PARIS — Beauty giant L’Oréal is well on the way to meeting its strict 2015 sustainable development targets. The company’s ethos is unequivocal: sustainable growth is one key way through which the company will reach its targeted one billion new consumers in years to come. “Group growth comes via sustainable growth,” director of sustainable development Francis Quinn told journalists at an event here.

The company has set what it believes to be the most stringent 2015 targets of any company worldwide.
“From a 2005 base, we plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste production by 50 percent by 2015,” Quinn said. At the end of 2010, the company had reduced emissions by 27 percent, water use by 19 percent and waste by 17 percent. “We are confident we will meet our objectives.”

As such, the company has analyzed all aspects of its business. “We manufacture as close to market as possible to reduce our carbon footprint,” Quinn said. “Our supply chain also contributes to local development.”

Beyond environmental and health and safety certification of all its factories worldwide, relevant initiatives have been put in place at certain factories. For example in Belgium, where the company’s factory is in a dairy farming area, it has been buying animal waste from farmers and transforming it into bio-methane to power the site since 2009. With the excess energy produced, L’Oréal feeds power back into the grid.

At its Suzhou plant, in China, the company has installed 269,000 square feet of solar panels, which, when they start up in December, will produce 1.5 million KW/h of green electricity per year.

As for product development, the company has also made inroads to deal with increasing customer demand. While it bought French brand Sanoflore in 2006 to gain a foothold in the organic market, the company believes organic cosmetics will remain a niche, and is concentrating on making products that are more environmentally sound — including recent launches like 100 percent biodegradable shower gels from The Body Shop or 98 percent natural hair gels for Vivelle Dop. “Our laboratories are working much more with naturals than they are with organics,” group managing director of financial communication Thierry Prévot said.

“It is more important that the ingredients are as natural as possible and do not harm the environment,” Quinn added.

The company’s Research & Innovation department is involved in finding environmentally friendly alternatives to certain ingredients. “Nature cannot provide all the products we need. Our answer to this is green chemistry,” he explained.

One of its innovations is the patented Pro-Xylane, used in Lancôme anti-aging products and made from sugar found in bark and transformed in water. The ingredient is 100 percent biodegradable.

In terms of sourcing, L’Oréal has been using 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil since the beginning of 2010, and is working on the same aim for soya oil. “It is about securing future resources and building our reputation,” Quinn commented. All paper and cardboard  used by the company is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and vegetable inks are used for printing.

Most of these initiatives — and many more initiated by the company, including social aspects like employee wellbeing and diversity — are not visible to the final consumer, who often sees the big companies as de facto environmental villains. While the group has been clearly communicating its commitments to investors for some time, communicating its aims to the final consumer, via its umbrella of brands, is more complicated. “There is a need to increase awareness about our policies, and we have a duty to communicate them,” Prévot said. “We need to communicate at brand level, and things like green chemistry are very difficult for the brands to take into account.”

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