• Home
  • News
  • Business
  • L’Oréal’s sustainability journey and the challenges it faces

L’Oréal’s sustainability journey and the challenges it faces

By Rachel Douglass

loading...

Business

Biotherm Life Plankton Elixir suspended in ice at L'Oréal's Beauty and Water Experience. Image: L'Oréal

On entering L’Oréal’s Benelux headquarters, located in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands, it is clear that going ‘green’ is definitely on the group’s mind. Among the strips of natural wood used throughout the building’s foundations, plants scale the interior leading down to a lobby where, on this occasion, various products from a selection of the company’s portfolio brands were suspended in large-scale ice cubes. The display was in reference to a presentation to the press held by the French cosmetics firm, which specifically centred around its relationship with water and what the substance had to do with its sustainability practices.

The topic of sustainability is not a new one to L’Oréal. The company, which owns the likes of Maybelline, Garnier and NYX Professional Makeup, has been tracking its CO2 emissions for over 20 years, most recently stating that it had reduced such emissions in its distribution centres by 91 percent since 2005. Now, the group is navigating some 17 commitments spanning biodiversity to raw materials to water consumption and, like other large conglomerates, reporting its achievements in various eco-targets annually. Its efforts have been drawn out in its ‘For the Future’ programme, launched in 2020 to address specific objectives, such as reducing all GHG emissions by 50 percent per product by 2030.

Water is also a central part of the strategy, and is woven into the fabric of all areas of the business, from the way it is used in the production process to how employees themselves consume it. During a presentation at the headquarters, Erik Troost, director of corporate communication, engagement and sustainability at L’Oréal, further emphasised the importance of reevaluating our relationship with H2O as a whole, while outlining a range of ways in which the group has done so itself. By 2030, for example, the company is aiming for 100 percent of the water used in its industrial process to be recycled and reused in a loop, while it is also striving for 100 percent of its strategic suppliers to use water sustainably where they operate.

Erik Troost, L'Oréal's director of corporate communication, engagement and sustainability. Image: L'Oréal Group

L’Oréal views role as educational

Following the talk, FashionUnited sat down with Troost to get an insight into L’Oréal’s current position in integrating such practices and how he viewed its efforts so far. In his eyes, next to carrying out much of its initiatives among its own operations, Troost sees L’Oréal’s relationship with the consumer as a crucial element of how it does sustainable business. With shoppers, Troost views L’Oréal’s role as educational, where there is a particular emphasis on transparency and recognising the company’s responsibility to inform buyers on how to make more sustainable choices. His perception, and L’Oréal’s attempts to present its efforts more openly, reflects the increasing criticism placed on brands for not implementing enough eco-friendly values. At the same time. consumers' awareness of the differences between authentic communication and greenwashing – a term used to describe deceptive marketing practices when it comes to a company’s green claims – is becoming more evident, and many fashion brands have continued to come under scrutiny for their misleading practices.

Still, while commonly linked to the industry, greenwashing is not exclusive to fashion. It is also a continuing discussion in the beauty and cosmetics sector, and one that even L’Oréal has not been able to steer clear of. In June 2022, the company was among several beauty and personal care firms accused of committing greenwashing by the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF), after the organisation investigated various sustainability claims made on their products. According to CMF’s report, L’Oréal prominently featured the text “100 percent recycled plastic bottle” on an Elvive shampoo pack, despite the small print on the packaging stating that this statement only referenced the bottle and not the cap. Furthermore, the product itself was described as “more sustainable”, but CMF noted that there was no further information provided to support this claim, and therefore it was not a meaningful comparison to other products.

Garnier products suspended in ice at L'Oréal's Beauty and Water Experience. Image: L'Oréal

However, Troost purported that at L’Oréal there is an “ongoing development in communication” when it comes to sharing its sustainable policies with consumers. “We want to be transparent and tell our story in a legitimate way,” he noted. “We are showing progress, but sustainability is like a movie that constantly evolves.” Such evolution could be seen in its Garnier product line of no-rinse conditioners, which come in an Albéa-produced cardboard-based tube where detailed information on the product’s “eco-friendly” processes is displayed. Not only that, but the product itself is also designed to reduce consumers’ impact, with the leave-on factor estimated to save up to 100 litres of water per tube, according to L’Oréal. This also directly links into another goal in its ‘For the Future’ programme, in which it is looking to reduce consumers’ water consumption linked to the use of its products by 25 percent.

Sustainability’s complexity proves a challenge

While the move correlates with the company’s belief that consumers should be encouraged to take small steps in their own life, this principle is further extended to its expansive workforce. “More and more of our employees have sustainability as part of their jobs,” Troost said, adding that they are urged to consider this throughout their daily tasks and their personal lifestyle. “We want to engage our employees in this process and integrate these values into their job responsibilities, as well as in other areas of their life. Everyone has an impact and people have become curious about how they can contribute.”

Even with such a large conglomerate like L’Oréal, challenges surrounding the implementation of sustainable practices are still evident. In fact, the group’s vast scope, both in terms of region and portfolio, is often one of the hindrances when it comes to such moves. “Sustainability is complex,” Troost noted. “If you adjust one lever, such as water, it can possibly have an effect on another. There are a lot of factors to consider. We also need to consistently approach this area throughout the group so that all our brands follow through.”

L'Oréal Group brand products displayed at the company's Beauty and Water Experience in its Benelux headquarters. Image: L'Oréal

One way L’Oréal is seemingly trying to overcome this obstacle is taking its efforts on a region-by-region basis. The company recently struck up a deal with China’s Alibaba through which the duo agreed to work together on promoting circularity in the country’s beauty industry. As part of the partnership, L’Oréal and Alibaba are looking to establish green and low-carbon standards to apply to new products and create measurable circular economy solutions that can be integrated into the market as a whole. The deal strives to cover various sectors, from logistics to marketing to consumer communications.

Another way the group has been attempting to overcome difficulties surrounding integration is through acquisitions and investments, an area that it has been leading in over recent months. L’Oréal has been snapping up manufacturers, distributors and brands, externally broadening its reach and extending its network in the area of sustainability. In March this year, the group became a founding investor in biotechnology firm Geno, which will provide L’Oréal brands with its platform to ferment plant sugars and produce sustainable surfactants for beauty products, taking it closer to its goal of offering 100 percent eco-designed formulas. A similar proposal was made when L’Oréal acquired a minority stake in Microphyt, a French firm developing low-carbon impact microalgae, a plant organism used in cosmetics.

Despite the struggles that may come with implementation, Troost remained positive about L’Oréal’s future when it comes to its eco-procedures, noting that despite difficulties, it would continue to invest in all aspects of sustainable development. “Being a commercial company allows us to develop, and as a big business we have a responsibility to do so,” Troost added. “We have an impact and we have to keep developing. Many often question this method and say that we as a society simply need to consume less, but I would argue that halts development. We need to address matters holistically, and produce products that contribute positively.”

Biotherm products displayed during L'Oréal's Beauty and Water Experience at the company's Benelux headquarters. Image: L'Oréal
Read more:
Beauty
Garnier
Interview
L'Oreal