Cosmetics giants go green

05 January 2011

PARIS: Cosmetics giants L'Oréal and Clarins are heightening their focus on sustainability, in recognition of the rising importance of this area to future growth.

L'Oréal has established ten specific objectives, incorporating the creation of environmentally-friendly formulas, ensuring it protects biodiversity and infusing these values within the entire innovation process.

It is also hoping to slash plant emissions by 50%, through means like leveraging solar and wind power and enhanced packaging design.

However, as L'Oréal attempts to reach an extra 1bn customers over the coming decade, new challenges will undoubtedly emerge.

"When beauty is made accessible to a billion consumers, taking care of the beauty of the planet becomes a personal and professional quest," Francis Quinn, L'Oréal's director of sustainable development, told The Malaysia Star.

"Zero emissions are not impossible and it is the ultimate target for everybody."

Independent monitors such as Corporate Knights, The Ethisphere Institute and Ecocert have all previously praised L'Oréal regarding its activity.

"L'Oréal is in pole position for sustainable development," Quinn argued.

"Our teams have developed a unique expertise by striking a balance between natural capital and man-made capital by the selection and the formulation of its raw materials."

The firm's broader CSR agenda includes putting products through rigorous safety tests and matching official standards in the 130 countries where it operates.

"Our commitment to sustainability goes beyond respecting the environment and biodiversity; we must meet our economic goals and societal responsibilities too," said Quinn.

Elsewhere, its Post-Marketing Surveillance Network, first set up in the 1970s, now employs an online, real-time database to track problems experienced by customers.

"This is a very effective early detection system for signs of intolerance to a product, however mild, and should there be any occurrence whatsoever, L'Oréal takes immediate corrective action," said Quinn.

"Consumer protection is one of L'Oréal's absolute priorities."

While regulatory pressures often play a role in encouraging shifts across each of these fields, L'Oréal has yielded considerable advantages concerning innovation.

"The history of scientific endeavour has demonstrated over the years that real ground-breaking discoveries are, by their very nature, sustainable," Quinn continued.

Clarins, a compatriot of L'Oréal, is moving to cut greenhouse gas output by 20% by the end of 2011.

After conducting a detailed study of its environmental impact, the organisation found 40% of emissions could be attributed to promotional lines.

"We measure our consumption of materials and packaging against our production, and we do a comparison every year," said Yvette James, head of Clarins' responsible development division.

"Our purchasing division is working harder to look at diminishing promotional items to reduce the emissions."

Having partnered with the Solar Impulse Project in 2008 to stimulate more efficient energy use, Clarins is seeking to implement initiatives going beyond simple tools like carbon offsetting.

"We don't believe in this principal of just 'paying' for harmful things that a company has done," said James. "We don't think our company is currently good enough, but we are trying to improve."

James also suggested the sheer number of certifications around the globe applied to organic, or similar, goods generally only serve to confuse shoppers.

Clarins has built an alternative model, such as agreeing long term Fairtrade contracts with producers of katafray in Madagascar, offering 5% of the sales price from relevant brands to help local communities.

"I believe consumers today are more knowledgeable than before, thanks to the media, so they can see through companies that greenwash," said James.

Data sourced from The Sun Online; additional content by Warc staff