COMPANIES NEED GOOD CHANGE MANAGERS, NOT SUSTAINABILITY EXPERTS
Palt aims to set the tone for sustainability in the beauty sector, and is not
resting on her laurels.
Alexandra Palt, chief sustainability officer at L’Oréal
sustainability officer at cosmetics giant L’Oréal, one of France's largest
companies, wants the firm to integrate sustainability into its global business
strategy — and along its entire value chain.
In order to
accomplish her goals, Palt believes she has the right qualities and skillset.
to be a very good change manager, not a sustainability expert,” she said during
an exclusive interview with Devex in Paris. “There are 100,000 sustainability
experts out there, but what we need most are people who know how to lead change
more highlights from our conversation.
You've been chief sustainability
officer at L’Oréal since 2012. Which of your achievements are you most proud
I would not
say “proud of” because it is always a team that collectively works with a chief
sustainability officer. Any successful accomplishment results from the
involvement of a whole group of managers, and the leadership of our CEO. And
we're lucky at L’Oréal to have a CEO [Jean-Paul Agon] with a very strong
commitment to those issues. So I'm proud of the team spirit that allows us to
better work towards our goal: building together an even more sustainable
business model. Thanks to this whole team, we managed to adopt a long-term
vision of sustainability at L’Oreal for 2020 through our "Sharing beauty with all" strategy,
which completely transforms our business and the way we're doing business.
What exactly are the links between
your CSR strategy and your business goals?
is completely integrated into our business model; it is not a program apart. In
order to be embedded into the business strategy, it has to cover the entire
value chain. First innovation; then production.
example, regarding production, we decided to reduce our environmental footprint
by 60 percent. And then, we have our consumers to whom we want to propose the
most sustainable products, so that they can make sustainable lifestyle choices.
We try to encourage them in this direction.
addition, we have decided to help our suppliers to improve their own
sustainability strategy. We encourage them to reduce their environmental
footprint and to increase their social impact.
our growth with our employees, through our social performance program "Share and Care." L’Oréal always had
an ambitious social model in France. As we are global, we want to extend this
social performance. We want every L’Oréal employee in the world to get the best
available health care system in their country. In addition, everywhere in the
world, women will have access to 14-week maternity leave. In a lot of
countries, maternity leave is not a legal requirement.
employees will benefit from a security system, what we call “prevoyance” in
France, that is to say payments in case of invalidity or death of the employee.
Not to mention access to training for everybody.
L’Oréal has developed several programs
in emerging markets, including, for example, a program aimed at empowering
micro-entrepreneurs in Brazil who sell your hair care products …
have community programs with an important ambition: We want to enable 100,000
people from underprivileged communities to access work.
And you also work with the nonprofit
sector to achieve those goals?
with different partners for the achievement of our goals: it can be
researchers, experts, NGOs, consumers' associations, institutions … Regarding
our "Share and Care" social performance program, for example, we work
with theInternational Labor Organization. As part
of the community programs, for our microdistribution programs for example, we
cooperate with national training institutions and banks. And for our
responsible sourcing programs, we partner with fair trade organizations … so we
continuously work with a lot of partners in order to achieve our objectives.
Could you give us a concrete example
of a partnership you've developed with an nongovernmental organization?
argan oil sourcing program in Morocco, we worked with our suppliers and an NGO
called Yamana, which helped us create a social fund and the cooperative of
argan oil produced by women. The international community recognized it as a
best practice for the improvement of working and living conditions of Moroccan
women collecting argan oil.
What are your main challenges now as a
chief sustainability officer?
We have to
continue our efforts with the same energy to achieve our targets. We have to be
ever more innovative in order to change consumers' behaviours, through
packaging innovation for example. How do we get the consumer on board? This is
the most important challenge.
You don't work directly for the CEO,
but you're attached to the communications department. Does this present any
sustainability strategy impacts its entire value chain and is fully supported
by our CEO and the executive committee. All brands and entities are involved
and it's my responsibility to work with them to help them achieve our objectives.
CSR is sometimes used as an argument
to support PR campaigns. What is your point of view regarding CSR and
sustainability goes far beyond communication as we're about to live a
transformation process of our entire value chain to meet our sustainability
objectives. Communication is part of our strategy to make sustainability
desirable by offering consumers sustainable products without compromising on
performance or look.
What would be your key piece of advice
to those working in CSR?
very important is to try to not just use catastrophic messages to get people on
board. Sustainability has to become inspirational.
And if you had to name one thing that
global development professionals should avoid regarding work around sustainability
You have to
be a very good change manager, not a sustainability expert. There are 100,000
sustainability experts out there, but what we need most are people who know how
to lead change on sustainability.
What areas should NGOs improve
regarding the way they work with private companies?
NGOs have to continue to challenge companies. I really encourage NGOs to share
constructive criticism to help us become better. But if they want to build new
long-term relationship models, they really have to put themselves into our
shoes and ask: what are their big business challenges and how can we help
address environmental and social challenges while keeping in mind these
Is it easy for a company like L’Oréal
to work with NGOs?
It is never
easy to work with anybody! Corporations, NGOs — we all have to try and work
together on the basis of trust, with a constructive ambition and without a
help, because I know how NGOs function and what they expect from corporations.
So it's perhaps easier to respond to their needs.