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Beauty climate experts weigh in
In partnership with L’Oreal
By Jenny Ringland
We all know that the planet is warming, climate change is widespread, rapid and it’s only going to intensify. The temperature of our planet has increased on average by 1°C since the end of the 19th century, we have arrived at the 11th hour of a climate emergency and it’s time for all of us to take immediate action. But what does that actually mean, and will anything we do actually help?
When it comes to the beauty industry the issue of climate change is nuanced, we as consumers of beauty products have come to expect a certain level of luxury and ritual, and in that same vein beauty companies have long competed for our attention via beautiful (but wasteful) packaging, fast online delivery and eye catching displays in our favourite retail stores.
When it’s all laid out, the current state of the beauty industry and its contribution to the climate crisis is overwhelming, the global cosmetics industry produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year, the majority of which are not recyclable. In addition, what isn’t spoken about as much is the energy needed to power the factories producing these products, or the emissions from the transport required to source the ingredients and then deliver the products to the front door.
Now for the good news, what you might not know is L’Oreal, a company we are all familiar with but may not associate with sustainability, is leading the beauty industry on the world stage, setting and meeting some ambitious targets. In Australia all L’Oreal sites already run on 100 per cent renewable energy, and by 2025 the company will achieve carbon neutrality on all its sites. And that it seems, is just the beginning.
“What I can tell you from a L’Oréal perspective is the focus is so high on how we can have a better environmental impact. The challenge that the beauty industry faces and L’Oréal has faced is the misconception about who we are and how we operate,’’ L’Oreal Australia head of Distribution David O’Leary explains.
“Yes we do have an impact on the environment but some examples of things we’re doing around the world in manufacturing, water recycling and the amount of resources and money that’s being spent within L’Oréal is astounding. You don’t go to an internal meeting or have any involvement with a wider business without the environmental impact being a consideration.’’
One of the pioneering initiatives L’Oreal is undertaking to be more environmentally visible is the implementation of a Green P&L.
“The profit and loss statement is something every successful company manages really well. What it traditionally doesn’t show however, is the impact we have on the world,’’ explains L’Oreal data manager and PhD scientist Krishna Feron.
“The Green P&L makes that visible, and it does so in a language a lot of finance people are familiar with, in dollars and in currency. It’s there every day, and it’s part of our decision-making process, so without even really considering the environment explicitly, it’s guiding our behaviour in the right direction.”
One of L’oreal Australia’s current goals is to become plastic-free in both its product packaging and the entire cycle of transport and distribution.
“We’ve currently got a global project in our distribution centres with the goal of making us zero-plastic. And let me tell you, in the distribution world that’s quite challenging,’’ David says.
“We’ve already eliminated everything barring pallet wrap, which is a really significant one.
At the moment I’m speaking to companies like Great Wrap, who you’ve probably heard of, and others, to do a joint venture with them, piloting their pallet wrap which is made from potato starch and completely biodegradable.’’
It’s all in the detail when it comes to lowering carbon emissions, take plastic labels as an example, how many of us take any notice of the address stickers on our packages when they arrive?
“Distribution centres around the world use tonnes and tonnes of labels. When you get your delivery from Amazon, you’ll notice it has a shipping label on it. Those shipping labels typically have a waxy type paper called glassine. Our distribution centre was producing about eight tonnes of glassine and it was one of the few things that we couldn’t recycle,’’ David says.
“I worked on this for about 18 months and we finally did a joint venture with Avery Labels, we actually found a way to recycle it. That took us nearly two years, but that was eight tons of waste going to landfill that we had no solution for. Now there is a solution.’’
Part of the challenge for global beauty brands like L’Oreal in their quest to lighten their footprint is educating customers on the importance of changing the way they operate, from the packaging to the time it takes for a product to arrive on their doorstep.
Where once it was a competition amongst luxury brands to have the most beautiful and layered packaging (the more layers of cellophane the more luxe), we now realise how wasteful it is. Not just the packaging itself which traditionally couldn’t be recycled, but the resources required to make said packaging and the knock-on carbon emissions. As consumers of beauty, it’s up to us to value minimal, recycled and recyclable packaging, longer delivery times and any initiatives that reduce our beauty carbon footprint.
“L’Oréal’s has been a trailblazer in terms of innovating the reduction of carbon emissions, now we need to work with our consumers to understand that the new zero-plastic packaging is still amazing,’’ David says.
David says as a company L’Oreal is addressing the increase in orders, which means more deliveries, more trucks on the road and more packaging, but we as consumers of beauty need to play our part too.
“How many people order four sizes of shoes for example, and then send back the three they don’t want, which all contributes to carbon emissions and unnecessary packaging,’’ David says.
“Until we get people to understand the impact of their actions, we will still have distribution centres and trucks running backwards and forwards to the consumer.’’
L’Oreal’s overall climate goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 50 per cent for every single product through the entire supply chain by 2030. This means achieving carbon neutrality on all its sites, reducing air freight and road transport so as to reduce emissions by 50 per cent, and for its customers reducing emissions linked to hot water such as with highly rinseable and waterless products.
In order for true change to occur, which is what is required at what feels like the last minute in the fight against global warming and the climate crisis, David says it’s not enough to compartmentalise being sustainable to just one area of our lives, it’s only when it becomes second nature at home, work and in the way we interact with the world that change will take place.
“I think we’ve all got to be mindful of what we consume and how we do things. For me it’s just about trying to minimise what we do, make smart choices and become as educated as I can about what’s good, bad. It’s just about how we can minimise our footprint while we’re here.’’
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