Alexandra Palt is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability at L’Oréal. Over the last four years, she has led the Group’s shift towards a more sustainable model
L’Oréal met its goals in terms of cutting carbon emissions in 2014, with a year to spare. Even so, Ms Palt knows that consumers have the final say over the company’s responsibility policy: “The Group’s success will hinge on our ability to convince consumers to choose more responsible products”. How will L’Oréal persuade millions of customers to join its journey towards sustainability? Alexandra Palt tells us.
“Consumers need more information”
Although consumers often say they are interested in sustainable products, this does not necessarily translate into purchases. But that is set to change. Ms Palt has been tracking changing mentalities, especially on emerging markets, where people in the 20-29 age bracket claim to be “extremely sensitive to environmental and social questions”. To make informed choices, you need to know the full picture, but Ms Palt thinks consumers are far from having all the information they need to buy more responsibly. This is why L’Oréal has devised a product assessment tool that is scheduled to come out in the next few years. The new tool will measure the social and environmental footprint of every L’Oréal product, making this information available to all consumers, informed or otherwise.
“Sustainable development has to be desirable”
There are also psychological hurdles that prevent the general public from embracing sustainable development, says Ms Palt. “Until now, responsibility has not been aspirational, while communication on sustainability has often been guilt-inducing”. She identifies a need to create responsible products that meet the expectations of Group customers: “L’Oréal is about beauty, the things that make us dream”. To reach the wider public, products have to be outstanding, “desirable” and sustainable. This is the challenge facing marketing and brand teams, who are working together to strike the right balance. Ms Palt is confident: “Inspiring desire is one of our strengths”.
“The Group must tailor its stance to consumers’ environmental sensitivities”
To communicate with consumers about sustainability, the Group needs to understand them. With activities spanning five continents, L’Oréal is well aware that consumers perceive sustainable development differently depending on their cultural background. To get to grips with these differences Ms Palt and her people are studying how sustainable development is understood from market to market. “We need insight into consumers the world over”, which, she says, “so that we can fine-tune the way we engage with them”. This might including stressing recycling or water consumption in communications, for example, to reflect local sensitivity to these issues.
Can we produce more while reducing our environmental impact? The goal is achievable but only if consumers buy into sustainable consumption. L’Oréal is betting that they will and forecasts that it will add one billion new customers by 2020 while still meeting its environmental targets.