While you can hardly watch the news or peruse the internet without seeing stories about climate change, water scarcity is still a topic that receives less airtime than it deserves.
World Vision estimates 785 million people lack access to clean water, and the Global Water Institute predicts up to 700 million people could be displaced by water shortages by 2030.
“Water is a finite resource, with research indicating that two thirds of the population will live in a water-shortage environment by 2035,” says Natassia Nicolao, founder of Australia’s first water-responsible skincare brand, Conserving Beauty. “We all need to seriously think about ways to reduce our water footprint and help converse water, as we can’t live without it.”
Nicolao launched the brand in Melbourne in November last year, inspired by her belief that waterless formulas could offer more – for the planet and its people.
Most beauty products contain 70 to 90 per cent water – not to mention the additional water footprint created through the supply chain to make each product. Yet Nicolao argues that the inclusion of water in beauty products doesn’t impact its efficacy as it can’t be absorbed through the skin. It’s often used as a filler to pad out products.
“Without water, the ingredients in our formulas aren’t diluted,” says Nicolao. “This means that not only are our precious natural resources never wasted, but also your results are never watered down.”
Conserving Beauty launched with just three products: the Sea You cleansing balm ($48), the Conserve You face oil ($55) and the Sea Your Glow mask ($50).
A qualified biochemist, Nicolao has worked for nutraceutical companies including Swisse Wellness and Elle Macpherson’s Welleco, as well as private equity fund The Foundry (which is one of the financial backers of Conserving Beauty).
“It became clear to me that the world didn’t need another beauty brand, but it did need a movement that could create change,” she says. “I found a way to merge my long-term love for beauty products with my passion for planet impact, using my science background and commercial experience to start Conserving Beauty.”
Nicolao approached the United Nations for guidance in supporting its Water Action Decade and sustainable development goals before she began formulating her products, which are free of palm oil, cruelty-free and vegan.
She then connected with Professor John Thwaites AM, who is a co-chair of the leadership council of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, who provided advice and support to her venture. Thwaites, who was Victoria’s first minister for climate change, is a global leader in sustainability development and water conservation, and is now chair of Climateworks Australia, which is helping the transition to net zero emissions by 2050.
“John shared his insights into water conservation and highlighted that the best way we can make an impact is by raising awareness and providing educational information within the beauty industry,” Nicolao tells Broadsheet.
Conserving Beauty is the first beauty member of the Water Footprint Network, a platform for companies and organisations to solve the world’s water crises. It allows Nicolao to track and sustainably manage her company’s water footprint.
“Being water-responsible means focusing on the entire water footprint of our products,” she says. “We start by formulating without water, but we go deeper into the supply chain and manage our water footprint at each stage.”
The brand is also the first global beauty partner of non-profit organisation Seatrees, which plants and protects coastal ecosystems through mangrove restoration projects. For each product purchased, Conserving Beauty plants a mangrove tree on Biak Island in Indonesia, helping to protect it from storm-surges and sea-level rise, and also providing sustainable employment for two villages on the island.
“We focus on the entire product life cycle, as true sustainability is about transparency, traceability and how we treat all the people in our ecosystem, as well as managing our water, carbon and waste footprint.”