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Tina Casey headshot

100% Renewable Energy: If L'Oreal Can Do It, So Can You

By Tina Casey

Despite the sharp political divide between renewable energy and fossil fuel advocates, so-called "red" states are emerging as wind and solar leaders in the U.S. That's a significant development because it provides more flexibility for companies that are looking for opportunities to decarbonize. They can search right-leaning states as well as left-leaning ones for clean energy investments while taking advantage of workforce, logistics, supply chain and other other bottom line areas.

L'Oreal USA is a case in point. Last week the company issued its 2016 Progress Report, announcing that it has achieved 100 percent renewable electricity for its manufacturing plants in the U.S. The feat was accomplished primarily through renewable energy projects in three states that are not generally associated with a favorable political environment for action on climate change.

L'Oreal invests in green energy, reaps greenbacks

The report chronicles steps that the company has taken toward meeting the goals outlined in its "Sharing Beauty With All" sustainability strategy. Inside, the cosmetics giant pushes back against the notion that decarbonization is an economic depressant.

Globally, the report charts a 67 percent decrease in L'Oreal's overall carbon emissions compared to a 2005 baseline. Rather than shrinking its output, the company grew production by 29 percent over the same time period.

The achievement is all the more notable because the company's initial global target was a 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

Harvesting clean energy from red states

The new report underscores L'Oreal's determination to position itself as a global sustainability leader. Here's the money quote from Alexandra Palt, the company's Chief Sustainability Officer:
"...All sustainability program reflects the innovative spirit that is hard at work at L’Oréal, especially in the United States. We remain committed to being a sustainability leader here and around the world, and look forward to exceeding our goals in the future.”

To underscore the point, L'Oreal went big for its 100 percent renewable electricity achievement.

The company's largest manufacturing site globally (measured by tons of output) and its largest U.S. site is in Florence, Kentucky. That facility has now become the home of Kentucky's largest commercial solar array.

L'Oreal can also lay claim to the fourth largest solar array in Arkansas (and the third largest commercial one), at its Little Rock site. In operation for 40 years, the facility illustrates how older businesses -- and conservative states -- can transition to more sustainable technology.

Wind also gets a shout-out from L'Oreal, with a 12-turbine installation at its distribution center in Texas, where the wind energy industry has been nurtured along with the help of a major wind transmission line.

Covering all the bases

L'Oreal's path to 100 percent renewable electricity illustrates how companies can leverage high profile projects for good publicity. The achievement also demonstrates that companies can reach the 100 percent goal by taking advantage of other opportunities that are not as eye-catching from a public relations angle.

To reach the 100 percent mark, L'Oreal also purchased renewable energy credits. The company also has 14 existing renewable energy installations in the U.S., making a total of 17 with the three most recent additions.

In terms of the company's overall sustainability efforts, there is still much to be done. However, the U.S. clean energy buys helped L'Oreal reach -- and beat -- its initial goal of a 60 percent reduction in total carbon emissions by 2020, four years ahead of schedule.

Other highlights of the report include a 48 percent drop in water use globally, and a 35 percent reduction in waste (per finished product) since 2005.

The company is also transitioning to recycled packaging, for example in its Biolage R.A.W. and Garnier Fructis lines.

A 100-day message for U.S. President Donald Trump

Coincidentally or not, L'Oreal and many other major companies (Salesforce is another good example) have been communicating strong, positive messages about climate action during the first 100 days of the Trump Administration.

Political observers have noted that the Trump Administration is having trouble coming up with an impressive list of achievements during his first 100 days, but the solution is at hand: simply repackage existing clean energy programs and stamp them with the Trump brand.

He wouldn't be the first. After all, former U.S. President Barack Obama is widely credited with progress on renewables and energy efficiency, and his programs evolved from the nation's existing national laboratories and research programs.

L'Oreal doesn't straight up advise President Trump to start taking credit for existing programs, but the company's press release for the new progress report includes a strong pitch for the EPA Energy Star efficiency program, which began back in 1996, and the EPA Green Power Partnership, which launched in 2001.

The company also notes that it is on board with at least one initiative for which President Obama can claim complete credit, the American Business Act on Climate Change. The initiative attracted scores of leading U.S. companies when it launched in 2015, in the lead up to the Paris climate talks.

Interestingly, it appears that President Trump may be moving in the direction of clean energy re-branding.

His Department of Energy is facing the budget axe, but meanwhile it has been pouring forth a flood of news about its clean energy programs and activities.

Hopefully initiatives like this one from L'Oreal will continue to make the business case for sustainable action.


Image: via L'Oreal.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey