Alexandra Palt, executive vice president and chief corporate responsibility officer of L’Oréal since 2012, talked sustainability successes, goals and advice during a discussion at the Fairchild Media Group Sustainability Forum with Jenny B. Fine, executive editor, beauty, at WWD and Beauty Inc.
Palt oversaw L’Oréal’s first formal sustainability program, Sharing Beauty With All, which cycled through 2020, and more recently introduced the L’Oréal for the Future program that sets goals for 2030.
“Probably the most impressive results is that we have succeeded to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent, improved our environmental profile of more than 95 percent of our products — new and renovated products — and succeeded in giving access to employment for more than 100,000 people,” said Palt.
She said what’s also important is the shift in mind-set that’s been achieved within the world’s largest beauty company. Since 2013, L’Oréal chairman and chief executive officer Jean-Paul Agon has always put sustainability at the top of the group’s agenda. He maintains that there are two main transformations taking place in the 21st century: digital and sustainable.
In introducing L’Oréal for the Future, Agon described it as “radical transformation” — one that entails huge changes in the whole ecosystem, including consumers, suppliers and retailers.
“When you look at climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity but also poverty, you don’t want to be alone in this,” said Palt. “This is not a competitive issue. What we have been doing for a long time now is very strongly involving our suppliers in our sustainability transformation.”
In 2030, 95 percent of the group’s product ingredients will stem from nature, including from vegetal origin, abundant minerals, biotech or green chemistry. All of L’Oréal’s packaging will be of recycled plastic and recycled materials.
Such goals falling within planetary boundaries apply to all the brands within the group.
L’Oréal is beginning to work with its consumers and clients so they are more aware of issues like carbon emissions.
“Fifty percent of our carbon emissions come when our consumers take a shower,” said Palt. “So how do we also accompany [them] to change behaviors, to buy different products?”
That can result from offering a leave-in hair conditioner, for example.
“So how do we develop products that respond to this consumer need?” she added.
They have reached a tipping point, believes Palt, who explained that prior to 2015, they discussed the importance of sustainability, but it was little more than talk.
“Then in the last years, people became aware that actually climate change is not [just] about protecting the planet, it’s about protecting your life and the survival of the human species,” she said. “So people get more involved and the awareness has gone up everywhere in the world. Now, they’re very seriously changing their consumption behaviors. So consumers more and more do what they say.”
They’re buying sustainable products, and the trend should just accelerate.
“Sustainability has never been more top of mind than since the pandemic started,” maintained Palt.
L’Oréal has long been highly considered by extra-financial rating agencies, sustainability experts and NGOs, and the beauty group audits its own results — environmental and social key performance indicators — with external companies.
Palt said sometimes she’s still asked about what a sustainability program costs and the business case for it.
“I always say: ‘How can you still ask me that question?’” said Palt. “The question is the other way around: What happens if you don’t do it? You are not going to be prepared for the world, society and consumer behaviors that are coming.
“People are starting to have a new relationship to the world, to nature, to everything that is living, to their own identities,” she continued. “We are living in a period of profound transformation in society. It is extremely important as a company to anticipate and to be able to feel these transformations, to prepare for them and not just react when they arrive. Companies and brands have now really to ask themselves: Who am I? What do I stand for? How can I consistently and coherently defend these values?”
Even for start-ups taking the first steps of their sustainability journey, Palt advised: “Do not start small. Think big from the start.”
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