Can a beauty products company lead on sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR)? L’Oréal believes so. Last week the $26.8 billion dollar company released its sustainable development report and shared its progress from sustainability innovation to stakeholder engagement to philanthropy.
Just as the case with companies across other industries, L’Oréal boasts about its culture of “sustainable innovation.” And keeping true to its role within the cosmetics industry, the report, not surprisingly, is visually stunning. In fact, L'Oréal commissioned famous Hong Kong photographer Wing Shya for the report, and his photos grace page after page. But once readers sort past what at first appears to be an insert in Vogue or Glamour, L’Oréal’s report presents ideas on what companies within its industry can do to improve environmental, social and governance performance. From artificial skin to green chemistry and wind turbines, some of the changes occurring at L’Oréal may surprise you.
L’Oréal’s recent achievements include:
A return to plants. One could make the argument that L’Oréal is actually more of a technology company than a cosmetics manufacturer. Or make that a green tech firm. Last year while its scientists filed for over 600 patents, the company boosted the sourcing of plant-based materials for its products up to 55 percent. Meanwhile, L’Oréal is incorporating more green chemistry into its research: last year that figure stood at 45 percent.
Reconstructed biological tissue. R.B.T., the longer version of “artificial skin” has helped wean L’Oréal off of animal testing, a controversy that has long dogged the cosmetic industry. Last year, the company’s research and development center in Gerland, France produced 130,000 units of this tissue, double the amount of what this facility produced less than five years ago. The company’s biologists have shared the artificially manufactured skin tissue with hospitals so that they can improve the quality of skin grafts for burn victims. The company has also partnered with the Environmental Protection Agenxy (EPA) to find new research methods to make animal testing obsolete.
Waste. Never mind recycling: L’Oréal has worked on waste diversion on a variety of fronts. Testing for hair products that used to require several hundred grams of hair can now be localized to as little as 10 milligrams (0.0003 ounce) of hair. One of the company’s shampoo lines vastly reduced its waste in both the production of the actual product as well as its packaging. Packaging, integral to the branding and marketing of cosmetics, is also improving, with half of the company’s cardboard coming from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified sources. Since 2005, L’Oréal has also reduced its water consumption and transportable waste by almost one-fourth.
Clean energy. From methane gas in Belgium to wind power in Mexico, L’Oréal has invested in renewables to reduce fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions. The company has also installed solar installations at plants in China, India and New Jersey.
A holistic approach in Brazil. Brazil is L’Oréal’s third largest market and has become a hub where the company’s CSR initiatives come full circle. In addition to training its employees on business ethics and improving its management’s diversity, the company recruits at lesser known universities and outside of Brazil’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile its Brazilian operations have reduced its carbon emissions by over half, reduced energy consumption by 38 percent, and decreased water consumption and landfill waste. Just as beauty is more than skin deep, L’Oréal’s sustainability report is more than just a great layout and alluring pictures. Just like the fashion industry, cosmetic firms are starting to turn a corner. The devil may still wear Prada, but L’Oréal’s report pays far more attention to sustainability than a curt “That’s all.”
Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo of the company’s green packaging courtesy L’Oréal.
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.