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Emma Lewisham just became the world’s first carbon-positive beauty brand, setting a new benchmark in beauty

Emma Lewisham’s namesake skincare brand has reached the pinnacle of sustainable achievement with its 100 per cent circular-designed product range. In this exclusive Q&A with The CEO Magazine, Emma talks passion, pioneering and the power of collaboration when driving lasting change.

Emma Lewisham

Founder Emma Lewisham is a true pioneer in the clean beauty space for her namesake skincare brand that rivals that of the most recognised luxury brands in the world. Since entering the market in 2019, the brand has been committed to beauty without compromise; showing the world that ‘all natural’ can truly yield luxury-level results. And even more, it doesn’t need to come at the expense of women’s health or that of the planet.

In a world first for a beauty brand, Emma Lewisham is now carbon-positive with a 100 per cent circular-designed product range. That means, all the brand’s products are refillable and designed to fit within a circular system – the pinnacle of sustainable achievement. ‘Circular designed’ means designing out waste, keeping materials in use through reuse, repair and recycling, and regenerating the environment.

Packaging is the beauty industry’s number one contributor to carbon emissions. By moving to a circular model, beauty brands could lower their carbon emissions by an incredible 70 per cent. As such, Emma Lewisham has invested heavily in the research and development of innovative packaging, machinery and business processes that allow each product to be refilled and to ensure packaging end of life is kept in circulation and diverted from the landfill.

“There was no roadmap to follow in becoming a circular-designed, luxury skincare brand,” Lewisham says. “We have had to reimagine our business processes, technology and our product packaging. This is a new model of beauty. It has required strenuous investments in both time and capital; however, there was no other option for us. We believe businesses are uniquely placed to drive change and possess the power to use their resources for good.”

Even though the brand is the first to adopt a circular and carbon-positive business model in beauty, Lewisham doesn’t want it to be the last. With the hope of accelerating the movement towards a circular beauty industry, she has shared all intellectual property around the achievement of a circular and carbon-positive model with beauty brands around the world on its website.

“Our circular, carbon-positive business model is the only viable solution to the beauty industry meeting global climate challenge.” – Emma Lewisham

The blueprint includes all refill designs, sterilising processes, recycling and returns processes, packaging supplier connections, take-back procedures and carbon-calculation guides. And the reason, Lewisham says, is simple: “We genuinely want to see change. The problems we face are so much greater than the success of one business or brand, and if we are going to solve them, collaboration is key. We must tear down the barriers of competition once and for all – unifying around a greater vision where future generations may thrive. This has to be the future of beauty.”

In an exclusive interview with The CEO Magazine, New Zealand-based Lewisham shares the ins and outs and ups and downs involved in driving change and setting a stunning new standard in the beauty industry.

Emma Lewisham reveals how to create better brands

Emma Lewisham carbon-positive packaging
Luxury natural skincare brand Emma Lewisham becomes world's first carbon-positive beauty brand with 100 per cent circular-designed product range.

Share a few words about yourself.

I live in Auckland with my husband and two-year-old daughter. I have over a decade of business, sustainability and marketing experience and have always been very driven in terms of finding gaps and problems in the market and solutions to meet these. I’ve also been a member of Zonta International for 10 years and served on the board; it’s a leading global organisation of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy.

How does it feel to pioneer this green beauty revolution with the world’s first carbon-positive beauty brand?

At the heart of this is my personal values and me wanting to take ownership and understand how the decisions I made within Emma Lewisham would impact people and the planet. I want the planet, and every person who is involved in our supply chain, to be respected and thought of.

I am a person who seeks understanding; I care. And to me, Emma Lewisham is so much more than just selling products. That’s why it’s so important for us to pioneer this change in the beauty industry. Our circular, carbon-positive business model is the only viable solution to the beauty industry meeting global climate challenge. I am hoping by sharing our beauty blueprint industry wide and free of charge, it will incentivise and accelerate other brands to move to a circular and carbon positive business model. At the end of the day, I can’t do this alone.

How did you make it happen?

The work involved in becoming carbon-positive certified is massive. I can’t stress that enough. There’s a lot more information and data involved when you certify a business at a product level; you have to measure and reduce your carbon emissions for each product as opposed to becoming certified at a business level wherein you don’t have to measure your carbon emissions per product.

We spent 12 months working to measure the carbon emissions emitted at each stage of each Emma Lewisham product’s lifecycle, including the harvesting and production of raw ingredients used, transportation, product packaging and end-of-life for each product in order to put reduction plans in place before positively offsetting what could not be reduced.

We’ve made it happen by surrounding ourselves with like-minded suppliers and a team who believed in the vision. We strive to work with suppliers and contractors who share our drive for circular solutions and who will push to find solutions in this space.

Three ways to build a better brand

The clean beauty pioneer shares her top tips with The CEO Magazine.

  1. Be open and transparent: Openness and transparency are core to our ethos, which are key factors in running a successful business. For instance, our consumer feedback is always responded to in-line with this. We disclose independent testing that we have done on our products to back up their benchmark performance, disclose all ingredients in Emma Lewisham products and make our sustainability goals for the year ahead available to everyone.
  2. Have confidence: At the end of the day, you need to be confident that what you’re putting out into the market will offer your customers a noticeable benefit. That’s why we do independent testing on all our products before they go to market. Emma Lewisham products’ results are backed by science and the feedback we have from our customers is truly industry best.
  3. Push and problem-solve: Don’t always take no for an answer. Encourage the people you work with and around to strive for the best possible outcome even if it means pioneering a new way of thinking. Don’t allow yourself to so easily settle or back down over matters that pertain to your success and fundamental beliefs. Push and problem-solve for the outcomes you believe in. If you’re constantly being faced with a ‘no’, then change who you’re speaking with.

Why do you think nobody else has done it yet?

Emma Lewisham carbon-positive packaging

I think the one factor that does affect the ability of brands to transition to a carbon-positive and fully circular model is cost. In some areas such as packaging, there are increasingly innovative solutions available, but there is usually a premium cost attached. It is harder to find refillable options as there is very little available, and what is available you often can’t use, as it is patented by another larger brand. This means smaller brands need to pay a significant cost to create their own moulds to produce refillable packaging options, which is what we are doing.

However, at Emma Lewisham, we were happy to invest in this area because it meant we were going to be able to offer our customers a circular, regenerative solution. As more brands switch to refillable packaging and demand goes up, our hope is that the cost comes down and options go up, as it becomes the industry norm to have packaging that’s better for our planet.

There are also additional costs which we absorb as a business around the refilling and sterilisation of our products. For example, we cover the cost of shipping back empty refill pods to us, and we filter through material, identifying anything that has had too much wear and tear, and send this to our specialised recycling partner to ensure it is kept out of the landfill.

What has been the hardest part in making a beauty brand completely circular designed and refillable?

The journey to becoming circular certainly has its challenges. It’s quite a specialised area with a lot of complexity, so the hardest part was working out what is possible. You need to really dig into each element of packaging and the supply chain to understand where it has come from and the end-of-life options and effects of the material.

We found the problem-solving required was enormous in terms of developing completely 100 per cent circular-designed packaging and processes to return and reuse the material. It does require a mindset shift to think outside the common linear ‘take-make-waste’ economy and to challenge suppliers to come up with more circular solutions.

The Real Rejuvenator

“I’m most proud of Skin Reset,” Lewisham says. “This was our very first product and the result of five years of research. It is a 100 per cent natural serum that is scientifically proven to prevent and reverse the signs of hyperpigmentation, dullness, age spots and generally uneven skin tone to restore a bright and even toned look.

“Skin Reset has been independently scientifically proven in both in vivo and in vitro testing to outperform iconic luxury brands and cosmeceuticals. And it was the only product in the tests that we independently conducted, which not only inhibited hyperpigmentation but also didn’t harm our ‘good cells’. I use this product every day, and it’s a real skin rejuvenator.”

The endorsement from Dr Jane Goodall is a huge achievement. What does this personally mean to you to have such an iconic conservationist support the launch?

Jane Goodall has been a notable inspiration for me from a very young age. Her pioneering conservation and sustainability efforts set a benchmark for the rest of us to follow. When we first approached her team with our news, we were merely trying to put our brand on her radar. We did not expect the response we received from Jane and her team. Having Jane’s endorsement puts Emma Lewisham on the global map, and hopefully it will ensure we acquire as many eyes as possible around our launch.

We need to champion this conversation, concerning the current reality of the beauty industry’s waste problem, and having Jane endorse this will really amplify our message. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather work with for this launch.

Why do you believe collaboration is more important than competition in cleaning up the beauty industry?

The beauty industry currently produces 120 billion units of waste every year, with the majority being non-recycled. This has the largest impact on the industry’s carbon emissions.

This is a massive issue, and obviously, if we’re the only brand to truly change our business model and break the linear norm, we alone won’t be able fix the industry’s sustainability issue. If we collectively want to achieve the urgent objective of the United Nations 2015 Paris Agreement of halving CO₂ emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050, we need others to come with us on the journey, unifying around this goal of carbon reduction.

We know from our own Emma Lewisham packaging that by shifting to circular-designed products, our refillable vessels have a 74 per cent smaller carbon footprint than the original packaging. That’s a massive reduction. Now extrapolate that out to all beauty brands and imagine the impact on our planet.

What was the inspiration behind the brand?

I found myself in the beauty industry through personal circumstances. Within a very short timeframe, I lost my mother to cancer and became pregnant with my first child. It was a pivotal time in my life and put me on a path of thinking deeply about my lifestyle and the things I did every day. My doctor reinforced this by telling me that one of the products I was using – for my uneven skin tone from hyperpigmentation – had a known carcinogen in it, which was banned in the UK, Japan and Europe.

“I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the beauty industry.” – Emma Lewisham

I tried to find skincare products that were truly natural and safe alternatives with efficacious and evidence-backed results – only to find this didn’t exist. I was used to investing in high-performance, premium creams and serums. I found myself at organic health shops trying to find a natural equivalent; I was looking at shea butter, argan oils and I had this realisation that these products were not going to deliver the results that I was used to. It became clear to me that natural came at a compromise to results.

I decided to be the change I wanted to see in the beauty industry. This meant creating a product that was not only 100 per cent natural and scientifically proven to give results, but that felt as luxurious as any premium brand on the market. Creating the perfect product took patience and determination, especially when layering in my ambitions around responsible sourcing, sustainable packaging and zero tolerance for animal testing.

What has this journey been like for you?

It’s been incredibly arduous, and I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by a team that shares the same fundamental beliefs as me. Emma Lewisham is just under two years old, and we’ve achieved so much in such a short period of time. And we now have our sights set on reformative global expansion.

There have definitely been moments, especially during the early months after our launch, when I have felt overwhelmed and quite frankly, stressed out. But the work we’re putting out into the world today is what it’s all about. I am so proud of how far we have come, and I am excited for what the future holds.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Emma Lewisham refillable packaging

Traceability is extremely difficult in beauty. It is an industry that has been operating in secrecy as to the origin of the ingredients used and their sources. We spent one year pushing for change and for transparency in our supply chain, and now have 100 per cent traceability of our ingredient suppliers.

We take ownership of reviewing each ingredient ourselves and reviewing the documentation around each ingredient, getting assurances and copies of certifications directly from the source. For instance, it’s not enough for us to know that we don’t test our Emma Lewisham products on animals, so we have documentation attesting that each one of our individual ingredients has also not been tested on animals.

We also publish this information on our website. You can see where an ingredient is from, the certifications it holds, confirmation that it has not been tested on animals and how it has been extracted. I wanted to share what I had learnt with our customers, and I wanted to show them that we seek excellence and will never turn a blind eye to the decisions we make.

What goal are you working towards at the moment?

We see the future of skincare moving towards championing high-performing, natural ingredients and shifting from a ‘take-make-waste’ linear model to a circular, regenerative model. As a brand, we want to help lead and influence the beauty industry towards creating a decarbonised world.

“We seek excellence and will never turn a blind eye to the decisions we make.”

This is why we’ve shared our refillable and carbon positive IP with the beauty industry. Our goal is to continue refining this and to keep updating our industry, working out ways to further reduce carbon emissions in our business whether that’s through packaging or supply chain innovations.

What advice can you offer other aspiring entrepreneurs?

You need to really advocate for yourself, and if you believe in something, stand by your belief and don’t accept compromises. It is so easy, particularly in the early days, for others to discourage your ideas. It takes real tenacity to see through your vision.

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