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Refillable products, ambitious targets and new ingredients: we dive into Chanel’s new era of sustainability

Photography By @chanel.beauty, Chanel
Published 16.02.22

With over 48 million followers on Instagram and a massive 1.94 million subscribers on YouTube, Chanel is easily the most influential luxury brand on social media right now.

It’s easy to see why so many people keep a close eye on the iconic house: Chanel, which was founded in 1910, has a long-standing reputation for not only setting the pace, but also for being well ahead of its time. (I mean, we’re talking about the brand that literally invented modern women’s wear, after all.)

Earlier this year it showed they were ready to lead a new wave. Now, a lot of brands have recently made big claims about becoming more environmentally aware. Understandably many consumers have been left a little cynical about what that actually looks like in action.

Happily, Chanel’s commitment appears to be more than seasonal. To understand more about what they’re doing–and how large brands can and should be leading industry-wide change–we took a closer look at their latest efforts.

Chanel’s new eco-responsible line


In January 2022, the brand unveiled a new nine-piece “eco-responsible” skincare, makeup and fragrance line: N°1 de Chanel. It became the lead headline of major lifestyle publications worldwide and was plastered all over social media. 

The collection was decades in the making and, though the brand kept it a secret up until the launch, it wasn’t exactly a left-field move. In 2020, Chanel outlined some pretty solid future goals and a road map to shift to 100 per cent renewable electricity in its operations by 2025 and halve its emissions by 2030. An environmentally responsible line felt like a natural progression from this.

What is the N°1 de Chanel line all about? 


Chanel calls the collection “an eco-responsible beauty line that seeks to minimise its impact on the environment and cut down its carbon footprint with eco-designed packaging and a strict formulation charter”. 

N°1 de Chanel’s formulations consist of up to 97 per cent naturally derived ingredients. At the heart of this “new holistic beauty line” are the oils and extracts from a red camellia flower, ‘The Czar’ variety of Camellia japonica. Besides being fabulous to look at (like other camellias which have long been a motif and incorporated into the brand’s work) ‘The Czar’ features an interesting ingredient called protocatechuic acid, which was discovered by Chanel scientists. 

Chanel claims this ingredient is rich in skin-protecting antioxidants and has “unique revitalising power” by targeting “senescent cells. In other words, it targets the first stage of the skin-ageing process. The line uses up to 76 per cent of these camellia-derived ingredients to improve skin quality, decrease wrinkles and increase radiance (which, to be honest, are promises we’d like to believe in).

Alongside its focus on natural ingredients, the line also has made efforts to reduce packaging waste and experiment with refillables, which we’ll explain in more depth below. 

@chanel.beauty

Leading the pack

 

The one product that already feels right at home on any RIISE staffer’s bathroom bench is the N°1 de Chanel revitalising cream. It stands out for it’s innovative packaging, ingredients and circular solutions (while still keeping that Chanel prestige). Ultimately, it demonstrates how creative and exciting it can be when large brands commit to coming up with new solutions.

Using the seed shells of the camellia flower mixed with FSC-certified wood shavings, Chanel has been able to create a 90 per cent bio-sourced materials lid. The product is also housed in a glass jar that is around 50 per cent lighter than previous collections. And like the other products in the line, there is no plastic wrapping used and a QR code has replaced the usual information leaflets to further reduce waste.

We were equally excited to see Chanel’s push for refillable packaging. You can extend the life of your revitalising cream’s jar by buying 50g refill pods, which Chanel says “reduces [the product’s] greenhouse gas emissions by around half” when refilled twice. 

Of course, like all the products in N°1 de Chanel, at the centre of the cream is the line’s star ingredient: the red camellia. The flower accounts for 70 per cent of the active ingredients in this product, and Chanel has been particularly transparent about where and how it was cultivated. All camellias used across this range are grown and handpicked in Chanel’s own 40 hectare open-sky laboratory in Gaujacq, France, where it preserves local biodiversity through principles of agroecology and agroforestry. In fact, the farm has earned itself a reputable high environmental value (HVE) certification, which is the highest of France’s agricultural environmental certifications. 

When we reached out to Chanel for further comment, we also found out that all of the products in the N°1 de Chanel line are made in France, where the manufacturing facilities have been using 100 per cent renewable energy since 2019 – which we really celebrate. 

What we’d like to see next from Chanel

 

Obviously, this is all very exciting. But as Chanel fans, we have high expectations and our research into the line did still leave us with a few questions. For example, if a product is made from up to 97 per cent natural ingredients, what’s the remaining per cent made from? And where are the other, non–red camellia, ingredients sourced? 

Chanel told RIISE that one of its “main priorities is to develop formulas with a high percentage of raw materials that are environmentally friendly and sustainably sourced”. It added that “synthetic ingredients complete the formulas” and that these are “required to protect the formulas and are proven to be safe”. 

Chanel also provided us with an ingredients list for each product (which is also on the products when they are purchased) but did not comment further on where the remaining ingredients were sourced. Without that comprehensive transparency, we can’t ascertain the miles it took to fly certain ingredients to the factory or how they were made. 

We spoke to Chanel about the packaging used across the whole range and whether this still contains virgin plastics. It told us that, at this stage, it is “prioritising the use of recycled plastic and bio-based materials” and is “gradually incorporating recycled materials, as well as bio-based materials” into more products across the line. Our interpretation of this is that there are still virgin plastics present in the packaging, but Chanel is continuing to explore ways to replace them with recycled materials or bio-based materials. Honestly, we welcome brands acknowledging that they are on a journey and want to improve and it was refreshing to hear the brand engage so directly with these queries.

And while we would love to see more than one product from this line with refillable packaging, Chanel said “[we currently] offer 67 products with refill inserts and five fragrances that are refillable in stores, and we are working on expanding this in the future”. 

Again, credit where it’s due, that’s pretty impressive. It’s one thing to introduce new product lines with a low-waste focus. It’s another to come up with ways to re-engineer existing products. Historically, brands have been hesitant to play with their iconic best sellers. So it’s nice to see Chanel amending existing lines as well as producing new ones.

 

@chanel.beauty

@chanel.beauty

Looking at the beauty industry more broadly 

 

Our deep dive into N°1 de Chanel highlighted a lot of the complexities in the sustainability space. In particular, this was an excellent example of how tricky it can be when terms like “eco” don’t have industry-standardised or fixed meanings. 

After assessing the whole line from Chanel, the revitalising cream is the product that feels the most deserving of its “eco-responsible” label. This is because of the ingredients and packaging used, and its overall circularity. The other products don’t quite reach those heights (yet). They are largely being credited as “eco-responsible” due to the presence of the responsibly sourced and farmed red camellia flower. 

With that said, the line is impressive and a great start for Chanel to continue innovating and lowering the environmental impact of more of its products. We also can’t deny that Chanel has made some solid commitments to its wider operations and has set a highly relevant target to halve its emissions by 2030. Sustainability seems to be something the luxury house is focused on and genuinely taking seriously, rather than treating as something to virtue signal to its following. 

We know that change doesn’t happen overnight, especially not for an established brand that was founded in 1910. So it is exciting to see Chanel joining the conversation about environmental impact and responsibility. As a luxury tastemaker that has always left a distinguishable mark, perhaps we will see others follow suit and strive for a more sustainable future. 

 

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