Green Living Interview: Learning L'Oreal's Green Story

Photo: istockphotos
A chat with Francis Quinn, Director of Sustainable Development

At Green Living, we are interested in learning more about the sustainable practices behind consumer products. The Beauty Industry is one we are especially interested in, as we all use consumer beauty products each day, from shampoo to cosmetics. So, here is an interview we did with L'Oreal. We heard rumors that they were a leader in the industry, and as a big brand, we wanted to learn about them. For us, there are the products and the busiess and they both are a large part in a company being green.

Though many large brands, like L'Oreal, are constantly getting critisized for their roles in the beauty market espeically over local handmade products when it comes to ingredient lists, but we wanted to give them a chance to tell their story in their own words. Here is the result of a sit down we had with Francis Quinn, Director of Sustainable Development. Take a look at her answers and you be the judge.


1. What was it (event or inspiration) that encouraged L'Oreal move to working with their eco-conception?

Throughout its 100 year history, L’Oréal has always believed that lasting business success is built on ethical standards which guide growth and on a genuine sense of responsibility to the community at large.

L’Oréal is committed to implementing an environmentally responsible approach in managing its operations and aims for excellence in environmental performance. This approach plays a key role at every step of the production chain, from advanced research to raw material testing and the finished product. 

2. Looking at the cycle of life of your products, where does L'Oreal's practices make the biggest impact in reducing their carbon foot print and how (is it in packaging, choosing ingredients, shipping, vendors)?

L’oréal is reducing its footprint via reductions and greater eco-efficiency, as well as maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. L’Oréal has established three significant long-term environmental targets for the period of 2005-2015, applicable to its factories and warehouses:

  1. Cut in half its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2005, the total CO2 emissions were 230.3 thousands of tonnes.
  2. Cut in half its water use per unit of finished product. In 2005, the water consumption was of 0.72 litre per finished product.
  3. Cut in half its waste generated per unit of finished product. In 2005, the waste generated per unit of finished product was of 32.2 grams.

These reductions will be calculated on a like-for-like basis. In addition to these benchmarks, L’Oréal will continue to publish annual goals for other indicators, and report annually on their progresses. These renewed goals reflect the Group’s engagement in meeting its previously determined targets in 2008 L’Oréal has reduced:

  • total CO2 emissions by 6.6% (-11.5% since 2005)
  • reduced its water use per finished product by 3.8% (-13% since 2005)
  • reduced its waste per finished product by 0.5% (-10.1% since 2005) while increasing its recycling rate to 95%.

Canada's contribution to the achievement of the global objectives is based on continuous efforts undertaken each year by the manufacturing plant and the distribution center, located in Saint-Laurent near Montreal, to reduce their environmental impact. While CO2 emissions per unit of finished product were reduced by 12% in 2008 at the plant, due mostly to the recovery of residual energy during production, the target for 2009 was a further decrease of 2% to attain 2127 tons of total emissions for the site.

Further to a good performance of 0.55l of water consumption per finished product in 2008, the objective is to attain a further improvement of about 3% for 2009, thanks to the optimization of wash cycles for production tools, the reduction in water consumption at the treatment plant and the installation of valve and timer valves on faucets. In addition, the distribution center has registered a decrease of 40% in water consumption since 2005.

The rate of waste recovery is 92% for the distribution center (an improvement of 9% between 2005 and 2008) and 83.9% for the plant in 2008. The objective for 2009 is to further improve this performance by 5%.

3. 2010 is the year for biodiversity, how is L'Oreal ensuring biodiversity preservation?

L’Oréal uses an integrated approach to identify the potential impact on the environment (including biodiversity) of its raw materials throughout the product life. Since 2005, the company has put a high premium on biodiversity as part of its Sustainable Innovation Commitments in line with the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and is committed to:

  • Reducing the use of non-renewable resources by increasing the proportion of ingredients from plant origins, which is currently 40% by weight
  • Identifying biodiversity issues in the supply chain of ingredients from vegetable sources and implementing appropriate action to minimize negative impact
  • Participating in the development of tools to understand, manage and monitor biodiversity
  • Promoting the use of renewable raw materials which are most considerate of biodiversity
  • Extending this approach to all the company brands, including recent acquisitions

In 2005, L’Oréal developed the Raw Material Sustainability Assessment Framework to assess the impact of raw materials on five fronts:

  1. Consumer and employee health
  2. Environmental protection
  3. Biodiversity conservation
  4. Air trade
  5. Respect for human rights

The framework is based on collaboration with suppliers to define action plans to minimize the impact of raw materials throughout their life-cycle. L’Oréal’s objective is to assess the several thousand raw material references used in the manufacturing of cosmetic products. In 2008, the tool was deployed on 98% of the perfumes used as raw materials.

L’Oréal has implemented operational tools and measures to assess and mitigate biodiversity issues arising from the sourcing of vegetable ingredients including:

  • An internal database related to plants used in the manufacture of products that allows an initial screening of issues related to the supply of an ingredient in terms of biodiversity conservation, fair return to communities, and effects on society;
  • A supplier questionnaire to identify the performances of substances according to the criteria set out in the Sustainability Assessment Framework, especially biodiversity, if critical issues are identified by the internal database.

This internal assessment of the vegetable substances sourcing chain is carried out by L’Oréal Research and Development department. If needed, it can be completed by a third party review to clarify specific issues and recommend remedial actions. This assessment is applied to all currently used and newly registered vegetable ingredients for all L’Oréal subsidiaries, including new acquisitions.

4. It was mentioned that L'Oreal uses the 12 green chemistry principles, what are these?

The twelve principles of green chemistry are:

  1. Limit pollution at source (rather than having to eliminate waste)
  2. Optimize incorporation into the finished product of all compoundts required for synthesis
  3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses
  4. Design safer chemical products (efficient and less toxic)
  5. Reduce the use of solvents
  6. Reduce energy expenditure
  7. Use renewable raw materials instead of fossil materials
  8. Reduce derivatives which could generate waste
  9. Use catalysis, because the presence of a catalyst enables energy savings, reduced reaction times and less waste
  10. Design substances with their ultimate degradation in mind
  11. Develop real-time analysis methods to prevent pollution
  12. Develop safe chemistry to prevent accidents

By implementing these principles biodegradable and biocompatible molecules can be developed using processes which pollute less and are more energy-efficient than traditional processes.

5. What 3rd party certifications do L'Oreal products carry?

L’Oréal is a member of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, a CEO-led, global association dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development, and The Conference Board, a US-based organization that creates and disseminates knowledge to help companies engage in exemplary corporate citizenship.
L’Oréal is listed in all the major sustainable development indexes (FTSE4Good, ASPI Eurozone, Ethibel, etc.).

For the third consecutive year, L’Oréal was rated as one of the 100 most sustainable companies in the world by Corporate Knights in January 2010. This survey evaluates large corporations according to how effectively they manage environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities, relative to their industry peers.

In 2010, L’Oréal has been recognized as the leader in Personal and Household Goods sector by the Forest Footprint Disclosure Organization, created by Prince Charles. L’Oréal explicitly demands that all our suppliers use wood fibres from FSC or PEFC certified forests that are managed sustainably and that provide appropriate traceability.

A recent study by the sustainable bank Triodos on five stocklisted companies in the personal care products sector – L’Oréal, Shiseido, Beiersdorf, Estee Lauder, and Avon – ranked L’Oréal in first place for sustainable performance, “far ahead of its peers”.

In 2007, L’Oréal signaled its commitment to managing climate change by signing up for the Bali Communiqué to World Leaders, which called for a comprehensive, legally binding United Nations framework to tackle climate change.

The Climate Counts Scorecard rated L’Oréal as second in the Household Products sector in terms of the Group’s policy and action on climate change.

6. We recently did an article called The Dirty Dozen, are there any L'Oreal products that are free of all 12 of these ingredients?

L’Oréal is committed to upholding the highest standards of safety for all the products we make and sell.  Each ingredient used and every product formula has been rigorously tested by our internal safety team comprised of toxicologists, clinicians, pharmacists and physicians.  All L’Oréal products are in full compliance with the requirements for safety in the more than 130 countries in which they are sold.

In Canada, it is illegal to sell personal care products and fragrances that could cause harm to human health and safety when used as intended. Additionally, Health Canada regulates these products to ensure that safety and health standards are met.

L’Oréal’s priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of its consumers.

7. What is the biggest environmental goal you have achieved?

L’Oréal has embraced green business, in a variety of forms, including green chemistry, the ecodesign of new active ingredients (Pro-Xylane, the first green chemistry molecule), and the development of new testing alternatives (EpiSkin). In addition, we have set some of the most ambitious commitments in the manufacturing sector - to cut by half our CO2 emissions, our water consumption and our waste generation by 2015 – which we are confident we will achieve.

8. What is your biggest challenge environmentally?

The biggest challenge for all of us is on the one hand, to secure sustainable consumption for billions of humans who are living on our planet and have equal right to well-being, and on the other hand, to ensure a minimum impact of our life-style on the natural environment.

9. What have been your biggest criticisms from the public (environmentally)?

At L'Oréal, we have a company trait where we tend to speak/communicate to stakeholders about what we do only after the initiative is 100% completed and rolled out globally. Today many stakeholders believe that if you don’t speak about your « work in progress » then you are not doing anything at all or that you are not being transparent. This has been the source of criticism in the past. In the light of this we have begun explaining to stakeholders what we have already completed, but also what we are doing and where we believe it will take us. As a consequence, stakeholders are discovering with surprise that we are pioneers in many areas that are called priorities for the future.