Emma Lewisham

The circular, Climate Positive New Zealand brand changing the face of the global beauty industry

December 21st, 2021


  • The global cosmetics industry produces an estimated 120 billion units of packaging every year.  

  • Emma Lewisham has developed refillable packaging solutions and a global take-back program to keep products in circulation, reduce carbon emissions and eliminate waste.

  • The company's reusable pods and pouches reduce customer carbon emissions by up to 74% compared to buying a new product.

You may have seen Emma Lewisham's distinctive purple bottles popping up on your social media feed alongside impressive sustainability credentials. Unlike countless other products vying for your attention with similar environmental claims, Emma Lewisham is the real deal. The Aotearoa-based beauty company has developed refillable product packaging and a global take-back system to keep its products in use. Each product is also certified Climate Positive, meaning the company removes more emissions from the atmosphere than it emits during the production process.   

The company's co-founder and CEO Emma Lewisham is not just interested in having an impact at a brand level either, she wants to change the entire beauty industry. That's why she took the unprecedented move of sharing the company's intellectual property including circular packaging designs, sterilising processes, recycling and returns processes, packaging supplier connections, take-back procedures and carbon calculation guides. This is the kind of bold action required to fast-track the circular transition.   

Below, Emma shares her vision for a beauty industry that leaves the world better than we found it.  


"Emma Lewisham is a New Zealand made and owned skincare brand that provides luxury, scientifically-backed skincare that is Climate Positive, circularly designed and 100 per cent natural. We are showing leadership in the movement towards a circular and climate positive beauty industry, where refills, recycling and regeneration are simply responsible business practices. We are proudly the world's first beauty brand to have 100 per cent circular designed products that are certified Climate Positive at a product level.  

Profits, to me, are only rewarding if they don't come at an expense to the planet or people. Climate scientists estimate that we have less than ten years left to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis. We no longer have the luxury of time, and I simply cannot turn a blind eye. I have a young daughter, and on a personal level, I just can't imagine not doing everything in my power to ensure that I am creating a better future for her. I truly believe we can thrive by giving more than we take; that we can profit from preventing problems, not creating them. And I believe that circularity is a significant part of the solution."


"Our products are built on a foundation of sustainability as I believe this is the only responsible way to do business. We are in a climate crisis and any product that is created in today's world should be helping to build a better one. When you see something that is broken and creating damage, I think you can either choose to accept it and be a bystander, or you can choose to change it. I chose the latter, because as a business and individual I want to create lasting value, and only grow while having a positive impact.  

The Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle is our global take-back program for refilling and recycling, to keep our packaging in circulation and reduce carbon emissions. We offer refills for all our products. When you purchase our refill pods or pouches, instead of a new product, you reduce your carbon emissions by up to 74 per cent. For any refill pod or pouch that we cannot sterilise and reuse, we ensure it is recycled through TerraCycle.  

Through this process we aim to significantly reduce virgin packaging produced, therefore reducing carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels; reuse our materials and keep them within a closed-loop system through the process of sterilising, refilling and reselling them; and recycle any materials we cannot reuse to eliminate waste.”  

The problem:  

"It is estimated that the cosmetics industry globally produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year. This packaging is the industry's single largest contributor of carbon emissions, as despite some packaging being 'technically' recyclable it is often hard to recycle plastic in reality. This means almost all beauty packaging ends up either incinerated, sent to landfill or out in the environment."

The solution:  

"To solve these problems, we invested heavily into the research and development of circular packaging and processes to ensure all products are refillable and recyclable. We developed two packaging solutions — refill pods and pouches. 79 per cent of our packaging utilises the refillable pods made from recycled plastic that when empty, can be removed, replaced and sent back to us to be sterilised and refilled. The remaining 21 per cent of our products are refillable using our refill pouches, that once emptied into the original vessel, are sent back to us for recycling through TerraCycle.  

We also have a product level Climate Positive certification for all our formulations, meaning that for each product, we remove more carbon emissions from the atmosphere than we emit in its production, creating a 'positive' environmental impact. To achieve this, after reducing each product's inherent carbon footprint as much as possible, we then offset our remaining carbon emissions by 125 per cent through our certification agency Toitū.  

We identified that placing collaboration over competition could expedite the industries transition to a circular and climate positive model, so we chose to share our IP with competitors industry-wide.


"In developing our circular packaging, the initial step was to thoroughly educate ourselves on the principles and hierarchy of priorities within the circular economy. This created clarity that our focus needed to be first and foremostly on refills. The next step was researching and developing refillable packaging solutions.  

As a business, our priority when it comes to circularity is always refills. However, for any material that cannot be refilled it was critical that we found a specialised recycling partner who could guarantee that this packaging is recycled and doesn't end up in landfill. We have a long-standing partnership with the global recycling company TerraCycle.   

There was no roadmap to follow in becoming a circular designed, luxury skincare brand as any existing refillable packaging designs were patented by large multinational corporations. Therefore, we had to reimagine our business processes, technology and product packaging to develop circular solutions from scratch. This required investment in both time and capital. Recognising that this capital investment presents the largest barrier for small businesses implementing a circular model of beauty, we have released our packaging IP, hoping that other brands can capitalise off our innovation and investment to fast-track their transition. 

We released our IP for our 100 per cent circular designed product packaging and Climate Positive business model, to enable small and large competitors alike to capitalise from our investment and to start making widespread change within the beauty industry. This IP includes refill designs, sterilising processes, recycling and returns processes, packaging supplier connections, take-back procedures and carbon calculation guides. We believe businesses are uniquely placed to drive change and possess the power to use their resources for good and we are keen to welcome other like-minded brands on the journey with us.   

For our Climate Positive certification, the foundational step was to thoroughly understand every tier of our supply chain, ensuring we had full traceability of every ingredient right back to where it was grown. This was time consuming work, as this level of transparency is not common in the beauty industry, however it's not only crucial to our carbon mapping journey, but essential in ensuring the highest level of ethical and environmental standards across our supply chain. The next step was to find a reputable third-party organisation who was able to support us through our carbon mapping process, then audit our findings and provide us with certification. We chose to use leading certification agency Toitū Envirocare. 

To facilitate the return of our empty packaging, we developed the Emma Lewisham Beauty Circle (ELBC) take-back program. Customers follow easy return steps for their location and send us back a minimum of four Emma Lewisham product vessels at any time. We specify a minimum of four vessels per return simply to reduce carbon emissions from multiple shipments. 

We have also set up a third-party logistics (3PL) distribution location in Australia — our second largest market after New Zealand — to aid in reducing our distribution-related emissions. International 3PLs enable us to sea freight stock in bulk that can then be distributed locally, minimising our air freight. We also use them to receive, filter and return empty packaging from the ELBC. TerraCycle has factories globally so any material for recycling is sent to their closest factory, allowing us to keep this process local to each region and removing the need to ship packaging around the world for recycling. Packaging that can be refilled is consolidated by our 3PL and returned to us via sea freight. We are also currently setting up 3PLs in Europe and North America.  

A big challenge we face on our circularity path is that we use virgin plastic for our primary packaging. Although our packaging is circular once produced, and we include recycled plastic in our packaging, we would like to find a solution that moves us away from virgin plastic entirely. We are currently exploring alternative materials.  

Another key challenge to complete circularity is getting all empty packaging back from customers. We recognise that our customers play a crucial role in enabling our products to live out the circular lifecycle they have been designed for. It doesn't matter how perfectly designed our refillable packaging is, if it isn't coming back to be refilled, it isn't truly circular. However, this also presents the opportunity for us to solidify Emma Lewisham as an industry leader in educating customers on the importance of circularity, the role they play and the positive impact they can have through participation in programs such as the ELBC." 


"To date we have saved over 350 kilograms of cosmetic packaging from going to landfill through TerraCycle. Our refillable options account for 20-25 per cent of our sales from April-July 2021, and this is growing month on month. We expect this to continue to rise as more customers make repeat purchases and no longer need to purchase the original master vessel.  

According to the research undertaken by Toitū, when a customer chooses to purchase one of our refill pods/pouches this results in up to 74 per cent lower carbon emissions compared to a virgin vessel. In addition to this emissions reduction, our refillable packaging solutions reduce energy use by up to 60 per cent and water use by up to 45 per cent.    

Financially, through the numbers and the modelling that we've done, we believe that our initiative will be cost neutral in our first year. Because our waste has value, we believe there can be profit made from this type of activity once it is scaled. To date we have invested $250,000 to develop our circular systems, including redesigning our packaging, investing in refillable moulds and setting up shipping returns systems. We have built up a substantial amount of IP here, which we have shared with our industry peers.  

Our next big goals are to halve our products' inherent carbon footprints by 2023 and cut them to virtually zero by 2030. In addition to our Climate Positive product certification, we are currently working through an organisational level certification with Toitū. As part of our sustainability strategy, we also have targets around influencing our supply chain to use 100 per cent renewable energy and achieve carbon-zero certifications. This in turn will help us to decrease our products' inherent carbon footprints and decrease our impact.  

We are also now proud to say that we are a B Corp Certified organisation. This demonstrates that we are a business that balances purpose and profit — one that is committed to considering the impact of our decisions on our workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.  

We intend to provide an annual, publicly available report on our circularity progress including figures on the number of refillable pods returned to us, the numbers we refill and recirculate and the quantity of packaging we recycle through TerraCycle. We will be setting ourselves targets on the above in 2022, after we have one year's worth of data to analyse and can use this as a benchmark for yearly reporting.   

Finally, we are dedicated to leading and influencing the beauty industry towards a circular, climate positive and transparent future so we will continue to share our IP and innovations in the hope we can help accelerate this transition. We hope to see a beauty industry where we are solving problems side by side, sharing resources and collaborating for the greater good.   

To me, being a leader and pioneer in the beauty industry comes down to thriving by giving more than we take and profiting from preventing problems, not creating them. I founded Emma Lewisham to set a new benchmark in beauty and, having only been on the market for 24 months, I'm so proud of what we have been able to achieve from Aotearoa in this short time."

Call To Action

"Our advice to similar businesses wanting to become circular is to start by reading through our Beauty Blueprint, which can be found here. We have compiled step-by-step processes for becoming both climate positive and circularly designed. For any additional or more detailed information we encourage businesses to get in touch. Although we are the first business to achieve a climate positive and circular model of beauty, we don't want to be the last. Our intention is that our initiatives will scale far beyond us.  

If you are a customer, remember that you have so much more power than you might realise. The market economy is currently the biggest force we have that can shift human behaviour rapidly, and consumers are the driving force behind it. Ask questions of your favourite beauty brands. Ask when they will be offering refills and putting in place take-back programs for refills and recycling. Ask when they plan to map their carbon emissions so that carbon numbers can help you make more informed purchasing decisions. If you have the privilege of choice, choose to vote with your wallet for the type of world you wish to see and never underestimate the power of an informed and educated customer." 

For more information visit emmalewisham.com.au.  

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