Heightened consciousness of consumers have completely changed the way products and services are produced, packaged and marketed. Across industries, brands both new and established have had to reassess and perhaps even tweak how they communicate with their audience. This now holds most true in the worlds of fashion and beauty. Not too long ago, prestige, efficiency, potency and convenience were key propositions that influence buying habits. Today, evolved mindsets are thinking beyond the four walls of their comfort zones, and investing in products and services that allow them to feel good about doing good.
This gradual and promising evolution in the way we consume lifestyle products is often punctuated by greenwashing. On more than one occasion, we come across brands that make false or misleading claims about their social responsibility or commitment to protecting the planet. In my work as a branding copywriter, I’ve had to sit down with countless founders–some well meaning, others simply interested in getting on the green bandwagon. This much I can say, when it comes to building a sustainable brand or turning a corner towards a more eco-friendly supply chain, you simply cannot fake it till you make it.
Consumers are not only more conscious these days. They are also sharper when it comes to spotting the real deal. Since 2005, L’Oreal USA has stayed the course in walking the talk. It was in that year that the largest subsidiary of the Paris-based L’Oreal Groupe sought out to achieve carbon neutrality by advancing its renewable energy ambition. The team at L’Oreal expounds that they took a “multi-pronged approach for improving energy efficiency and transitioning to 100% renewable energy.” The initiative covered spheres such as distribution facilities, administrative sites, as well as research and innovation headquarters.
This sustainability commitment, also referred to as L’Oreal for the Future, endeavored to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. L’Oreal USA, however, hit its targets four years ahead of schedule last 2021. The buck doesn’t stop there. As the world continues to evolve, so too does that scope of L’Oreal for the Future. Towards the tail end of 2021, L’Oreal USA also announced the appointment of its first Sustainability Chief Officer, Marissa Pagnani McGowen.
L’Oreal USA’s First Chief Sustainability Officer
In a statement introducing the newly appointed executive, L’Oreal President and CEO Stéphane Rinderknech said: “Marissa brings to her sustainability work a passion for the power of partnerships and collective action. She has an impressive track record of building sustainable business platforms and embedding sustainability principles into every part of a business. We aim to drive a complete transformation of our business – to be a leader and catalyst of change in the beauty sector and beyond. I firmly believe that we must act with even more urgency to address the social and environmental needs of the planet while preparing our business to meet the opportunities of our dynamic market.”
Defining The Role As L’Oreal’s Chief Sustainability Officer
Marissa hit the ground running immediately after her appointment. As the company’s first ever Chief Sustainability Officer, there were targets to be met and “gray areas” to cautiously navigate. She explains, “L’Oreal has developed bold sustainability targets at the global level. Overseeing sustainability for North America, I am responsible for driving the work towards achieving those goals, while looking for ways in which we can make a positive difference for our consumers, business, partners, employees and communities.”
There is no one fixed formula or straight path when leading a company towards a more sustainable supply chain and business model. Every area or market is unique, and may respond to L’Oreal’s sustainability drive differently. Marissa expounds on these disparities saying, “[This] can stem from how fast consumer trends are developing, how business partners and retailers are prioritizing sustainability, the speed and direction of government policy and regulation. This complexity is why it’s so important for sustainability professionals to really hone their skills around engaging key stakeholders, assessing facts, navigating risks, and collaborating with business partners.” This is what Marissa also refers to as “playing in the gray to achieve truly scalable solutions.”
Water Preservation Is High Up On L’Oreal’s To-Do List
Although targets and goals were met in 2021, the work continues to evolve and grow. It’s an exciting time for the executive and her team, where no two days are ever alike at the CSO’s office. Marissa shares, “We are on a multi-year journey as we work towards our goals. The work for 2022 cuts across a number of areas including sustainable products and packaging (Maybelline New York’s Green Edition line), energy and waste reduction, achieving carbon neutrality, employee learning and engagement, as well as our philanthropic efforts through L’Oreal’s Give Back Program.”
Water preservation and safeguarding ranks high in the priority list of Marissa for 2022. Harnessing the distinct brand of L’Oreal innovation that has allowed it to grow and dominate the beauty world, the CSO discloses that, “By 2023,100% of the water used in our industrial processes will be recycled and reused in a loop. We are working with our strategic suppliers to use water sustainably in the area where they operate.”
The company has also introduced new technologies that would empower business partners and consumers to participate in L’Oreal’s mission of creating scalable solutions to one of the world’s more pressing environmental issues. Marissa cites, “One recent example of work in this area is the L’Oreal Water Saver by Gjosa. This water tech innovation includes a shower head that offers 60% water reduction compared to standard hair washing.” The Water Saver will be distributed to partner salons all across the globe, empowering hair professionals and parlors to take their part in reducing water and energy consumption.
A Far Cry From Greenwashing
Numbers, science and date never lie. These are the tenets that inform the commitments, goals, and achievements at L’Oreal. Admittedly, beauty consumers are now faced with a more complex set of markers that determine whether they will support a brand or not. “Consumers today want to buy from companies and brands that are truly doing what they say they are doing. They can see through marketing and communications that are inauthentic,” says Marissa.
Certifications and badges, at least as far as the regular consumer is concerned, helps to legitimize claims. But it’s a double edged sword that can also make shopping more responsibly feel like rocket science. Marissa confirms, “At the same time, recognizing that consumers are navigating an increasingly complex landscape of environmental product badges and certifications, we galvanized and joined a consortium of consumer hygiene and beauty products companies with the goal of agreeing and rolling out a harmonized eco-beauty score.”
Determined to make the distinction between sincere sustainability commitments and strategic greenwashing, Marissa and her team have also set in place measures that quantify the environmental impact of their products. “We have committed to share the information with our customers through the development of a Product Environmental & Social Impact Labeling mechanism.” The initiative has already rolled out in Europe and will soon be applied to key products in the US. “I am very energized by the opportunity to give our consumers the information they need to make decisions aligned to their values, and for the prospect of consumers choosing brands that are pushing the boundaries on environmental and social issues.”
A multitude of things over at Marissa’s office are happening simultaneously, with varying concerns popping presumably by the hour. Work as L’Oreal USA’s first ever Chief Sustainability Officer is by no means titular or ceremonial. If at all, it’s a job that requires fiery passion for creating a more sustainable tomorrow through partnerships and collaborations. It’s a job that means having to find one’s way around the gray areas so that tomorrow can be greener
Marissa Pagnani McGowan, hers is a mandate that will allow her to live out her life’s purpose and that of the company she currently represents. She ends, “L’Oreal’s north star is our purpose to ‘Create the Beauty that Moves the World. We contribute to this through our sustainability work and continue to build trust with our consumers, not only by delivering the best products across our brand portfolio, but by transforming the way we do business and empowering those we do business with.”