Becoming sustainable is likely the beauty industry’s biggest collective feat to date. And it’s pushing brands and companies to confront new challenges, foster innovative and unconventional solutions, and embed these efforts throughout their organizations.

The beauty industry on average produces over 120 billion packaging units per year, with most of it ending up in landfills according to the U.K. environmentalist group Zero Waste Week. Additionally, in the history of plastic production, only 9% of it has been recycled, according to the United Nations. Another 12% has been incinerated, and the remaining 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps and the environment.

In the latest edition of Glossy+ Talks, an exclusive series for Glossy+ members, Danielle Azoulay, head of CSR and sustainability at L’Oréal USA, discussed what steps small brands can take, how L’Oréal USA communicates sustainability to customers, and how the company integrates eco-friendly goals and values throughout its workforce.

Glossy+ members can access the full video of the Talk and Danielle Azoulay’s slides below.

Integrating sustainability throughout the company
L’Oréal is designed as a matrix organization, meaning that the structure is spread out and some people report to more than one supervisor or leader. One way the company gets even its entry-level employees involved is through Green Team, launched in 2019, which gives those employees the opportunity to act as stakeholders and participants in the company’s sustainability plans on a local level.

“Everything goes through our SPOT [Sustainable Product Optimization Tool], which is integrated with all of our product development systems … We’ve tied bonuses to environmental compliance with our SPOT sustainability tool, so there’s a high level of motivation to be compliant.”

Our scale represents a huge opportunity, but sometimes it can feel daunting, because where do we even start? We have these robust KPIs that guide our work and guide our priorities.”

“Survey your employees and find out what is important to them and what is meaningful to them. Do they care about ocean plastics or climate change? Do they want to know about how to make a change in the office or in their business day-to-day? Or do they want to be armed with information on how to make a change in their communities?”

Making changes to packaging and supply chain
L’Oréal Group made a public commitment that all of its plastic packagings would be refillable, reusable or recyclable by 2025. In the U.S., the company has some unique hurdles around recycling products, as not all customers have access to curbside recycling. So, the company is trying to think through those issues while improving all aspects of its supply chain and greenhouse gas footprint.

“We have to look at each product category and ask, ‘What’s the right packaging approach for this particular category, and how do we make that the most sustainable that it can possibly be?'”

“My recommendation to [smaller brands] is to map out as far as you can to the base of your supply chain, such as the farmers picking the raw ingredients that go into your products, and see how far you can get. What type of transparency do you have? You have to ask the hard questions and know that the people in factories are not being exploited, and that the raw materials going into your products are the highest quality out there.”

“We have decoupled sales growth from sustainability impact, because of the improvements that we’ve made with our factories around the world. In the U.S., our factories all run on 100% renewable electricity. Where you source your energy actually has a big, positive impact on your environmental footprint perspective, so even when you’re able to make more products, you’re still using renewable energy.”

“When we talk about environmental improvements, we’re doing them for the sake of humanity. We’re not doing it for the sake of the planet, because we’re really talking about saving ourselves. So we have to be mindful of the human rights and human impact every step of the way.”

Educating customers
At the end of the day, customers are the ones who will hold a brand accountable, so it is important to be clear and transparent about what the brand has done or plans to do. With a company as large as L’Oréal, one core strategy is relying on its portfolio brands to more directly share its efforts with customers.

“[Education] is the biggest challenge. Being able to market our changes and message them to consumers in a way that reinforces credibility has been a challenge. Ultimately, we’re hoping that some of our brands will be ambassadors for some of these changes; Garnier just last week released its new sustainability platform.”

“It will become easier as retail partners decide that they want to market sustainability in a more concrete way to consumers.”

“Leveraging third-party certification is also something important that we’re going to be doing more of over the next three years.”

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