News Deeply, in partnership with Sustainable Brands, has produced a series of profiles looking at how brands are tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. The goal is to examine trends and gather insights from a new wave of corporate citizenship – in an era when the private sector is increasingly expected to play a positive role in improving our lives and societies. This is the 12th article in the series.
L'Oréal has significant goals when it comes to corporate sustainability, such as zero deforestation and a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. But the cosmetic giant believes it can also play a key role in influencing consumers to be more environmentally responsible.
“Very often the most important component to a sustainability program is the consumer,” said Jonathan Maher, director of sustainability for L’Oréal’s Consumer Products Division. “A consumer takes a very long, hot shower, it almost offsets all the other work you’re doing.”
As the world’s largest cosmetic company with well-known brands and products, L’Oréal is uniquely positioned to bring about change, Maher said. “Through our brand names, we have a relationship to individuals, and we must find a way to use that influence to create more sustainable lifestyles among our consumers,” he said.
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Maher recently spoke to News Deeply about L’Oréal’s approach to sustainability.
Could you give us an overview of your “Sharing Beauty with All” sustainability program and your 2020 objectives?
Jonathan Maher: “Sharing Beauty with All” is our strategy for how we will transform into a low-carbon business model. As the No. 1 beauty company in the world, we feel that if anyone can affect change within this industry, it should be us.
We see the way the world is changing; how environmental impacts and climate change affect our industry, our supply chains, our access to raw materials. We make beauty and personal care products, and we’re conscious of the fact that our products have real impacts and that we have to play a bigger role in trying to mitigate them.
The “Sharing Beauty with All” strategy consist of four pillars, which essentially make up our value chain:
- Innovating sustainably: This is how we design our products, from a formula standpoint and from a packaging standpoint. Currently, 82 percent of our new or renovated products have an improved environmental or social profile; by 2020, our target is to reach 100 percent.
- Producing sustainability: We have clear targets in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, water use and waste, and that applies to all of our facilities worldwide. For example, we have reduced water consumption in our plants and distribution centers 40 percent since 2005. Our goal is 60 percent reduction by 2020.
- Developing sustainably: This covers a number of mini-pillars, but essentially, it’s our supply chain. It can be anything from a creative agency to transport carriers. We set very specific targets for our suppliers, what we call our strategic suppliers, to make sure they have their own specific environmental targets and that they’re reporting those targets. These strategic suppliers currently represent 74 percent of our direct purchases (raw materials, packaging, etc), and we have a goal of 100 percent by 2020.
- Living sustainably: This is proving to be the most challenging pillar. We’ve talked about our products and our product lifecycle, we’ve talked about our manufacturing sites, we’ve talked about supply chain. But the actual consumer is a huge component, and you can make progress across every other rung, but very often the most important component is the consumer. Currently, 46 percent of our brands have conducted initiatives to raise awareness about sustainable consumption, and we want to reach 100 percent by 2020.
You mentioned that sustainability is a driver of innovation. Could you talk more about that?
Maher: It’s a very interesting catalyst. It has been challenging for our formulators and packaging teams to find ways to be sustainable, but the flip side is that it has also been very stimulating. It has introduced them to new ways and new ingredients and new techniques, so that in and of itself is good.
In educating our brand teams and our marketing teams about some of the new ways to think of products, sustainability has galvanized them, as well. They have really gotten excited about the potential of this, of how to position their brands, how to think about their notion of brand responsibility, how they want to be a brand in the future. Also, through the lens of innovation, we have discovered new raw materials that are innovative from a cosmetic standpoint and provide new social and environmental values.
What advice do you have for other companies looking to create a similar cycle between profit and purpose?
Maher: It starts with purpose. I think that’s very important, and I think that’s very clear at L’Oréal. There are technical questions here. There are also business questions, and that is really a question of developing a new consumer experience. Where purpose meets profit, I believe, is our ability to tie all those things in together.
Ultimately, what you’ve developed is a product that wins on all levels. It’s not enough just to say, “It’s a sustainable product.” You have to make sure it’s an excellent personal care and cosmetic product, as well. It also has to speak to consumers, and be sustainable from an economic standpoint. All of this is absolutely possible.