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Estée Lauder and ISS Announce Sustainability Challenge Winners

August 4, 2022
August 4, 2022
NASA via Unsplash

After being the first-ever beauty brand to enable business opportunities on the International Space Station and partnering on the ISS’s National Laboratory Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics in November 2021, today marks the latest chapter in Estée Lauder’s space-capades. Estée Lauder and the ISS have announced the two winners that will not only receive up to $1 million in funding from Estée Lauder, but also further their mission in finding plastic alternatives aboard the ISS lab: Dr. Katrina Knauer of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the BOTTLE Consortium, and Dr. Stephen Meckler of the Palo Alto Research Center, Inc. “The ISS National Lab is deeply impressed by the winning concepts selected for our Sustainability Challenge: Beyond Plastics,” comments Christine Kretz, Vice President of Programs and Partnerships for the ISS National Lab. “We are proud to make this special announcement with our partners at Estée Lauder—without their generous support, this challenge would not be possible.”

Dr. Knauer’s proposal, “No Carbon Left Behind: Biological Recycling of Plastic Waste,” explores whether bacteria strains that degrade plastics and produce polymer building blocks are affected by microgravity and space radiation. The outcomes of this research could be the building blocks for a new recycling mechanism, especially for mixed-plastic recycling that could be upcycled or made into higher-value materials.

With the project “Microgravity Synthesis of Aerogel Copolymers,” Dr. Meckler will harness the power of aerogels to remove carbon dioxide from the air, and will be testing their ability in the microgravity environment aboard the ISS, free from sedimentation and gravity-driven convection. The findings could help ensure better uniformity and higher carbon dioxide capture rates among the aerogels, which in turn present a potential oil replacement in the production of plastics.

Kretz explains that the two winning projects were chosen due to their reliance on the space station as their designated testing venue in the search for plastic alternatives. The teams also worked alongside hardware partners that will provide engineering services on the space station to ensure an optimal follow-through with their concepts. “With our focus on this challenge geared towards plastics alternatives, the hope is both of these investigations will further technologies that address the plastics dilemma on our planet,” she notes. “The level of involvement to ensure the selection of compelling and meaningful science from the Estée Lauder team has been incredible. They have been a fantastic partner to work with during this journey, and we look forward to continued collaboration with their team as we near these projects launching to the ISS.”

Stéphane de La Faverie, Group President at The Estée Lauder Companies and Global Brand President at Estée Lauder, adds: "We are honored to be the exclusive partner of ISS National Lab's Sustainability Challenge and are inspired by the vision and potential impact of the two winning projects as they pursue research to discover plastics alternatives. As a global leader in the beauty industry, at Estée Lauder, we are committed to furthering scientific research and innovation to advance our sustainability efforts across the business. We are excited to be part of an initiative that could be truly transformative for our brand, our beloved consumers, and the future of our planet."

In addition, Estée Lauder has announced an update on its earthbound initiatives to do better for the planet. 75-100% of packaging will fulfill one of the five R’s (recyclable, refillable, reusable, recycled, or recoverable) by 2025, with the goal of reducing virgin petroleum plastic packaging to 50% or less by 2030. Refillable options have been launched across skincare, cosmetics, and fragrance products, including the Revitalizing Supreme+ moisturizer, which through being sold in a recyclable glass jar with refill pod options reduces up to 3.7 million kilograms of CO2e emissions, 6.5 million gallons of waste, and 375,000 pounds of plastic.

As with space travel, plenty of potential opportunities lie ahead, with the ISS National Lab intending to bring further companies into similar Sustainability Challenges in the future. As Kretz explains: “Opening access and opportunity through unique partnerships and solicitations like this enables greater potential for scientific gains that benefit humanity, and we look forward to working with the selected project teams as they prepare their research for space flight.”


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