"The problem with the care industry isn't transparency, it's ethics - brands like Forgo need to take responsibility for educating their consumers about sustainability"
Interview with Allon Libermann, Design Manager of From Us With Love and Co-Founder of Forgo
Author: House of Eden
At Stockholm Design Week, international design studio From Us With Love unveiled its venture Forgo, a cosmetics brand for powdered soap. The DIY mixing powder and the minimalist bottle are not only eye-catchers in terms of design - the start-up minimizes CO2 emissions and avoids plastic in the name of sustainability.
In an exclusive talk with Haus von Eden, co-founder Allon Libermann gave a transparent account of what Forgo is all about, what challenges environmentally friendly brands are facing Cosmetics and care industry and what needs to change in order to establish sustainability holistically.
In his view, the problem lies not only in transparency within the industry, but also in a lack of consumer education. Too often, consumers simply trust seals and don't understand the complexity of the manufacturing processes. He also explains to us exactly why Forgo's refills produce around 85% less CO2 emissions than soaps in plastic bottles. Last but not least, he clears up the recent criticism regarding the poor quality of soap powder.
"A phenomenon of sustainability is to always criticize things that are already on a good path. For us, products with a more positive environmental impact and minimal loss of quality are definitely a better choice than environmentally harmful plastic."
Allon Libermann - © Forgo
Forgo aims to promote sustainability through good design
In 2018, it all started with an idea. To produce soap from powder and tap water and to offer eco-friendly refills on demand. However, it took us two years to find a lab that was willing to produce according to our ideas. Simply because it's not the normal way to make things - with only six ingredients. Nevertheless, we depended on this search because we are not researchers. As designers, our expertise and competence lies in designing things in the right way to drive sustainability.
Our goal is to implement sustainable characteristics by means of design. For example, we look for materials that cause no or at least little harm. It is important that we think in terms of threshold values. What I mean by that is this: Even paper is not 100% sustainable and there are certain issues with FSC certification (our sachet is FSC certified, cover as well as box made from 90-100% recycled waste paper). Nevertheless, we know that it is uncompromisingly better than plastic. Significantly less harm to the environment. However, it can be too much. In transfer, this means that even the healthiest food is not good for us if overconsumed. So: Less is more.
The refills produce 85% fewer emissions than soaps in plastic bottles: What does that mean exactly?
In general, we want to sell less with Forgo. Sure, some might think that's not a good business model. But it's all about the definition of "less." Less means that each of our refills contains less emissions, volume, as well as ingredients. We only want to sell 12 grams of powder, which makes 250 milliliters of soap. Emissions are calculated based on life cycles. This means that consumers amortize their emissions through long-term use of our product. In other words, emissions incurred initially are offset by future earnings.
Want proof? We teamed up with Carbon Calories Founder Alexander Franzten because his business case is to use common standards to determine the CO2 emissions of product manufacturers. For our standard, he included single-use plastic bottles of soap that have the same volume as our foam. He studied the impact of these compared to our product over one month, 12 months, and 5 years and shipping in.
The result: a refill produces 85% fewer emissions than plastic bottles. Even though our glass bottle is more energy-intensive than plastic simply because of its nature, it is a long-lasting product. After approximately one year of use, the bottle reaches break-even. No more damage to the environment. By the way, the same applies to steel water bottles - they are only sustainable if they are used over a longer period of time, otherwise they produce more emissions than disposable plastic bottles. Companies should definitely become more transparent here!
The transparency of ingredients is almost impossible
Especially when it comes to ingredients, it is very difficult to get transparency about where products come from and how they are made. Even with our commitments - the use of waste as well as plant-based ingredients for our fragrances - the care industry in fact has a systemic problem: It's often all about marketing. There are basically hardly any guarantees or set criteria for certifications. Even when ingredients have been harvested in an ecologically sound manner or produced without petroleum chemicals, synthetic substances are often used in the production process to extract the natural ingredients. Labels need to go along the entire value chain. But they do not and thus distort the value of a certification.
Keyword transparency: Our glass bottles come from Portugal and are mainly produced with renewable energy. Unfortunately, since glass requires a lot of heat, we also have to use fossil fuels in some cases. Our willingness to make this deal comes again from the idea of balance. The bottles should last 5 to 10 years, and even when thrown away, their environmental impact is better. It's all about resource intensity. I.e., ratio of resource use to the benefit or outcome achieved from it. When it comes to resources, recycling is actually the best method. Recycled materials have a lower CO2 footprint than new materials in every product category.
The transformation of established and automated industrial processes needs more time
Basically, it's about cost. Even when brands want to become more sustainable, they don't because it simply costs more. The processes are so automated that using plastics, gasoline and so on is the norm. This means that bottling liquid soap is cheaper than making our refill packs out of paper. Merely because it is the existing supply chain built by factories, farms and all stakeholders. It will take more time to change that.
In addition, it often seems as if consumers are not really interested in sustainability, but in certifications such as the Peta cruelty-free logo or the vegan seal. Yet almost every product has at least one ingredient that comes from an agriculture that contributes to deforestation through its agricultural culture. And thus represents to the main cause of wildlife loss - more than XNUMX% of insect populations have declined due to agriculture to realize our culture as well as our lifestyle. This is not really cruelty-free.
Unfortunately, the reality in the industry is often that false promises are sold instead of educating consumers
For me, transparency alone is not enough, because consumers lack the understanding to realize what certifications, supply chains and so on even mean. They simply don't have enough time to inform themselves. If they did, they would find out that cruelty-free only promises that it has not been tested on animals. But not that the product does not contribute to deforestation and thus to the decline of wild fauna. The situation is similar for palm oil: since the trade operates via a bidding system, the palm oil within a product comes from several farms. Thus, even RSPO certified palm oil is only responsibly sourced in a proportion. Only a small portion within a mass balance.
So, it is important for me to emphasize that the problem is not the lack of transparency, but the lack of information as well as education. Consumers take experts at their word, their attention span doesn't go beyond short promises. Since brands do this for the incentive of profit, this is a question of ethics. Or rather, a lack of ethics that many brands still have. What we need is a change in the whole system. That's why I think intelligence as well as innovation, by the way, are the buzzwords for the future. We need to change the existing and invent the new.
Brands do not act ignorantly, but are exposed to the pressure of our economic model
Experts in companies know what sustainability is and also where they fail. So when it comes to marketing, their strategy fails not because they don't know any better, but because of the existing economic system. The fact is that sustainable products are twice as expensive as conventional ones. But it's also a fact that consumers would have to read a 20-page paper to understand why it's more expensive as well as better for the environment.
A positive trend can currently be observed in this regard: Many companies are pursuing environmentally friendly internal policies and setting sustainability agendas internally. In this way, experts set goals that revolutionize existing structures - even if the customer doesn't know why. At some point, these newly established practices become the practice as well as the norm - without extensive marketing. I truly believe that experts need to take responsibility. That this is the evolution that drives change. Another good thing - even if it happens rather slowly - is that governments need to pass new laws that require companies to perform better as well as provide them with incentives.
We welcome brands that copy Forgo - this is the only way to establish sustainable practices on a large scale
However, until these incentives come into effect on a large scale, there are other ways for brands to act sustainably without spending millions. In 2020, for example, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise awareness for Forgo. Despite Covid-19 and associated challenges, we now have a great platform, retail partners and customers.
Even though sustainable production is more expensive, we have built up a basis for manufacturing eco-friendly products. In addition to improving our current range, we want to launch around 2022 new products in 5. And each according to the same principle: from powder to liquid, from paper to bottle.
The entire market development is also interesting. In the next few years, more and more brands will launch products similar to ours - we're already seeing a lot of copies. But that's not negative. In fact, we welcome this development because we need more brands going in this direction. This is the only way we can get away from chemical as well as fossil fuels and promote agriculture to replace plastic. Important here: trees all are not enough. Grasses and bamboo must also be grown as alternative materials.
It is a phenomenon of sustainability to always criticize things instead of thinking ahead
It is true that hygiene and quality can suffer when the powder is turned into soap at home. But when it comes to hygiene, we trust our consumers to create a clean environment. And while the quality of the ingredients decreases over time, I often don't understand the meaning behind this issue. Our product lasts several months - you wouldn't expect a longer shelf life from a natural product like an apple.
To achieve sustainability, we must accept it as a process and adopt new perspectives. We are already working with a laboratory to make the quality even better. We have this ambition. Nevertheless, when it comes to sustainability, it is a phenomenon to always criticize things that are already on a good path. For us, products with a more positive environmental impact and minimal loss of quality are definitely a better choice than environmentally harmful plastic. The lack of forward thinking is more of a problem than the quality. Holistic sustainability is a long road - step by step, although it is clear that it is about progress.
Thank you for the interview Allon!