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Exclusive interview

L’Oréal’s head of sustainability explains how the company leads the field in all things green

By Simon Pitman+

07-Nov-2014
Last updated on 10-Nov-2014 at 17:14 GMT2014-11-10T17:14:14Z

Photo, copyright L’Oréal Group
Photo, copyright L’Oréal Group

Alexandra Palt, chief sustainability officer for the L’Oréal Group, speaks with Cosmetics Design to give the company’s progressive take on all things concerning this increasingly crucial aspect of every good business model. In this exclusive interview we find out more about the rationale behind the company’s philosophy and how its sustainability initiatives will continue to evolve in the future.

The company has consistently been the top performing cosmetics business in the much respected annual Corporate Knight’s top 100 sustainable companies list, being placed 43rd overall for the 2013 edition , which put it well ahead of nearest rivals Johnson & Johnson and Unilever.

At the beginning of this year, the company raised its bar one step higher by committing to source 100% renewable raw materials from sustainable sources by 2020 and make sure that none of its products are linked to deforestation.

Every researcher is thinking of improving the environmental profile of the formulas.”

  • What are the principal challenges currently facing big cosmetics companies on sustainability?

One key challenge is to make sustainability a shared and desirable choice for all and a part of our lifestyle as a society.  At L’Oréal, our vision is to make beauty sustainable, and to make sustainability beautiful. All along our value chain, we are committed to improving the way we do business, from research to operations, from marketing to communication with the consumer.

  • How are consumer attitudes and awareness of sustainability helping to shape L’Oréal’s direction in this area?

Consumers are more and more interested in knowing about the impact of the products they buy, not only on environmental aspects but also with regards to social aspects. A majority of them also say they would spend more on sustainable products. However, research shows these good intentions are not always backed up by actions.It is our role to facilitate sustainable consumption, by offering consumers products that are desirable and sustainable at the same time. To overcome the barriers to sustainable consumption, we are working on three main areas. First, we are investing in sustainable innovation, making sure all of our products have environmental or social benefits. Secondly, we will empower consumers to make more informed choices by giving them the clear information they need. And, thirdly, we will use the influence and power of our brands to make sustainability not just the right choice, but the desirable choice.

  • What are the principal advantages to L’Oreal’s sustainability model?

First, our sustainability strategy Sharing Beauty With All, addresses the company’s entire value chain. It is based on four commitments: innovating sustainably, producing sustainably and living sustainably, and developing sustainably. Second, each of the four commitments is supported by concrete targets, which the Group aims to achieve by 2020. Therefore our performance in this area will be clearly quantifiable, measurable and verifiable.

  • Does following a sustainable business model serve to cut costs, or does it just add to overheads? What’s the bottom line?

Our strategy is to integrate the transformation to sustainability completely into the way we work. This transformation is not realized through isolated projects or initiatives but through a new and improved way of doing our job. Our CEO, Jean-Paul Agon, is convinced that this is the only possible future in order for the company to stay competitive and performing well.  For example, every researcher is thinking of improving the environmental profile of the formulas. He is responding this way to our sustainability targets but more importantly to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges of resource efficiency, water scarcity and other environmental and social challenges.

  • How do you counter arguments and accusations that sustainability is more about increasing company profits than anything?

Our strategy is based on our conviction that sustainability is essential and that it is bringing added value to consumers, communities and society as a whole. We believe that it is possible to create products that meet sustainable criteria as well as business objectives.

 

  • What is the most rewarding aspect of your job and what is the most challenging?

That is very personal. For me the most rewarding is to think that I have a small contribution to change the world. The most challenging is that sometimes you can have the impression that resistance to change is stronger than reason.

  • Will there be a time when sustainability is so ingrained in the business model it will no longer be treated as a separate entity?

At L’Oreal we aim for that. Sustainability becomes the way we do business – it impacts the way we design, manufacture and advertise our products in every brand, subsidiary, plant and country. The job of a chief sustainability officer should definitely disappear in the future.

 

Alexandra Palt will be the lead speakers at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit , which will be held in Paris, November 24 – 26. Alexandra will be the opening speaker on the first day of the programme, giving a presentation titled ‘Meeting The Sustainability Challenge’.

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