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The 'Human Dimension' – L'Oréal's Charles Duclaux on Measuring the Social Impacts of Products

Image credit: L’Oréal

PRé Sustainability has gathered industry leaders from L’Oréal, Marks & Spencer, Steelcase, BASF, BMW Group, DSM, Goodyear, Philips, AkzoNobel, Corbion, Ahold and Reckitt Benckiser for the Roundtable for Social Metrics, which has developed pioneering principles and metrics for social impact assessment. We spoke to Charles Duclaux, Head of Corporate Responsibility Reporting and Environmental Innovation at L'Oréal, about the Roundtable's new Handbook and L'Oréal's sustainability efforts at large.

What can you tell us about L’Oréal’s sustainability strategy?

L’Oréal announced in October 2013 new sustainability commitments, through the SHARING BEAUTY WITH ALL program. Part of the Group’s growth strategy, these commitments to produce more but with less impact and to engage consumers, are at the heart of its business.

To make sure we deliver against our vision, we have created a framework with four clear commitments all along our value chain, which will help us to measure our progress: Innovating Sustainably, Producing Sustainably, Living Sustainably and Developing Sustainably.

Targets support these commitments, as an example: By 2020, we will enable more than 100,000 people from underprivileged communities, equivalent to the size of our global workforce, to access work.

What motivated L’Oréal to begin focusing on the social aspects of sustainability?

Even if our first public commitments were focused on environmental aspects (50 percent reduction in CO2, waste and water by 2015 on a 2005 baseline for plants and distribution centers), L’Oréal has always put the human dimension at the center of the Company. The Group already developed a lot of initiatives regarding socials aspects of sustainability (Solidarity Sourcing, Ethics programs, social audits, etc.), so it is not something new.

We strengthened them through the SHARING BEAUTY WITH ALL program, making sure we addressed all our stakeholders (employees, suppliers and communities). We want to go a step further in being able to assess our product on social aspects.

L'Oréal's Charles Duclaux (L)
and PRé's João Fontes
will discuss the
Product Social Impact Assessment
New Metrics '14

What motivated L’Oréal to join the Roundtable for Product Social Metrics?

L’Oréal has committed to assess the environmental and social profile of 100 percent of its new products by 2020 and make this information available to allow consumers to make sustainable lifestyle choices.

To achieve that goal we need to be able to assess the social impact of our products, and we were keen to participate in this new and innovative initiative. This is the reason why we were so interested in the Roundtable’s reflection on the methodology — we wanted to be part of the journey in order to develop a pragmatic and feasible framework that could be applicable within an international, industrial organization.

Last week, the Roundtable released a new methodology to assess the social impacts of products. Why is the product-level approach important for L’Oréal?

The product-level approach is key for two reasons:

We have to make sure our products are environmentally but also socially responsible. If we want to assess them, identify the hotspots and improve their profile, we need a methodology that enables us to measure and differentiate products one from another on this particular aspect.

Consumers are more and more interested in knowing about the impact of the products they buy, not only on environmental aspects but also on social aspects. Only a product-level approach enables to differentiate products from each other and then help purchasing decision-making.

Is the Handbook ready-to-use for any company that would want to? Or do companies still need assistance/guidance if they want to apply the methodology?

The Handbook is ready, written in such a way that people with interest should understand. Companies may find that some data may not currently exist and processes may need to be developed to collect the necessary information. PRé and the Roundtable partners would be pleased to explain further.

In your opinion, what are the next steps that need to be set in the social sustainability arena?

Evaluating what companies and their suppliers do in terms of good practices is something that can be easily measured because it’s mostly under control. More difficult is what happens far from the organisation and especially on the user side.

Involving consumers in sustainability is a real challenge and measuring how they feel when using the product is something that still calls for scientific approaches.

You’re participating in both a plenary and a breakout session on Product Social Footprinting with PRé Sustainability’s João Fontes at next week’s New Metrics conference — what can we expect to learn from the sessions?

We are representing The Roundtable for Product Social Metrics — we want to share our insights and learnings while developing the methodology and Handbook, so we are working very hard for an insightful plenary and an interactive breakout. We will share business cases in which we applied the Product Social Impact Assessment Methodology, and I also want to explain how Product Social Footprinting fits into L’Oréal’s sustainability strategy. But most importantly, we want to create an open discussion and listen to other companies so we can take Product Social Footprint to the next level. So I encourage interested companies to attend our breakout session. At the end, our only goal is that companies get to implement social metrics as part of their sustainability strategies.

Anna is an Insight Development Research Associate for Sustainable Brands. As part of the Content Team she researches trends in sustainability and assists in program development for our conferences. She brings a decade of media and community organizing experience, a… [Read more about Anna Lui]

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