Innisfree’s My Real Squeeze Sheet Masks is listed as an eco-friendly sheet mask on some sites and remains a popular beauty product in Asia. However, I think Innisfree does not meet the sustainability goals they set out to achieve as a sustainable brand. The only sustainable factor worth mentioning is the biodegradable mask, and still, the lack of company transparency does not compel me to trust their assurances of being ‘sustainable.’ Their unrecyclable packaging, animal testing, and minimal efforts towards energy-saving manufacturing points towards corporate greenwashing. Given their resources, I think they can do much better. As a consumer, I would definitely think twice before purchasing Innisfree’s sheet masks — 20 minutes of masking is not worth the environmental damage!
Innisfree claims that the My Real Squeeze Sheet mask is “made from 100% biodegradable Eucalyptus fibers.” This shows some consideration of sustainability as Eucalyptus fibers are a more sustainable alternative than other mask materials. During the manufacturing process of cellulose fiber, eucalyptus wood is pulped and dissolved with the solvent amine oxide. Given that 99% of solvent can be recovered and reused, a closed-loop system in manufacturing cellulose fiber is possible. However, I couldn’t find any relevant information on Innisfree’s manufacturing process on the website and their 2019 Sustainability Report, so we don’t know if they adopted the aforementioned manufacturing process. There was also no mention of whether the eucalyptus was sustainably sourced. Hence, I cannot eliminate the possibility of eucalyptus coming from plantations with intensive monocultures that degrades local ecosystems. Furthermore, the ingredients include fragrances with compounds of unknown origins. It’s important to note, however, that many synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals, which create greenhouse gases. Due to Innisfree’s lack of transparency, I’m only giving 0.5 planets as a mere nod to its biodegradable mask.
The majority of sheet masks are locally manufactured in Korea, which is supposedly more sustainable right? However, when we consider Innisfree’s large number of international stores across Asia and North America, large carbon emissions occur with so much product shipping. Innisfree also does not consider the life cycle of these single-use sheet masks. While the mask is biodegradable, its packaging consisting of aluminum and plastic is not recyclable. This means the product’s post-use waste will probably end up in the oceans, or landfills at best, and decompose into harmful microplastics. That’s a lot of ecological impact for just 20 minutes of beautification!
Furthermore, Innisfree’s parent company, Amorepacific, initially established Innisfree as a sustainable brand. However, this brand image contradicts their practices as Innisfree is not cruelty-free. Although Innisfree claims to have banned in-house animal testing, they sell their products in China, where animal testing on imported cosmetics is required by law. To further understand their sustainability initiatives, I dug through Amorepacific’s Sustainability Report for 2019 and CSR highlights. Innisfree’s main highlights include their GreenCycle campaign, which collects plastic bottles and upcycles them. While I acknowledge their efforts, I feel that Innisfree could have reduced its reliance on plastic packaging to begin with. This is also relevant in light of their ‘paper bottle’ controversy, where they wrapped a plastic bottle with a paper label captioned “HELLO, I’M PAPER BOTTLE.” I also discovered that only 96 of their hundreds of products implement energy-saving emulsion processes. As Amorepacific is an industry giant in Korea’s beauty industry, I think Innisfree can stand to implement greener manufacturing processes with its resources. Factoring in the emissions from product shipping, single-use nature of the product, and unsustainable packaging, I’m giving 0 planets for this section.
I went through Amorepacific’s Sustainability Report for 2019 to examine Innisfree’s labor practices. Overall, the report mentioned many positive workplace practices. The practices I particularly liked include educating employees on global market trends for professional development and increasingly hiring disabled employees; the other highlights were ad hoc campaigns for workplace safety and employee morale. However, I have a gripe with their section on conscious business partnerships. Innisfree’s report stated a 92% ratio of suppliers that meet the ‘good performance’ sustainability assessment in 2019 compared to 63% in 2017, but does not include further details on their sustainability assessment. Apart from their vague assessments, their 34% female representation in management seems lacking too.
To expand this section’s scope beyond Innisfree’s perspective, I scoured Glassdoor reviews from USA, Malaysia, and Singapore to bring Innisfree employees’ voices to you. Since Innisfree has so many international outlets, reviews are quite mixed. Nonetheless, employee reviews share a common thread: retail employees have good camaraderie between themselves while their management micromanages employees and blames them for low sales rather than their poor marketing efforts. Many retail employees also mentioned being overworked on low pay. These aren’t the best signs of a company that claims to create a “Great Workplace.” Taking into consideration employee complaints and possibly performative stances for diversity and inclusion, I’d settle for 0.7 planets — Innisfree’s headquarters might have made good efforts, but they fall short in their retail outlets.