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Upcoming ISO guidelines could legitimize greenwashing

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The forthcoming global guidelines for natural and organic cosmetics – ISO 16128 – are not fit for purpose according to industry experts, speaking at the recent Natural & Organic Products Europe.

Lauren bartley“Initially ISO seemed like a really great concept and I think to have a baseline standard that all cosmetics companies have to adhere to is a great thing,” said Lauren Bartley (pictured left), business development manager at the Soil Association, a founding partner of COSMOS. “Where it fell short was that the ISO working group didn’t utilize the expertise of natural and organic experts in the field or other certification bodies like COSMOS or NATRUE. The guidelines are vague and slightly wishy-washy, almost legitimizing greenwashing as you can interpret that guideline or standard to suit you.”

Calling it a “conventionally-driven initiative”, NATRUE director general Dr Mark Smith emphasized the fact that ISO is a guideline, not a standard, adding that it sets a very low baseline. “It’s not a guideline you can use to certify a product – there’s no criteria to tell you how many organic ingredients you have to put into a product to call it organic, so this leads to a very broad interpretation. When you’ve got a flexible tool and no criteria to define the product I don’t think it’s an appropriate tool to create a harmonized guidance for the world as to what an organic cosmetic is.”

Other concerns raised at the session include the fact that the guidelines, as they currently exist, also allow for the inclusion of GMOs and petrochemicals.

Ecovia Intelligence president Amarjit Sahota (pictured above) finished the session by saying that it will ultimately be consumers who have the power to decide if the ISO guidelines – which are due to come into force this year – will succeed, like NATRUE and COSMOS, or fail.

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