Sephora is a French-originated makeup brand retailer. Its black and white striped logo is recognized by many who love or commonly use makeup products in their daily routine. The retailer provides convenience to the common individual because it keeps all of its eye, face, nails, lip, hair, and basic skin care products in one store - eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, contour, highlights, foundation, and nail polish just to name a few. They are best known for their high-quality selection of luxury beauty brands as well as offering their customers a great shopping experience by providing informative and active customer service. In comparison to similar beauty retail giants such as Ulta which is known for offering larger drug store brands at a more convenient price, Sephora tends to hold more expensive high-end prestigious makeup products. Their target audience tends to be women who are experienced with makeup, yet are still very welcoming towards other demographics including beginners, as they also provide makeup sessions for those who would like to get their makeup done by licensed professionals. However, the real questions still remain in the air: how sustainable is Sephora based on how they maintain their stores, and what brands they uplift and support?
In terms of what this brand is “made of”, Sephora consists of over 400 different makeup brands and 45,000 products, all unique in their own way from FENTY to Too Faced. However, the fact of the matter includes finding exactly what kind of makeup brands they allow onto their shelves from a sustainable perspective. We must bring up questions such as how those thousands of products are made, what the brands value, and most importantly how ‘sustainable’ they truly are considering their environmental impacts. Sephora attempted to create better working condition regulations by creating Sephora’s Supplier’s Code of Conduct. This code of conduct means that Sephora addresses their suppliers’ worker treatment issues based on prevalent worldwide issues about involuntary or forced labor, human trafficking, child labor, and harassment and abuse. In order to maintain this code of conduct, those suppliers who would like to maintain their business relationship with Sephora must follow rules which prohibit the negative treatment of workers.
Although there is a code of conduct, when it comes to enforcing how those suppliers stay true to that code, it is consistently nonexistent. Sephora states that there are currently no audits being done to check with the production methods and conduct of the suppliers, and when a complaint or concern has been made only then will they carry out an “inquiry” towards the supplier- an official investigation. Third-party verification for maintaining Sephora’s Supplier’s Code of Conduct has not been made at all but will be considered. The fact that Sephora set a standard on how the workers of its suppliers should be treated is great, but there is still room for them to make more improvements; such as yearly mandatory inspections of its supplier's production chains.
Aside from putting a plethora of their regular makeup brands on their shelves made up of non-organic materials, Sephora also has an “eco-conscious” skincare line of its own. They state that over 60% of their ingredients are derived from “natural” ingredients in compliance with FDA standards and use reclaimed sugarcane. They avoid harmful additives such as “phthalates, formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasers, oxybenzone and octinoxate, and more” (Sephora).
The Retailer Report Card, an evaluation source founded by the Mind the Store Campaign, supports a toxic-free future by analyzing big name brands and companies and determining how much toxic chemicals are involved in both production of making the product, the packaging, as well as the project itself. Sephora was graded as an A (96.25 out of 164) on their report card and key findings consisted of how since 2019 the company continues its “Clean at Sephora” program which provides transparency to what chemicals they add to their own makeup product brand. In July 2020 they have shown substantial progress in working to eliminate CHCs (Chemicals of High Concern) and ensured they can be replaced with safer chemicals. Their packaging avoids being single-use and uses refillable components. Within their stores, Sephora has been reducing their energy use with their online Energy Management Systems and the implementation of LED lighting which lasts longer than regular light bulbs.
Sephora is part of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which ensures to divert waste from landfills by creating more packaging that is sustainable. This is done with the inclusion of recyclable material in their packaging. Sephora states that “since 2019, all U.S. stores, distribution centers, and corporate offices are powered by 100% renewable energy” (Sephora). In their public Chemicals Policy Progress Report, they are currently continuing to collaborate with the EDF(Environmental Defense Fund) - a US-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group that solves environmental issues with market-based solution tactics. Sephora also continues to provide resources to their suppliers by providing Sephora’s Safer Alternatives Guide. This guide includes sustainability training for makeup and fragrance brands as well as new workers, and one on one calls with the brand to analyze their products to see how well they line up with the Public Chemicals Policy’s high-priority chemicals. These chemicals are labeled as such because studies stated that they pose an unreasonable risk to public health, the workplace, and the environment (GOVPH). By the year 2022 big changes are set to be made as a long list of harmful chemicals must be removed from Sephora’s suppliers’ products, or else the relationship between the two will be questioned.