In 2021, there’s a great awareness among consumers of the impact a company can have in building a better, sustainable world – for the benefit of both people and planet.
The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) has a long history of embedding social impact and sustainability across its operations and leveraging the power of its brands to drive meaningful impact. Since its founding 75 years ago, holding fast to its values has been central to the company’s success. Amidst rapid industry shifts and rising societal challenges, it’s these enduring values that have provided the company the courage and confidence to adapt, and deliver the innovation, strategy and commitment the moment demands.
Now, ELC is bringing its legacy into the future and taking its commitments a step further — as a Beauty Inspired, Values Driven business. This is ELC’s promise to accelerate progress in areas of strategic importance to its business and stakeholders, with commitments to inclusion, diversity and equity, social investment and environmental responsibility, delivering long-term value and helping to bring positive impact to global communities.
Here, Nancy Mahon, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at The Estée Lauder Companies, discusses the company’s role in advancing social and environmental impact both within its business and the beauty industry, a vision for a better future and putting actions behind promise.
Fairchild Media Group: The Estée Lauder Companies and its diverse portfolio of prestige beauty brands have a long-standing commitment to leading with purpose and values. Can you share more about that?
Nancy Mahon: I often tell people that The Estée Lauder Companies is a different kind of company. Since our founding 75 years ago, the company and its portfolio of brands have been deeply committed to helping drive a positive impact in our global communities. It’s incredible to step back and see the impact of those longstanding efforts today.
To give just two examples, The Breast Cancer Campaign has raised more than $99 million globally funding lifesaving research, education and medical services, while the M·A·C VIVA GLAM campaign has raised more than $500 million for the fight against HIV/AIDS and recently expanded its mission to support healthy futures and equal rights for women, girls, and LGBTQ communities.
This work is in our DNA and we’ve stayed true to our values and our commitments to put social impact and sustainability at the core of our business, culture and brands. This is why we are so proud that, during our 75th anniversary year, we are bringing this legacy forward as a Beauty Inspired, Values Driven company.
FMG: How does The Estée Lauder Companies put its vision, Beauty Inspired, Values Driven into practice every day?
N.M.: We’ve long understood the importance of embedding social impact and sustainable practices across our value chain and leveraging the strength of our enterprise and brands to support social and environmental causes. As a Beauty Inspired, Values Driven company, this vision is put into practice every day by our incredible employees who continue to champion and move the needle on our commitments to inclusion, diversity and equity, environmental responsibility, social investments, and employee engagement.
For instance, alongside our employees, we recently committed $10 million over the next three years to support racial and social justice organizations and established a new Equity and Engagement Center of Excellence to build greater equity and representation within every aspect of the business, from employees to consumers.
We are also continuing to accelerate our environmental efforts with new science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across our value chain and embedding industry-leading green chemistry to create more sustainable prestige beauty products. And we’re committed to advancing the next generation by helping to ensure women and girls’ advancement, both within our business and around the world through our commitment to girls’ education. While we are proud of the work we’ve accomplished thus far, we also recognize that we have more work to do in order to accomplish greater results. Together, with our ELC family, we are continuing to put our values into action to hold ourselves accountable to our commitments and the actions we take at our company and in our communities.
FMG: Building off of your comment about the “ELC family,” what role do employees at The Estée Lauder Companies and its brands play in fulfilling your vision as a company?
N.M.: We have a strong culture of purpose that is truly driven by our global ELC family. We see our employees as the ambassadors and agents of change within our organization. They are key to bringing our values to life. Our “Leadership from Every Chair” philosophy fosters a sense of ownership and accountability at all levels, and that’s what really drives sustainable practices and positive social impact enterprise-wide.
As a company, we are invested in embedding this work throughout the company to help ensure that no matter what part of the business someone touches, or what language they speak, employees have access to information on the company’s social impact and sustainability programs and can find meaningful ways to get involved. A workforce engaged and mobilized on these important issues will help us drive our efforts forward.
FMG: How has the pandemic affected your current efforts? How will it affect your approach to social impact and environmental issues in the future?
N.M.: Our company and employees have shown resilience, tenacity and compassion throughout these tumultuous times, and it’s thanks to their dedicated efforts that we remain steadfast in delivering progress against our citizenship and sustainability strategy, goals and targets — despite the significant and ongoing challenges ahead. During this unprecedented moment, I’m incredibly proud of the way the company, its brands and its charitable foundation prioritized the well-being of its employees and global communities as well as supported the broader COVID-19 relief efforts through the creation of an employee relief fund, the production of hand sanitizer, in-kind product donations and more than $15 million in grant support for relief and response efforts around the world.
And while today, the strengths of our businesses are behind COVID-19 relief efforts and global recovery, we also know that we can’t lose sight of the long-term. The pandemic has highlighted the deep intersectionality between the climate crisis and the many social issues we face. As The Estée Lauder Companies and the larger business community invest in the technology and infrastructure needed to effectively tackle social and environmental issues, we must also continue to build a society that serves the many, not the few. Now more than ever, the importance of this work is clear, for our business, our planet and our communities.
FMG: As an industry leader, does ELC have a responsibility to collaborate and share best practices with the rest of the beauty industry?
N.M.: Since our founding, we’ve continued to grow and lead the industry, but we know we can’t do this alone. Collaboration, within the beauty industry and beyond, is essential in achieving true progress on any issue. The problems that we are all tackling, whether it be climate change or girls’ education, encompass a field that will keep moving and cross-sector partnerships and dialogue really do make a difference.
It also brings a diversity of expertise to the table to truly address complex issues whether it be through collaborating and sharing best practices with a sustainable packaging vendor to support the achievement of our sustainable packaging goals to working with a local NGO to tackle social issues on the ground. This is the approach we’ve always taken as a company and long understood the importance of listening and learning from the communities most impacted by the issues at hand.
FMG: Do you anticipate that the vision will evolve over time for the company?
N.M.: Part of being a Beauty Inspired, Values Driven business is the willingness to evolve to address the most important challenges of the moment. The ways we execute this vision will undoubtedly change as the needs of our communities evolve, but what we know will remain the same is our inspiration and the values we have held for 75 years.
Putting Values into Action
ELC and its portfolio of prestige beauty brands are putting their values into action to help drive meaningful impact.
As a Beauty Inspired, Values Driven company, ELC holds that values must not exist just in words, but also in ongoing initiatives, putting its values into action every day across the company and its portfolio of brands to better people and the planet.
Founded in 1992 by the late Evelyn H. Lauder with the launch of the iconic Pink Ribbon, The Breast Cancer Campaign is The Estée Lauder Companies’ largest corporate social impact program and supported by its employees worldwide. To date, the Breast Cancer Campaign has raised more than $99 million to support global research, education and medical services.
Other key brand initiatives within the ELC portfolio include M·A·C VIVA GLAM, Aveda’s Earth Month campaigns, the Bobbi Brown Pretty Powerful Fund, Jo Malone London’s support of mental health, La Mer’s Blue Heart Oceans Fund, and Origins Green the Planet. Notably, M·A·C VIVA GLAM committed $10 million to 250 front-line organizations around the world providing essentials needs and services to people at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m incredibly proud of the cross-functional efforts of teams across the company that have enabled us to continue delivering progress across both our social impact and sustainability commitments,” said Mahon.
Leveling the playing field
In the last year, the company and its brands proved the importance of agility when it comes to meeting new needs of its global communities, from providing support for relief efforts during COVID-19 to continuing to take action on climate. Notably, the company was quick to respond as COVID-19 spread across the globe, creating a medical advisory board, an employee relief fund and mobilizing its manufacturing facilities around the world to produce hand sanitizer. ELC’s Charitable Foundation also accelerated nearly $9.5 million in grants to provide its current nonprofit partners with flexible funding needed to continue their vital work during the pandemic. A portion of the accelerated funding was directed to support current Girls’ Education Initiative non-profit partner organizations working tirelessly to help ensure that girls have the resources and safe spaces they need to continue learning—from New York, to Brazil, to Vietnam to India.
And, as a company founded by an entrepreneurial woman, that today has a workforce comprised of 84% women, ELC announced its strategy on women’s equity —Opening Doors: Women’s Advancement and Gender Equality— which honors the company’s history and sets its sights to the future by aiming to level the playing field for all genders inside and outside of the company, and by working to strengthen a culture of inclusion and diversity, advocacy, flexibility and engagement. The strategy furthers the company’s belief that all people deserve equal access to health, education and economic participation.
From a sustainability standpoint, in 2020, ELC achieved Net Zero carbon emissions and sourced 100 percent renewable electricity, reaching the target it set on joining RE100*, for its direct operations globally, while also meeting its goal to set science-based targets to address emissions from the company’s direct operations and value chain. These milestones were met thanks in part to ELC adding to its global renewable energy portfolio by installing ground-mount and rooftop on-site solar arrays at its facilities around the world, bringing the company’s global total to more than 5 MW of solar capacity.
“Our sustainability commitments will enable us to take even more decisive action on climate change in a critical decade for our planet and global communities,” said Mahon. “We also surpassed our goal to impact 10 million individuals in 2020 — positively impacting the lives of more than 20 million individuals worldwide** over the past two years*** with programs and grants focused on health, education and environment. We are humbled and honored to help play a role in helping drive social change and remain committed to positively impacting current and future generations.”
*ELC joined the RE100 campaign in 2017. Please see www.there100.org for more information.
**Impact figures are self-reported by ELC’s grantees
***Impact associated with fiscal 2019 grants is tracked in fiscal 2020