Olivia at graduation

Alumni Insight – Working in Sustainable Cosmetics

Today, we are delighted to share our #ECOWeek19 guest blog post from University of Edinburgh Alumnus, Olivia Sweeney, a Creative Buyer for Aroma Chemicals who looks after the synthetic ingredients for the fragrances at Lush.

I graduated in July 2017 with an MEng Chemical Engineering (Hons) and was very fortunate to secure my current role with Aroma Chemicals in the same week.


There were no academic prerequisites for my current role. However, having a Masters in Chemical Engineering definitely helped me get it. As it’s a new role, I have had the freedom to make the role my own; into what I think best serves the business. What also helped secure this role was my ability to show my passion and commitment to ethical and environmentally friendly practise through my internships – all tailored towards green/sustainable development. Even though these were all very different and not related to cosmetics, they clearly showed my dedication to this field of work, and my willingness to try new things. This breadth of experience also meant I could bring a unique viewpoint to Lush.

I look after the synthetic ingredients for the fragrances at Lush; this could involve sourcing, buying, creating or finding new ingredients. It could also entail developing the production method either in house or with a partner; all of this within the guidelines of our ethical, environmental and non-animal testing policy.

I am technically office based – a Lush office is not a traditional office though! We have a greenhouse, bean bags, swings, beer fridge on a Friday afternoon and the world’s smallest disco! Lush works with partners and supports lots of other groups so we often have talks with them too, which is a great way to learn beyond your immediate job role!

My working week is very varied. I spend a fair amount of my time on my laptop, researching or answering emails, in meetings, or training. However, at least once a week I will go to our manufacturing site which allows me to talk to our Quality Control team to understand any issues, or talk about new materials I have sent them. It also allows me to check how production is running because part of my job is to make sure we always have sufficient stock to support production. Depending on what I am working on, I may also spend time doing more hands-on development work or travel to see the various materials I work with.

The Cosmetics industry is huge (£168 billion) and Lush is a very small rather maverick player within that field. So, my insights into the industry are limited. But I can say that green, as with a lot of other industries, is moving forward. Transparency with the supply chain and allowing customers to know exactly what they are buying from, where and how this is sustainable/regenerative, is really important. Also, trying to use ingredients that are sourced from a non-exploitative manner, which positively impact the environment and the people doing working to generate this is equally important.

There has been a shift towards inclusivity within the Cosmetics industry with the availability of products that are not just for the previously narrow beauty standard. The industry is trying to make all feel welcome and some are succeeding more than others. The influence of YouTube and beauty online has created a massive shift over the last decade and this has become much more the norm with companies such as Glossier, Dr and Pixi.

If you are interested in a career in the Sustainability and/or the Cosmetics sector, my top tips are:

  • Ways into the cosmetic sector are vast – it depends which part of this you want to join. A degree is not necessary, but to become involved in the regulatory side or more of the technical element, a Cosmetic Formulation masters is available and definitely a great addition.
  • Finding a place in the green/sustainable business sector is again just as broad. I think having a technical/engineering degree is always a help as these skills can help to bring visions and concepts into practise whilst ensuring that they wholly create a positive impact and aren’t secretly a worse alternative!

Either of these fields of work can allow you to travel the world and meet diverse people who have unique experiences of the world and ideas of what its future should be.

Oliva has also featured in the most recent round of This is Engineering videos on how she brings sustainable thinking to modern cosmetics – watch this short video here.

(Copyright Olivia Sweeney)

(Copyright Olivia Sweeney)


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