Henric Sark is the consummate L’Oréal ambassador. “I love the Vichy Aqualia serum,” he says, when I ask if he has a favourite among the millions of products that the beauty group makes. “It’s very hydrating, since it has the Vichy mineral water from Auvergne and a lot of hyaluronic acid.”
Vichy is one of the 45 brands currently under the group’s aegis, which splits the brands into four different divisions—luxe (department store brands such as Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent Beauté), consumer (drugstore brands such as Maybelline New York and L’Oréal Paris), professional (salon brands such as Kérastase and Redken), and active (French pharmacy brands such as Vichy, La Roche-Posay and Sanoflore). The list of brands has varied greatly over the years. But for Sark, the biggest change over his two decades in L’Oréal Group is not so much the brand portfolio as the sharp focus on sustainability efforts in recent years.
“The goal is to reduce 60 per cent of our carbon emissions by 2020, which is huge. There are very few companies in the world that have such an ambitious sustainability plan,” he explains. L’Oréal Group as a whole has already exceeded that goal, having managed to reduce 73 per cent of its carbon emissions since 2005, even while expanding production by 33 per cent in the same period.
Despite this impressive result, Sark was candid about his contribution to those figures. “We don’t have a factory in Singapore, so the impact that we can have here is realistically quite small,” he says. “The greatest way that L’Oréal Singapore can contribute to this sustainability effort is to improve our transport and supply chain management, and to manage the amount of product that is destroyed.”
To that end, L’Oréal innovated a double-deck cross-border truck between Singapore and Malaysia that allowed for double-stacking of cargo and reduced emissions by 30 per cent. All of the unsold products that need to be destroyed are transported to Malaysia using this trucking innovation, and disposed of using Geocycle co-processing, a method of waste disposal that is more sustainable than either landfill or incineration. It also reduces carbon emissions as the energy from combustible waste products is used to replace fossil fuels.
Knowing that the Singapore office has a limited impact on the global drive towards sustainability hasn’t diminished its own efforts, however. “We encourage staff to be environmentally conscious within the offices, which have recycling bins in every department,” says Isabelle Lim, L’Oréal Singapore’s director of corporate communications. “We’re conscious of even the nitty-gritty, such as ensuring that beauty advisors at our counters fold discarded product cartons for recycling, and we only print leaflets when necessary—and even then, we only do so on fully recycled paper. We know that every little bit counts.”
It is this attention to the nitty-gritty that has enabled L’Oréal Group to achieve its carbon emissions goals well ahead of time. But that doesn’t mean that the company is resting on its laurels. Today, every product at L’Oréal must be conceptualised with sustainability in mind, right from the very beginning. This includes ensuring the biodegradability of products (particularly relevant since microplastics from beauty products found in aquatic environments have become a global source of concern), sourcing raw materials from ethical sources, and giving back to communities that produce these raw materials.
At this point, sustainability efforts permeate every single part of L’Oréal Group. But none of this would have been possible without the guidance of CEO Jean-Paul Agon. “He realised it would be a great asset to the group if we focused on sustainability, and we would have faced great challenges later on if we hadn’t done so,” explains Sark. This pragmatic explanation for L’Oréal’s efforts is, however, rooted in a moral imperative. “When we speak to our children about L’Oréal, they don’t care about the company’s profits and shares. They care about the good we do for the planet—or the lack thereof.”