Tea time takes on a greater significance when one’s very existence is steeped in the intricacies of honey. Or in Guerlain’s case, the bees behind it.
“We preserve what we know, and we love what we preserve,” said Guerlain’s director of sustainability Cécile Lochard, flanked by mint tea and honey (a key ingredient at the fragrance house) at the Whitby Hotel café in Midtown last month.
Having been with parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for several years, she joined Guerlain four years ago to carry on corporate responsibility efforts that she began for LVMH’s perfume and cosmetics division. At Guerlain, Lochard spanned the development of a greener supply chain and social impact programs like Women for Bees, which won the company Beauty Inc.’s 2022 corporate responsibility award.
Before she got to the bee program, Lochard started in corporate finance, nudged into the field by her father. Luckily for her, she found an environmental, social and corporate governance bent.
“It was the only place where we started speaking about ESG, and where you could have an impact,” she said. In the early days of ESG, Lochard helped drive socially responsible investments at HSBC in France. Once she’d had enough, she left the financial world for philanthropy, joining the World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF. She headed corporate philanthropy for seven years there, and went on to write a book about sustainable luxury, or “Luxe et développement durable” (2011).
In her career, she’s witnessed how the realm of sustainable luxury has transformed from one of hushed secrecy to vocalized impact.
At Guerlain, honey and orchids comprise the star sourcing ingredients for the fifth-generation perfumer, but social impact is integral. “There’s a responsibility when you source super far away….You don’t buy a raw material, you buy a raw material — through somebody. That’s important,” she said.
Last year, Guerlain said it would roll out organic beetroot alcohol across its fragrance portfolio, a switch from conventional growing methods. “It took three years to accompany our supplier [in this change], because we don’t change suppliers. We’d much prefer them to improve rather than say, ‘Oh, you’re not perfect. Goodbye.’”
Much like cotton textiles, the switch from conventional growing methods to regenerative has been a work in progress, but one that could unlock healthier soil, as Textile Exchange supports.
According to Lochard, Guerlain has 50 channels of natural ingredient sourcing, spanning from the black orchid in Peru, to vanilla in Madagascar, jasmine in India and so on. Some 5,500 or 6,500 orchids were the subject of the Guerlain-sponsored Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden, which saw its 20th edition in February, this time designed by Lily Kwong.
The rare Peruvian ebony-hued black orchid flower makes its way into a $1,450 fragrance and $1,550 treatment under the Orchidée Impériale line, with claims of skin-density improvement. The product line includes a refillable matte black glass and recycled container that saw its weight reduced by 45 percent and volume halved, per the company. For more than a decade, Guerlain has committed to protecting orchids in the wild at the Tianzi Natural Reserve in Southern Yunnan, China, introducing some 10,000 species over the years.
And as for the bees — Lochard says there is a rich story to tell.
Last May, Guerlain teamed up with UNESCO and Angelina Jolie to launch its second cohort of trainees in its Women for Bees program. So far, the program has been enacted in Cambodia and the South of France, in 2021. During the campaign’s run, a portion of sales were donated to the Guerlain for Bees Conservation Programme. The campaign ran last May, but is part of an ongoing initiative under Women for Bees. Lochard teased another one soon to be announced.
“Bees are super fragile when it comes to pesticides, and that’s the reason why we switched [to organic farming]. We can’t be the brand that’s taking care of bees and still sourcing conventional alcohol full of acaricides [pesticides],” she reasoned.
“Regarding bees, I prefer being super cautious because we know we are doing it the best way — regarding training women, training beekeepers to practice sustainable beekeeping and helping them to install beehives….I don’t want to say general things regarding the metrics like, ‘In the average bee hive’ there are X number of bees…I don’t want to greenwash.’” Lochard said the reality is that some species live fewer days, some require greater attention or care and some answers are still being tested.
And as a social safety net of sorts, Lochard chooses to work with women-owned cooperatives for Guerlain’s Women for Bees program.
“To be honest, I do not have the magic solution when it comes to social return on investment with my Women for Bees program,” she continued. “The first indicator of the success of the program is, ‘Are there still [Guerlain-trained] beekeepers after three years?’ That’s the first indicator, and if not — why? And then, if they can help pollinate fields, plants, species of trees — like bergamot [key to some citrus notes in perfumes] — we can study the impact of pollination by adding a colony close to the bergamot tree for instance, in Calabria, Italy. Also, for me, that’s a way to reinforce and make my indicators more robust in a science-based target way.”
Since 2007, Guerlain has committed to preserving biodiversity and furthering sustainability. The company endeavors to be “carbon neutral” by 2025 as part of LVMH group’s sustainability program Life 360. Amid the uncertainty of a changing climate and growing scrutiny to uphold ESG promises, Lochard said she finds trust in the close-knit nature of Guerlain’s supplier relations.
“You can never be perfect in terms of sustainability….At Guerlain, we try to be bold,” Lochard said. “Sometimes the pressure is not coming from customers but civil society, which is more demanding regarding luxury and the fashion industry than ever before.” She continued, “If you don’t work closely with your supplier — you won’t have quality. It is in the DNA of luxury to preserve the people who make the products and preserve the raw materials….We know we depend on that.”