— Yes, exactly, there are solutions emerging, however, we haven’t found one that is completely suitable as of yet. Many are utilizing the very big containers and utilizing them as refill points. An issue then emerges of whether we can still guarantee the 6-month opened shelf life for the product if it has been stored in these big containers, and potentially waste a lot of product. We’ll have to keep exploring the field.
You keep yourself busy.
— We do! And there is a lot to consider in this ever-growing field of sustainability, sometimes an overwhelming amount of challenges, but I think it would be lazy of us to say that there are just too many challenges to begin overcoming them. Instead, there are a lot of opportunities for improvement. It’s just about pursuing the right ones or at least addressing the ones that have the biggest impact, footprint, and potential whilst ensuring that stakeholders are willing to adopt it whether they are peers, suppliers, clients, or customers.
When you meet your colleagues, what do you talk about within sustainability? What are the hot topics?
— Scope 3. All the emissions that you don’t have direct ownership of and how to go about mitigating that. We also talk about carbon accounting and some of the key challenges that we’re facing in terms of data quality, and a lot about Life Cycle Assessments and what your supply chain looks like.
If we take a future perspective, where are we five years from now? What will we talk about?
— I am so beyond excited to see where we are in five years. By then, we’re no longer producing combustible engines from the car manufacturers’ perspectives. Hopefully, the EU Tax Economy has made it more economically viable to look at other means of transportation such as railways and made it so that it’s just much easier to adopt some of the more sustainable approaches, whereas it’s currently a massive economic undertaking.
— Hopefully, a lot more companies have joined together either to establish their own industry-specific take-back systems or there have been more companies popping up that are then supplying the infrastructure across continents, trying to foster or facilitate closed-loop systems for beauty brands.
— The Product Environmental Footprint method for calculating the impact of a product or service will be finished in the coming years from the EU which will give a standardized methodology for the comparison of different products. I believe that will make it much easier for the customers to compare products much like you have your nutrient facts on the back of food items to compare. My hope is that you can compare two competing products and see their impacts such as global warming potential, biodiversity, land use change, resource depletion — and of course the carbon equivalent.
According to Rind-Nygaard, it would be great if we also get another narrative of carbon, not just being the big bad, but posing as a real solution.
— It’s where we can look into carbon-storing alternatives keeping things in circulation and reducing our overall material consumption. That will be a huge undertaking both from the customer side as well as the brands and the supporting infrastructure but there’s also a need for collaboration.
This insight piece was published in our weekly intelligence newsletter Beauty Innovation earlier this fall. To get your insights, access yearly insights reports, and secure invites to exclusive live talks and events, sign up below!