The role of wood in beauty packaging

29 May 2013

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In the beauty sector, wood is trendy among luxury brands today. Adding a wooden cap or sleeve to the packaging adds prestige to high-end perfumery and cosmetics brands. This material brings a host of benefits, such as a high perceived value, sensory appeal and sometimes even an extended life beyond the use of the product. A sophisticated wooden box may continue to be used once the perfume has finished, keeping the brand visible and alive in the consumer’s perception.


However, beyond all of these advantages, one leaps out as being not only highly topical, but also of greatest importance.


In a world in which waste is becoming an ever greater problem, packaging comes under the spotlight as one of the biggest contributors. Recyclability and sustainability in general have become key drivers among those responsible for developing packaging for beauty brands.


In this scenario, it is not surprising that wood is high on the list of contenders in transforming packaging to meet today’s environment-conscious demands.



Without doubt, wood is one of the few materials that can inspire both time-honoured craftsmanship and cutting edge creativity. It continues to be perceived as the most noble of materials, whether as a medium for the artisan or architect, designer or decorator. According to research, its presence in the home has a positive effect on people’s emotional states.i


This aside, wood has enormous sustainability benefits. In fact, it is the only material that is 100% renewable, if derived from a managed source. Compared to other materials like plastic and aluminium, wood’s Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is outstanding, as minimal non-renewable energy is used during its harvesting, processing and maintenance. Wood also has great thermal properties, meaning that a wooden structure will rely less on carbon-emitting heating and cooling systems, which is why it is so favoured in the ‘green’ construction sector.


Even when used for small-scale items like beauty packaging compo-nents, wood produces negligible residues. Large off-cuts are ground to make sheets of fibreboard, while shavings are repurposed for com-bustibles or animal bedding. What’s more, wood is extremely durable, with some hardwoods lasting centuries.


In terms of carbon storage, wood absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it in for the life of the product. Native trees, plantations and wood products are all absorbers of dangerous greenhouse gasses. A study showed that in 2005 in Australia, wood sequestered 56.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, cutting the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by almost 10%.ii



The earth contains approximately one trillion tonnes of wood and this is growing at the rate of 10 billion per year. The forestry industry sustains, to differing extents, around 1.6 billion people across the globeiii and of course forests play a key role in helping combat the effects of climate change. In 1992, the United Nations adopted a set of principles aimed at protecting and managing this incredible resource under the criteria of sustainable


Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) is defined by the UN and a range of forestry institutions as the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration and ability to fulfil and maintain all their social, economic and ecological functions. In simpler terms, it is about achieving balance, not only for the forests’ survival, but also for the people that depend on them for their livelihood and the human race as a whole.


The framework of criteria and indicators used to assess SFM are used in more than 150 countries, under nine different programmes. Signatory countries are required to conserve their forest reserves’ biological diversity, maintain their productive capacity by reforesting, ensure clean water and soil resources and make sure the forest’s supply meets the needs of society.


Like many other industries such as food and textiles, the supplier of wood can apply for an independent certification that guarantees exactly that, thereby reassuring potential purchasers that the product comes from a sustainable source.



Third-party forest certifications emerged in the mid 1990s as a response to communicating SFM to a wider audience and as a tool to assure manufacturers (and consumers) of wood and paper products that their base material comes from a well-managed and sustainable source.


There are currently over 30 certification bodies worldwide and criteria vary with each one. Covering two-thirds of the world’s 240 million hectares of certified, predominantly small-scale forestry areas, the largest is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, or PEFC.


In a nutshell, PEFC sets benchmarks that forestry managers must meet or exceed in order to be endorsed. This not only helps interna-tional recognition of the product, but also enhances marketing opportunities for forest owners, producers and sellers / distributors of the end product. It is the only organisation that ad-heres to both internationally-accepted guidelines on SFM (so that they are ‘certified once and accepted every-where’) and ILO (International Labour Organisation) criteria on forced and child labour, minimum age for workers and other issues, regardless of whether the source country has ratified ILO criteria or not. By involving stake-holders on a local level, indigenous rights and other socio-economic issues are also taken into account during the certification process.


Ultimately, a PEFC certification helps consumers identify that their purchase has come from sustainably-managed forests. PEFC has two types of labels that attest to this:


•           PEFC Certified – this label means that at least 70% of the wood used comes from PEFC-certified forests that meet or exceed benchmarks.

•           PEFC Certified and Recycled – at least 70% of the wood used comes from PEFC-certified forests that meet or exceed benchmarks and/or post consumer recycled material (ie, material that has been recycled from a discarded product).


For companies to obtain these certifications, they must submit their products to a PEFC Chain of Custody examination.



The PEFC Chain of Custody (CoC) certification is the first step in ob-taining a PEFC certification. It provides consumers of forest-based products with information on the origins of the material derived from them, and its journey to the final product. A finished product will only be CoC-certified when all the steps involved in its processing have been inspected by PEFC techni-cians. Only then can it carry a certifying PEFC logo.


A CoC certification is therefore not only extremely decisive for manufacturers and consumers, but also for the image of the wood, paper and timber industries as a whole. A PEFC CoC certification is a voluntary mechanism that is applied for by the companies / suppliers themselves. PEFC auditors assess compliance with the PEFC International Chain of Custody Standard. They inspect the entire life cycle of the product, from the origins of the raw material (both at source and at delivery) to storage, material sorting operations and the veracity of any other certifications on the product.


Adherence to standards is assessed via documentation supplied by the company applying for the certification and some on-site inspections. Non-compliance, if any, must be resolved before the certification is issued, which is valid for three years. Annual surveillance audits are carried out in the interim.



While a PEFC certification ensures rigorous standards have been met in the production of the wood in its raw state, it will only be a responsible manufacturer who continues this chain of accountability. PEFC helps interested parties identify certified companies. Technotraf Wood Packaging is one of them.


Situated in Northern Spain, Technotraf manufactures wooden components for the beauty packaging industry, including perfume bottle and jar caps, boxes, compacts, lipstick shells and other elements. It pioneered the use of wood in fragrance packaging with the creation of the wooden cap for Burberry Touch in 2001. The company sources its wood from PEFC-certified suppliers, while ensuring that other materials used in the manufacture of its packaging solutions adhere to established standards relating to the environment. All residues are used for by-products such as MDF (medium density fibreboard), animal bedding and biomass fuels.


Technotraf’s woodturning and computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling machines are capable of working wood into an almost infinite variety of forms, sizes and thicknesses. The company works with a range of species, such as beech, ash, pine, maple, oak and cherry. Yet it is the finish of the wooden component that will render it with brand identity and positioning, such as the current trend for distressed and ‘weathered’ stains and finishes. Laser engraving, hot stamping, silk screening and pad printing can further elevate any wood-based packaging concept to one of eco-luxury and prestige.


Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, wood, even PEFC-certified wood, is not an expensive material to develop. Compared to making a bespoke mould, the creation of a prototype is straightforward and energy and manpower efficient – yet another one of wood’s eco-credentials.



From a marketing viewpoint, what does the use of wood bring to the consumer? While it is true that a wooden element will always be used in conjunction with another material, it will in itself bequeath a product with a sense of luxury, timelessness and elegance.


Traditionally, wood has been associated with products for the male market, but there are signs this is changing, and not only in the natural and unisex beauty product niches. In fact, Technotraf’s first project, Bur-berry Touch, included a variant for women. More recently, in summer 2012, Guerlain launched a bronzing powder compact with a wooden case varnished in an ebony colour, in tribute to a Riva yacht. In the masstige market, Rituals has produced a range of perfumes with wooden caps, and the French natural cosmetics company De Nos Jardins has done the same for massage oils and other treatments. The latter carries ECOCERT accreditation.


ECOCERT is one of the largest organic certification organisations in the world. Although it primarily certifies food and textile products, a set of standards for the natural cosmetics industry was created in 2003 – the first in existence. To be considered for ECOCERT certification, the actual product must adhere to standards regarding the use of ingredients from an organic origin processed in a manner that is respectful to the environment.


The packaging also comes into play, however, and must fulfil certain requirements of the ECOCERT standard. Using sustainable materials like wood helps towards fulfilling these requirements. More to the point, packaging an ECOCERT-certified beauty product in a pack using PEFC-certified components visibly heightens the product’s environmental qualifications.


However, even for non-organic brands, the addition of a wooden component to the packaging will add sensory appeal by default. Natural wood in the indoor environment has long been associated with an improved quality of life. Lately, there have been signs of this versatile material being put to ‘non-traditional’ and unexpected uses such as bicycle and sunglass frames, watches and even tablet cases.


In the recent past, the trend has been for ‘high-tech’ metallic surfaces; the return of natural wood in beauty packaging is a logical reaction to this. At the same time, it appeases the demand for environmentally-friendly alternatives, in tune with a new mindset for ‘responsible consumerism.’


While wooden components in cosmetics packaging always need a plastic insert to give them functionality, their addition is a big step towards cutting non-renewable content and increasing the overall ‘natural-ness’ of the product’s DNA.



In the cosmetics and beauty industry, it is a given fact that packaging is as important as the product inside. Innovative packaging concepts play a vital role in the consumer’s decision-making process (this is particularly true of ‘swing consumers’).

Consumer awareness of health and the environment has created a demand for organic products outside traditional food and drink sectors and into markets such as beauty and personal care.v Logically, when presented in a packaging concept using elements made of PEFC-certified wood, the eco-friendly perception of the product greatly increases. Customers ‘buy into’ a concept that is luxurious, timeless and ‘natural’. This is even true for non-organic beauty products.


As recent product launches have shown, wood is no longer confined to the ‘masculine’ market. In addition, project developers and designers are using the material in a number of surprising ways across the consumer market – widening its semiotic context from one of ‘heritage’ to one of ‘trendy modernity’.


Wood is a versatile, long-wearing material and production costs are favourable. When finished with a wide choice of decoration techniques and finishes, its creative possibilities are almost endless – in fact, the only thing wood cannot be is transparent.

By combining it with other eco-friendly materials such as cardboard and glass, it is helping to propel the beauty industry to greater levels of sustainability.


Wood is poised to make its long-term mark in the beauty packaging industry, not only as a response to years of ‘high-tech’ tendencies, but also because savvy consumers, who are increasingly aware and informed of eco-friendly alternatives, demand it.


i Appearance Wood Products and Psychological Well-being, Rice J, Kozak RA, Meitner MJ, Cohen DH. (2006)

ii ‘Wood and Carbon’

iii, ‘Forests for People’.


v Certified organic: moving beyond food and drink (part 3). Euromonitor. (May 2012)

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