“L’Oréal looks to sustainable sourcing to meet its new target of being carbon balanced by 2020”

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Rachel Barré

Back in 2005, L’Oréal signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity, an agreement that promotes a responsible approach to biodiversity through “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of its use”. Rachel Barré was appointed to launch the Group’s sustainable sourcing programme. In this interview, she speaks about the three-pronged approach that L’Oréal is taking to sustainable sourcing to meet the carbon balanced targets by 2020.

Developing an insetting policy

Conventional carbon-cutting approaches in the corporate sector aim to offset CO2 emissions using techniques that are for the most part unrelated to the company’s business, such as buying carbon credits or taking part in large-scale reforestation programmes. The carbon balanced programme led by Rachel takes a completely different tack, seeking instead to influence the company’s sourcing directly and, by extension, its value chain. She says L’Oréal can continue to reduce its emissions while at the same engaging in projects at the local level. “We are developing an insetting policy that supplements the social and environmental commitments that are already built into what we do.”

“This concern for sustainable sourcing extends to all of our production chains and suppliers”, since the Group has promised that 100% of its renewable raw materials will be sustainably sourced by 2020. To make sure this happens, Rachel and her team are analysing the entire portfolio of renewable raw materials, which comprise 46% of the raw materials used by the Group.

Step one is to draw up an environmental and social profile for every raw material used by L’Oréal to establish appropriate operating requirements. The next task is to set up supply chains that are respectful of biodiversity while promoting local development. “We recently partnered our guar gum supplier in a project to help 1,500 Indian farmers move to less water-intensive, more environmentally friendly farming methods that will boost quality and yields and, hence, farmers’ income.”

So sourcing has to be sustainable within L’Oréal, but that is not where the story ends. The carbon balanced programme seeks to enhance local projects with a view to cutting carbon emissions. “After a review phase in which we look at potential carbon gains in different areas, we draw up action plans where we see real promise”, explains Rachel. Suppliers are directly involved and have to get on board with the sustainable sourcing approach, including its carbon component. Naturally, L’Oréal is there to provide support. “We recently helped our quinoa husk supplier in Bolivia to introduce more sustainable farming practices that will enhance soils and make them more effective carbon storehouses, while promoting biodiversity”.

Put energy into processing, farming and forest management

Rachel has targeted 30 or so key projects for the next five years. Success will see 400,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent captured within sustainable sourcing projects by 2020. The projects are divided into three categories: making processing methods more energy efficient, promoting more productive low-carbon farming approaches, and managing forests sustainably. Working with its supplier Firmenich, a Swiss leader in the perfume and fragrances industry, L’Oréal has established a forestry protection policy in Indonesia. The idea is to curb the farmland development push that has caused much of the local deforestation by encouraging farmers to grow several crops, e.g. cinnamon and patchouli, concurrently in the same plots. To effect these changes, the Group is backed by a network of suppliers and the support of participating local communities. “Over 20,000 women in Burkina Faso could take part in the improved cookstoves project to reduce the environmental footprint of our supplier Olvéa [lien vers l’article Olvéa]”.

Be challenged

To look for new solutions, L’Oréal talks regularly with independent specialists on environmental questions. Rachel points out that the Group is happy to be challenged by local and international experts, such as Christian de Perthuis, an economics professor at Paris-Dauphine University, where he founded the Climate Economics Chair, and the man behind France’s carbon tax. Professor de Perthuis is leading a committee of climate specialists that will create tools to measure the Group’s outcomes in terms of its carbon gains.

CSR | October 2015