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Is the future O’Right?

August 2, 2017

I do not get paid to promote brands, certification standards or products on this blog. I just write about what I like – as free as a bird 🙂

So I purchased a shampoo from Taiwan manufacturer O’Right while at the Hair Expo the other month off the back of their claims of being the first ‘Carbon Neutral’ Shampoo brand (in Taiwan maybe, I actually can’t remember the detail on that but it did get my attention).

O’Right have won many awards for innovation in the green cosmetic space and I was super keen to give their products a try as one thing I’m not a fan of is products that tick all of the environmental boxes but don’t deliver – I see that as the very definition of unsustainable as the products are likely to not sell (and be dumped) or bought but not used (and end up being dumped).  I needn’t have been concerned though, the shampoo I bought was lovely,  worked really well on my hair and left it pretty soft and manageable even without conditioner.  The only down side for me was the fact that I’m sensitive to the preservative used in the blend so I did end up with an itchy head – it’s the Methylisothiazolinone which seems to still be popular across Asia and is in most commercial shampoo products to be honest but I just can’t handle it.   So sadly this isn’t a product that I can keep buying 😦

 

What I was taken by is the way that the company have taken a ‘big picture’ view of their environmental impact.  Looking at their factory,  manufacturing methods, packaging, biodegradation and performance. I was super excited to find out that their headquarters, where they manufacture their products is powered by renewable energy –  a combination of solar and wind!  Did I mention that my dream is to run a solar-powered chemical factory?????  I have to go back to Taiwan and see this for myself,  how exciting!

For many years I’ve wondered why this type of thinking has taken a back-seat from the heavily ingredient focused approach that brands more commonly take.  Focusing on INCI lists and whether it reaches an organic certification percentage rather than looking at the brand and business as a whole and asking ‘does the product make sense? Does the product perform?  Is the product a good use of resources?  How will the product affect the environment during and after use?  What about the packaging?

I was watching a You Tube video by Cosmetics Europe earlier this week which puts things into perspective.  The video mentions that only 5-20% of a shampoo’s environmental impact comes from the ingredients, manufacture and distribution with the majority of impact coming from the water used with the shampoo.  I wonder if in spending a disproportionate amount of time focused on whether a shampoo contains parabens or sulfates has distracted us from the fact that there is much more we can collectively work on. I also wonder if the brands that focus exclusively on this realise that the big end of town are moving with the times and making some big strides in ‘Greening’ their operations and reducing their impacts?   Maybe we should all start working together…..

With that in mind this Taiwanese brand has got out there, put its money where its mouth is and created an award-winning brand as you can see below:

  • Taiwan’s first shampoo received “Carbon Footprint Label”.
  • World’s first shampoo to be certified as “Carbon Neutral” under PAS2060 framework.
  • “National Outstanding Small and Medium Enterprises Award”, the most glorious award among SMEs “Taiwan EEWH Green Building Gold Certificate” “Environmental Sustainability Award” by SGS
  • “National Sustainability Development Award” by Executive Yuan
  • “Industrial Sustainable Excellent Award” by Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA)
  • “Enterprises Environmental Protection Award”, the most glorious award in environmental protection
  • “Excellent CSR among SMEs in Taiwan” (2011 & 2012) by MOEA
  • “Xue Xue Awards“(2011 Specialty Award & 2012 Creativity Award) by Xue Xue Institute
  • “Excellent Eco-Friendly and Green Energy Enterprise” by Taoyuan County Government
  • “The Model of Taiwan Entrepreneur Award”, the most remarkable award among entrepreneurs Invited to deliver a speech in 2012 Beijing cross-strait Brand Forum MOEA’s First
  • “Taiwan Green Classic Award”
  • “Golden Pin Design Mark”, the most honorable award in design field
  • The first place of “Green Brand” survey conducted by Taiwan Business Next Magazine MOEA’s top 100 Taiwan Innovative Enterprise On behalf of Taiwan SME to deliver a speech,
  • “Green Transformation”, at 2011 APEC conference held in USA SGS ISO 9001:2008 QMS Certificate
  • “Taiwan Superior Commercial Service Brands” by MOEA

 

The shampoo comes packaged in a Polylactic Acid bottle – completely biodegradable within a year apparently. I am trying this out for myself here.  In addition the shampoo that I purchased also comes with some little seeds squirreled away in the bottom compartment of the bottle – I’ve planted those today too, let’s keep our fingers crossed that they will grow (I wonder if this is part of the carbon offset calculation?).

The company also use Soy based ink, recycled paper and Taiwanese Bamboo caps which look great and function really well in the wet shower environment.  The company also engage in ‘giving back’ via a number of charity initiatives and are also keen educators which is all very nice and feel-good friendly.

But is this all just box ticking or will brands like this make a difference?

Ok so the cynic in me would recognise that some of these awards and programs and even the whole idea of carbon off-set is prone to being abused or used purely for a market advantage but that’s the same with anything that is done anywhere – some people will always do it just to make money and other people will do it because it is the right or logical thing to do.  The people behind O’Right are young, innovative and motivated to make a difference and the fact that they have gone to such meticulous detail to measure their product range is something – you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.   They have also gone for a much more complex marketing proposition than purely ‘does my label look good’ which is no easy feat. Maybe they have been able to do this because in Taiwan and China, their local markets, there is less concern over things being 100% natural and free-from a thousand things than there is over here.  Maybe that has created the space to look at the environmental impact of a product more holistically and without the need to prioritize appeasing the ingredient-focused marketing department over all others. Or maybe they haven’t quite got that bit right yet and that they do, in fact need to ‘clean up’ their INCI list further – maybe that’s an improvement and if it makes the product 2-5% greener so be it. After all, just because we aren’t making a huge difference or impact doesn’t mean we don’t bother at all.

With that let’s look at the ingredient list of the variant I tried.

The full ingredient list is here:

96% Natural Ingredients. 

Aqua, Sodium Cocoamphoacetate, Lauryl glucoside, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, laureth-2, Fragrance, Polyquaternium 7, Menthol, Camelia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Niacinamide, Citric Acid, Methylisothiazolinone, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.

 

Sodium Cocoamphoacetate:  An Imidazoline based  amphoteric of the type made famous by Johnson and Johnson’s ‘No More Tears’ baby shampoo.  These surfactants are mild and biodegradable but you wouldn’t classify them as completely natural as while they are built on a fatty acid (possibly lauric which is the predominant fatty acid in coconut oil hence the coco part of the name) the additional steps in the manufacturing process are quite involved and result in a complex but interesting range of structures. Looking at the bigger picture though, this surfactants is a pretty good choice when it comes to its in-use and post-use attributes being unlikely to bioaccumulate and having a relatively low aquatic toxicity so it definitely stacks up well when compared against Sodium Laureth or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.

 

Lauryl Glucoside:  This is a non-ionic surfactant that isn’t particularly great at cleansing the hair as it tends to tangle it but in a combination it can facilitate the formation of mixed-micelles which both thicken the shampoo a little and help to improve the foaming and cleansing characteristics.  This is one of the most natural (100%) surfactant options being corn and palm derived mainly. It is also biodegradable and has a reasonable aquatic toxicity profile although it can be irritating to the skin.

Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate: This is an ultra-mild anionic based on an amino acid. Very good skin profile and equally good environmental profile with excellent biodegradability and low aquatic toxicity.

Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate:   This surfactant has been developed to fill the gaps that SLS/ SLES/ ALS leaves in a shampoo formula namely good foamability and cleansing power.  It is a modified polyglucoside so like the lauryl glucoside but with a funky carboxylate group attached.  Carboxylates are salts of carboxylic acids which are functional groups found on amino acids among other things.  They are found all over nature so while adding one of these onto the end of a glucoside isn’t necessarily going to happen by its self in nature it results in what could be described as a surfactant of natural origin.  Again great biodeg and aquatic tox figures for this one.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine: This is probably one of those that will be stripped out of a formula like this in future mainly due to it being one of the least naturally derived (petrochemical content) and also due to the potential for it to contain contaminants which can be irritating.  CAPB is often added to a formula to increase and improve foaming behaviour and to help make the overall blend milder.  It is possible to buy high quality CAPB that has been vacuum stripped of any impurities but it isn’t possible to strip it of its petrochemical fraction.   Cocamidopropyl Betaine is classified as readily biodegradable but there are some concerns over its aquatic toxicity as this paper highlights.  

Laureth-2: This is a thickener, it is ethoxylated and as such is usually something that ‘natural’ and especially ‘organic’ cosmetics stay away from mainly because the ethylene oxide has traditionally come from petroleum sources but also because ethoxylation can give rise to 1-4 Dioxane residues in the surfactant and 1-4 Dioxane is a human carcinogen.  Again, that said, this contaminant can be vacuum stripped off leaving a clean product behind but you can’t vacuum strip off the petroleum derivative and I would have thought that a non-renewable input would increase the products carbon footprint to a greater degree than a renewable input would.  But we can’t let ethoxylation go without mentioning that you can generate ethylene oxide from plant matter!  I am not sure if O’Rights ethylene oxide was plant or petrochemical derived but if it was plant then that’s one box ticked.  In terms of environmental impact this chemical is not winning any awards. While it is likely to be present in pretty small quantities in this formula (0.5-3% possibly), it is not good when you look at its MSDS.  The high aquatic toxicity would have me thinking twice about using this in a shampoo like this but in the grand scheme of things it probably isn’t going to make the product a big no-no and really one must look at whether there is a better alternative in existence before calling for its replacement. Remember that only 5-20% of a shampoo’s environmental impact is from the ingredients….

Below that we are into smaller fish territory with this being likely to be the less than 1% spot. There is a fragrance which may or may not be of petrochemical origin and may or may not contain pthalates – many cosmetic fragrance houses do disclose now if pthalates are part of the mix as most people do want to know.  The Polyquaternium 7 is a commonly used conditioner for shampoo formulations. This is non-natural for sure and most quats are pretty toxic to the environment but do remember that when it comes to toxicity the dose does make the poison.  The guar gum is quaternised so that is also a conditioning thickener and will likely be part petroleum derived, the Vitamim B3 (niacinamide) is probably fine, nature-identical rather than natural, citric acid is usually natural then the preservatives in this case are petroleum derivatives.

To Sum Up.

Overall I wouldn’t say that this is the greenest ingredients list I’ve ever seen but  it is certainly going in the right direction. Weighing  up the ingredients list while considering the likely impact of the products in-use on the environment, against the fact that the product does work very well and that the overall offering from O’Right is definitely a step in the right direction I’d say that these guys have had a great stab at putting a really good eco-story product that works out there.

In my view focusing on the ingredients list is important and is something that we have all become accustomed to doing – a sort of habit really – so it FEELS natural and look, I’ve just done it too.  But I’d just caution against using that as the ONLY measure of a product and further I’d absolutely caution against elevating it above all else when evaluating a products eco footprint.

In my opinion O’Right has opened up a very important conversation here about sustainability,  sustainable brands, green cosmetics, environmental footprint and impact and life-cycle analysis. They have shown that creating a truly ‘green’ brand should include all parts of the process and not just the ingredient selection. They have opened up a conversation about power generation, carbon accounting, business management,  manufacturing, packaging design, material science, shelf-life and product functionality and I’m sure that as long as they keep innovating they will have a bright and green future ahead of them.

I didn’t tell O’Right that I was writing about them and have had no contact with the brand other than my conversation with them at the Hair Expo. Just so you know.

Amanda x

 

 

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