PARIS: L'Oréal, the cosmetics group, believes building sustainable brands can both deepen relationships with shoppers and help fulfil its wider mission as a beauty company.

Alexandra Palt, L'Oréal's director, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, told Sustainable Business Forum that tackling ecological matters was a key item on its agenda.

"For us, sustainability is not box-ticking," she said. "Sustainable brands is the stuff that will help transformation, as well as inclusive business and helping to change lives."

More broadly, Palt argued the firm was inextricably linked with consumer wellbeing, saying: "We feel good if we consider ourselves to be as beautiful as we can be. This is the reality."

L'Oréal has outlined the goal of attracting 1bn new customers by 2020, alongside setting targets such as reducing its emissions, water consumption and waste by 50% per unit by 2015 compared with 2005 levels.

In evidence of its progress, all of the palm oil L'Oréal uses is sourced sustainably. However, Palt also cited this as an example where stakeholder perceptions often lag behind reality.

"The most challenging thing for me in this role is the fact that sometimes, stakeholder expectations are very different from the issues which we consider to be the most pressing for us," she said. "Sometimes, what they consider important is already history for us."

Similarly, fully 99% of its ingredients are not tested on animals, thanks to a scheme starting in 1989 aiming to avoid such practices. The other 1% of ingredients, Palt added, are subjected to these trials only for "unavoidable health and safety reasons"

Achieving this 99% benchmark also resulted from the development of "predictive evaluation methods", allowing it to use "laboratory-reconstructed" skin and tissues.

Elsewhere, L'Oréal is ahead of many big firms in the area of gender equality, as women make up 61% of its staff, some 58% of managers and 43% of brand managers, although this total does fall to 21.4% for the executive committee.

When it comes to reporting, Palt suggested that striking the right balance between addressing current concerns and defining future objectives was essential, as was rigorous assessment.

"To me, it means responding to the preoccupations of stakeholders while insisting on a long term vision of what is really relevant to the business or to the planet. We must proactively envision tomorrow," she said.

Data sourced from Sustainable Business Forum; additional content by Warc staff