When it comes to the environment, society at large has increasingly become more and more conscious of how important it is to preserve the health and well-being of not only ourselves but our planet, too. From auto emissions to the effects of eating meat, the daily decisions we all have to make leave a mark in the form of humanity’s carbon footprint. But with knowledge and education comes the ability to begin changing practices now for the collective greater good. 

With that in mind, Erno Laszlo has committed to make our own Clean Promise by eliminating potentially harmful ingredients from our formulas and updating our packaging to meet our clean, safe, and sustainable standards. We’re also committed to transparency around the whole process, which is why we sat down with our CEO Charles Denton to talk all things clean and sustainable.

Why did you decide to take Erno Laszlo down the clean ingredient route? 

It was driven by popular demand, but it didn’t happen overnight. We drew up our first list of non-permissible ingredients back in 2009. And over the years, we have been deleting various chemicals and preservative systems where they have been deemed to be potentially harmful. Up until recently, however, our non-permissible list only applied to new products. Then about two years ago we decided that it was time to go all the way back and took a comprehensive assessment of our entire line to reformulate where necessary. We investigated all the clean standards that retailers and other brands had adopted and went even further, deleting over 50 ingredients. At the beginning of 2021, our range will be one of the cleanest in the entire beauty 

industry while ensuring we deliver the efficacy and results for which we are known.

Can a heritage brand be clean or be seen as clean?

I don’t think people will seek out Erno Laszlo because it’s clean. They’ll champion the brand and buy our products because they work. That’s what we’re known for, our efficacy comes first. But I do think more and more people care about what a brand stands for. What’s their policy on formulating without harmful chemicals? Do they test on animals? How do they treat their employees and suppliers? Where do the ingredients come from? Are they sustainable? All these values matter and it’s important to set standards and communicate them to your consumers. I believe influential heritage brands have a responsibility to take the lead and help encourage others to change. If a brand like ours – with over 90 years of history – can evolve and become a leading force in clean and sustainable beauty, anyone can.

How many products are you reformulating?

Over 30 products from our back catalog. All the new products we have introduced already comply with our strict clean standards. In the end, ALL of our products will meet 100% of our Clean Promise.

How do you ensure that the formulas continue to deliver results?

This has been the most challenging aspect of the exercise and is one of the reasons why we didn’t attempt the project earlier. We had to wait for the science to catch up with our ambition. Five years ago, the proven high-efficacy actives were not readily available. As the demand for clean has increased, so has the research and development. It has taken us two years to develop this new clean range using the very latest technology available. We’re extensively testing our formulations both clinically and among our long-term advocates to ensure they deliver on their promise. But it hasn’t been easy.

How many products are you discontinuing?

We have been discontinuing and introducing new products from day one. Dr. Laszlo wasn’t a man to sit on his laurels. As a scientist, he was always seeking out the latest and improved technologies. It’s important to lead with the science and innovate and evolve as the needs of our consumers change. There are always going to be some fans who miss their favorite serum or moisturizer, but for the most part the majority have welcomed and enjoyed the new ranges. 

Let’s shift gears to another topic – sustainability. What is Erno Laszlo doing for the Earth?

This is another very important initiative for our company. Last year we conducted a plastics scan and analyzed our full line of packaging, weighing its impact on the environment from cradle to grave. From this insight we drew up a Resin (plastics) Sin list, similar to what we did for product ingredients. Our approved list includes resins with a known, and viable, recycle stream, such as glass, aluminum, HDPE, and PP. We have already made a number of significant improvements. But these are easy wins. Ultimately, we would like to own and operate a closed loop recycle stream to recover our own plastic waste for repurposing into new packaging that will wind up back in the hands of our consumers. We will be testing this concept through the launch of our new soap dish which will be made from unused (pre-consumer waste) old soap dishes. We’ve set out a clear mandate which culminated with us signing up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and New Plastics Economy, which commits us to reaching our goals by 2025 – if not before. 

What inspired you to take this big leap forward? Do you only buy clean products for yourself and/or your family?

I try to champion the consumer, and the actions we’ve taken is on their behalf. People want to use luxurious, high-efficacy products without worrying that they may contain nasties which could harm them or their families. At home, we’ve always tried to eat well, stay organic where possible, and drink plenty of water. For household cleaning, we are eco-friendly. In the bathroom cabinet, it’s leaning more in the direction of clean. For the kids I’d say we’re 100% compliant with clean. But for us adults, it’s not exclusive. I like to try out new products from all over the world, but I tend to stay with my Laszlo favorites as my regulars. One additional point to mention is this drive towards clean is a company-wide initiative. I have my viewpoints, but it’s also the passion of my team and staff that drive these conversations into realities. When you look around the office and start opening the dialogue you can learn so much. Those conversations from two years ago is why we are here today.  

What do you think the future will bring?

Trust and proof are two words I think we’ll see used more and more. How can I trust this brand and/or this product? How can you prove what you’re telling me is true? Socially, we’ve seen the huge rise of influencers – partly as a result of this need. They have done a great job mythbusting, outing bad practices and filling the communication gap between brands and their customers. But one could argue that the brands should be in a more direct conversation and if they were, perhaps trust and proof would be less of an issue. I can see brands pushing their agendas further, pushing their purpose beyond selling products and maximizing profits. I can imagine that while at one end of the spectrum we have clean, at the other we’ll see more advances in age-prolonging technology, some of which will be the opposite of clean. For Laszlo we’ll continue to sit somewhere in the middle, embracing new breakthroughs and bringing them to market if we believe they can truly deliver great results safely.

In this shift towards clean products in North America, do you see the rest of the world following suit?

In markets like China, especially in the major cities, they have to deal with issues like high levels of pollution. There’s plenty of discussion taking place around this topic and the related health and well-being challenges they face. Over the last two years this has been primarily related to food security, but I expect this will soon translate into beauty as well. But just as in North America, the efficacy of the product still comes first. Can I trust it to deliver the results? This is still the first question and I don’t see this changing for some time.