Words from Wiechers: Sustainability Yes, But of What?

Johann W. Wiechers, Ph.D.
Johann W. Wiechers, Ph.D.

You saw it everywhere at in-cosmetics: upcycled, green and eco-friendly iterations of cosmetic ingredients. So it seems the industry has made good headway in a sustainable direction. Tony O'Lenick tends to agree—with the caveat that we keep it up. Here, O'Lenick reviews cautionary advice on this topic given to us by the late Johann Wiechers, Ph.D.*


Perhaps the idea that has developed best since Johann's 2001 writings—in Chapter 7 of his book, Memories of a Cosmetically Disturbed Mind—is the concept of sustainability. Our industry has become more sensitive to, and is more proactive with, this sense of stewardship over our environment. However, we must continue this trend and further develop it.

Johann wrote: "Mankind has been given dominion over the earth. 'Let (man) rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air; over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'”

But he also admonished a famous quote from the Cree Indians: “Only after the last tree has been chopped, the last river has been poisoned...the last fish has been caught...will we realize that we cannot eat money.”

This warning exemplifies the concept of stewardship—an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. It can be applied to the environment and nature,1-3 economics,4, 5 health,6 property7 and information.8

Taking Responsibility

Stewardship is not only a corporate responsibility, it is an individual responsibility. I believe we as an industry now understand that our products and processes are things for which we must take responsibility.

Wiechers wrote, "Did you know that CO2 emissions in 2001 doubled from 1960, and will do so again by 2040? That the burning of fossil fuels has increased five times since 1950? That global freshwater availability has dropped from 17,000 cubic meters per capita in 1950 to 7,000 today? 

"That wild species are becoming extinct 50 to 100 times faster than they would naturally? That we have destroyed more than 30% of the world’s natural capital since 1970? Did you know that if we would all enjoy the lifestyle of the North Americans, we would need the resources of three Earths?"

"CO2 emissions in 2001 doubled from 1960, and will do so again by 2040."

Embracing a Mindset

The good news is, Wiechers believed we were becoming aware of these issues.

"Fortunately, we are gradually starting to realize that we are not dealing very well with our responsibility to look after our world and all that is on and in it. Clearly, we have looked well after ourselves but not after our environment. Nevertheless, we do turn to nature for new functional ingredients that we can incorporate into our cosmetic products."

Stewardship considers not only sustainability, impact on the environment, allocation of resources, and green concepts and chemistries, but their unification and adoption by the industry. And since improvements in stewardship will be incremental and ongoing, metrics should be established to measure our improvements and capabilities for applying these concepts.

For example, perhaps we should consider replacing the use of edible, sustainable, green triglycerides in cosmetic products with products based on their non-edible counterparts. This would seem to make sense in a world where too many people are still starving.

We also should continually review these concepts of stewardship and implement them one by one. We have improved since Wiechers first published on this in 2001 but we have a long way to go.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/stewardship
2. FS Chapin, III, GP Kofinas and C Folke, eds, Principles of Ecosystem Stewardship: Resilience-Based Natural Resource Management in a Changing World, Springer ISBN 978-0387730325 (2009) 
3. JC Hendee and CP Dawson, Wilderness Management: Stewardship and Protection of Resources and Values (3rd Edn), Fulcrum Publishing ISBN 978-1555918552 (2002)
4. P Block, Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest (2nd Edn), Berrett-Koehler Publishers ISBN 978-1609948221 (2013)
5. G Curtis, The Stewardship of Wealth, + Website: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors, Wiley ISBN 978-1118321867 (2012)
6. JS Robinson, MS Walid, C Aaron and M Barth, eds, Toward Healthcare Resource Stewardship: Health Care Issues, Costs and Access, Nova Science ISBN 978-1621001829 (2012) 
7. EE Meidenger, Laws and institutions, in RL Knight and P Landres, eds, Cross-Boundary Stewardship. Stewardship Across Boundaries, Island Press ISBN 978-1559635158 (1998) pp 87-110
8. National Academy of Sciences, Ensuring the Integrity, Accessibility and Stewardship of Research Data in the Digital Age, National Academies Press, ISBN 9780309147828 (2009)

Editor's note: Our "Words from Wiechers" series considers the lessons we can learn from the late Johann Wiechers, Ph.D. He was an advisor, colleague and insightful leader in the industry until his unexpected passing. Presenting Wiechers's insights is IFSCC Education Chair Anthony J. O'Lenick, Jr.

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