In a recent video marking the first anniversary of the Business Roundtable’s adoption of a revised statement of purpose for a corporation, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon spoke about how the new definition — which was expanded from a tight focus on shareholders to one that also includes customers, employees, suppliers and communities — reflects the willingness of major companies to step up and tackle such problems as the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and climate change.
“The challenges our countries face this year have tested us,” said McMillon, current chairman of the group, which is made up of CEOs from many of America’s leading corporations. “And if there are any questions about the need for a stakeholder approach to capitalism, they were answered by businesses’ response to the crises of the past year.”
Companies based in the U.S. have been joined by their counterparts in other nations in embracing a more expansive concept of their mission. L’Oréal is a case in point. The world’s largest beauty care supplier has developed an ambitious corporate social responsibility agenda, one that assigns high priority to sustainability, an issue with profound implications for businesses — and everyone else on the planet — that has been overshadowed in recent months by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our commitment to sustainability is very deeply embedded in everything we do every day — from the way we source ingredients to our innovations to the packaging and the overall footprint of our operations as well,” says Nathalie Gerschtein, president of L’Oréal’s U.S. Consumer Products Division. “Sustainability is really integrated into every facet of our business. Today we are taking a holistic look at our value chain, and we are managing our sustainability goals with the same entrepreneurial spirit and the same ambition as our business goals.
“The key here is also to decouple the business success to sustainability, because, in the past, and for many industries, the more they produce and the more they grow, the less sustainable they are. But for us what’s important is to do exactly the opposite. And so taking this approach has allowed us to offer to our consumers and to our retailers innovations and services that align with our common vision of a more sustainable future, so sustainability sourced ingredients, post-consumer recycled plastic, lightweight product packaging, and also substantial improvements in our factories with solar energy and waste reduction.”
Within the consumer products division, Garnier is the emblem of sustainability, according to Gerschtein, who notes that by next year 100% of the brand’s hair care bottles will be made of post-consumer resin plastic.
“What is even more exciting in this journey is what’s going to happen going forward,” Gerschtein says. “The L’Oréal Group has recently announced our ambitious 2030 Global Sustainability program, called L’Oréal for the Future. We were advocating for Sharing Beauty With All, and will now take this to an all-new level. This program will accelerate the transformation, the journey that we have undertaken over the past decade to really place sustainability at the very core of our business.”
L’Oréal for the Future is comprised of three main elements, which together aim to address issues ranging from the need to protect the health of Earth’s ecosystem to improving the lives of women in need.
“The first program is about really transforming ourselves and respecting what we call planetary boundaries,” explains Gerschtein. “We are implementing a new internal transformation program with three quantifiable objectives to relieve the impact of all of our activities on climate, on water, on biodiversity and on natural resources. That’s the first pillar.
“The second one is about empowering our business ecosystem, helping the transition to a more sustainable world. We believe it is our responsibility to really involve our customers, suppliers and consumers in our transformation process. We are making new commitments to ensure that our suppliers adopt sustainability policies that are as ambitious as our own policies, and are including the empowerment of the communities that we interact with as a key objective for 2030. We are also launching an environmental and social labeling system to assist our consumers in making purchasing choices that are aligned with our values.
“The third and last pillar is to contribute to solving the challenges of the world by supporting urgent social and environmental needs, such as helping vulnerable women and protecting nature. Beyond the transformation of the business model, we really want to help address some of today’s most pressing social and environmental challenges, and so we are allocating 100 million euros to impact things like the regeneration of the ecosystem and the development of the circular economy, and another 50 million euros to help vulnerable women.”
Like members of the Business Roundtable, whom McMillon says believe “that a vibrant free market system, which pursues social good and economic prosperity hand in hand, doesn’t just spark a vibrant economy, it makes a profound difference in the lives of all Americans,” L’Oréal intends to lead by example. Gerschtein notes that the company aims to “inspire our suppliers, our consumers and our stakeholders to take actions alongside us.”
In an era when government institutions are frequently deadlocked, greater involvement by corporations offers some hope that meaningful progress toward solving pressing societal and environmental problems can and will be made.