French cosmetics and skincare giant L’Oréal, a leader in corporate social responsibility for decades, has taken an assertive leadership role in promoting sustainability. The world’s largest and most lucrative beauty company—with a market cap valued at $99 billion—has set ambitious goals for 2020: to reduce its environmental footprint by 60 percent, including sourcing 100 percent of its raw materials from renewable sources.
After embracing corporate social responsibility in the 1980s, as a leader in developing advanced product evaluation methods like reconstructed skin models as an alternative to animal testing, L’Oréal has continued to grow its commitment to sustainability over the last four decades. In 1995, L’Oréal created an eco-toxicology laboratory to measure and model the impact of products on ecosystems and on biodiversity; in 1996, it became a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR partner; and in 2003, L’Oreal became a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact.
In 2009, the company ramped up its commitment to environmental stewardship with the announcement that it would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions, water consumption, and waste by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2015. By 2012, L'Oréal had slashed its carbon emissions by 37 percent, earning accolades from the environmental organization Climate Counts. In 2013, the company launched a new sustainability plan, called “Sharing Beauty With All,” enumerating its ambitious goals for 2020. When announcing these goals, Jean-Paul Agon, L’Oréal Chairman and CEO, said:
“L’Oréal has a strong legacy in sustainability and a thorough ambition for the future. We believe consumers are at the heart of our sustainability drive and we want to reach the next billion consumers while making a positive impact on the world. By accelerating sustainable innovation within our business, and harnessing the power of our brands to inform consumers, we will raise awareness about sustainability and encourage consumers to make more sustainable choices.”
Follow-through has been vigorous. The 2016 results are impressive: Its plants and distribution centers saw a reduction of 48 percent in water use, 67 percent in carbon dioxide emissions, and 35 percent in waste generation. Additionally, 54 percent of products--incorporating more than 1,500 raw materials from 100 countries--are now sourced renewably. Impressively, all of this has occurred while production volume increased by 29 percent.The company’s efforts and these achievements have not gone unnoticed. The L'Oréal Group is one of only two companies worldwide awarded a triple “A” score by CDP, an independent organization that evaluates corporate environmental performance.
L’Oréal USA has been a major contributor to this progress. The U.S. manufacturing operation is now using 100 percent renewable electricity and has reduced its carbon emissions by 84 percent, its water usage by 52 percent, and its waste per finished product by 43 percent.
In 2017, a new 4,140-panel solar array at L’Oréal's Florence, Kentucky, factory became the largest commercial solar installation in the state. The installation provides 1.42MW of power for the 686,000-square-foot plant and saves 1,005 metric tons of CO2 per year. The Kentucky factory has also reduced its waste by 65 percent.
A second new solar array--at the company's North Little Rock, Arkansas, plant--and a set of 12 wind turbines at its Dallas, Texas, distribution center add to L’Oréal's collection of renewable-energy installations, which now number 17 across the U.S. The Arkansas factory has reduced its water use by 82 percent and is expected to reduce its carbon emissions by 556 metric tons per year with the addition of the new solar field.
“L'Oréal Is Turning Itself into A Sustainability Leader,” trumpeted a March headline in Fast Company. Alexandra Palt, chief sustainability officer at L’Oréal, told the outlet,
“We have a responsibility to lead.”
Palt exemplified this responsibility to lead in March 2017 when she announced the company’s decision to become a founding partner of the "Women4Climate" global initiative to contribute to the empowerment of women leaders in fighting climate change. Through this partnership, L'Oréal will mentor young women and empower the next generation of women leaders in fighting climate change.