Beauty may only be skin deep, but thanks to a new venture led by San Diego-based Geno, the beauty products that touch that skin will be a lot more sustainable.
Last month, Geno announced beauty product behemoth L’Oréal as the final founding partner in a yet-to-be-named venture to supplant surfactants made from palm oil or fossil fuels with more sustainable ingredients. L’Oréal joins previous global company partners Unilever and Kao Corporation.
“Welcoming L’Oréal to this incredible team of global brand heavyweights signifies just how important and urgent the need is for traceable, resilient and sustainable materials, at scale,” said Geno CEO Christophe Schilling. “This partnership will further catapult our venture’s mission to the global scale required to meet strong market demand for sustainable products.”
As the final partner in the new venture, L’Oréal will add further access to the $571 billion beauty and personal care market.
Combined, the four partners have an average annual revenue of more than $100 billion with products that reach billions of people.
Leading the ‘Materials Transition’
“There’s a lot of momentum in the materials transition,” said Sasha Calder, head of impact at Geno. “The demand for carbon is continuing to grow and what we’re asking at Geno is, ‘What’s the source of your carbon? Is it coming from unsustainable fossil-based sources or palm oil sources, and can you find a more sustainable source?’”
For the new venture, L’Oréal, Unilever and Kao will tap Geno’s biotechnology platform of engineered microorganisms that ferment plant sugars and produce sustainable surfactants – ingredients that go into personal care products, traditionally made from fossil fuels, palm oil and other less-sustainable sources.
“The demand for responsibly sourced palm oil is growing at an incredible rate,” Calder said, adding that the palm oil industry alone is a $6 billion market. “The volume for the needs of these surfactants is incredibly large and it’s our aim to play at a large scale to deliver the same materials – the same performance or better – but with anticipated carbon reduction of 50%, as well as looking to support responsible sourcing, transparency and traceability.”
Geno has set an ambitious goal for its technology of reducing global carbon emissions “by over 100 million tons in the upcoming years by targeting large-scale material markets,” Schilling said.
L’Oréal also set an ambitious sustainability goal of incorporating 95% bio-based ingredients for formulas and using packaging materials that are traceable and from sustainable sources by 2030.
“At L’Oréal, we believe that science has the power to create a better world, and we are committed to using our expertise to drive positive change in the beauty industry. That’s why we have made Green Sciences, our new scientific and sustainable revolution, the cornerstone of our research,” said Barbara Lavernos, deputy CEO in charge of Research, Innovation and Technology for L’Oréal. “We are thrilled to partner with Geno, whose unique approach to developing alternative biotechnology-based ingredients perfectly aligns with our vision of a more sustainable future.”
Supply Chain Resilience
In addition to achieving sustainability goals, Calder said the venture’s global partners are also looking for supply chain resilience for important ingredients that currently come from sources that may come into noncompliance with new EU standards discourage supply from deforestation, or any other future regulation.
Supply chain resilience is also a goal of the U.S. In late March, the Biden Administration released a report outlining a goal to produce at least 30% of the U.S. chemical demand via sustainable and cost-effective biomanufacturing pathways within 20 years. The goals are supported by more than $1 billion in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and follows the September 2022 executive order creating the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative.
Geno is already a major contributor to reaching these goals. The company’s technologies have already been proven at large commercial scale at a facility in Eddyville, Iowa where Cargill and HELM utilize Geno’s tech to biomanufacturer a substitute for 1,4-butanediol (BDO) – a precursor to spandex, foam and compostable plastics. The facility can produce around 100,000 metric tons of Bio-BDO annually.
Calder said the technology for the new venture with its global partners in the personal and home care products industries “has already reached pilot scale and the aim is to scale quickly.”
Business: Sustainability-driven biotech company
Headquarters: San Diego, UTC
CEO: Christophe Schilling
Notable: The combined revenue of the four partners in the new Geno-led venture exceeds $100 billion annually.