In the run up to what promises to be a totally fabulous Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference on February 5th, 2013, in London, which you have every reason not to attend, but hopefully you will anyway, I will be chatting with some of the movers and shakers who will contribute to the fabulosity of the day. First off is Alexandra Palt, who joined L'Oreal in February 2012 to lead CSR and Sustainability for the Group.
 
Alexandra Palt,
Director, Corporate
Social Responsibility
and Sustainability,
L'Oréal
Coming from a legal background, in 2002, Alexandra Palt joined  "IMS-Entreprendre pour la Cité", a membership association engaged in Corporate Social Responsibility. Then, from 2006 to 2008, as Director, Promotion of Equality, at the HALDE, she elaborated policies to promote equality in various fields such as education, employment, housing. In 2008, she founded and directed Fabric of Society, a consultancy agency helping companies to take into account the new social and community challenges of society. Although the move to L'Oréal in 2012 is Alexandra's first role in a major corporate, is is not very different from what she had imagined.

"It is very exciting getting involved in all business decisions and in all essential roles. It's fascinating. The most challenging thing for me in this role is the fact that sometimes, stakeholder expectations are very different from the issues which we consider to be the most pressing for us.

For us, sustainability is not box-ticking. We conduct stakeholder forums and extensive discussions with NGOs and other stakeholders. Sometimes, what they consider important is already history for us, for example, the importance of one ingredient that we have already taken out of our products.

They talk to us about palm oil - there is a lot of emphasis on palm oil today - and for us, this is important too, but we are already sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil and in any event, we are a very small consumer of palm oil. Animal testing is another, very emotional, issue. We have been working since 1989 to get out of animal testing, we have no finished products tested on animals and 99 percent of ingredients are not tested on animals. Just one percent of ingredients are tested on animals for unavoidable health and safety reasons.

This type of discussion will not help us to go further. Sustainable brands is the stuff that will help transformation, as well as inclusive business and helping to change lives."

L'Oréal is the number one cosmetics group worldwide with 20.3 billion euros of sales in 2011 and 68 900 employees. L'Oréal has been reporting for the past ten years or so, and the company's most recent report went live in April 2012 in the form of a sustainable development website and a printed summary. There is also a "Section for Experts" which is a very useful 102 page download of detailed responses to the GRI Index.

L'Oreal's Sustainability Report website

The report  includes a fascinating look at innovative "Predictive Evaluation Methods" which enable replacement of animal testing for 99% of product ingredients. Environmentally, L'Oréal aims to win over 1 billion customers while keeping its environmental footprint in check and reducing emissions, water consumption and waste generation by 50% per product unit between 2005 and 2015. And, of course, as a company for women, women do well at L'Oréal. Women account for 63% of all staff, and 58% of managers. 41% of Management Committee members are women and 21.4% of the Executive Committee.  43% of L'Oréal brands are managed by women.

The 2012 report will be Alexandra's first for L'Oréal, so it seemed appropriate to ask her what she considers to be Smarter Sustainability Reporting, which is at the heart of the forthcoming conference theme. Alexandra said: "To me, it means responding to the preoccupations of stakeholders while insisting on a long term vision of what is really relevant to the business or to the planet. We must proactively envision tomorrow. A report has to have this visionary element - in the right measure. We have made a lot of progress and our report this year is based on a good materiality analysis which is relevant for our business, although it is still work in progress. "

L'Oréal's central theme and role in society is deeply connected to the role of beauty. L'Oréal might even have coined the expression "Responsible Beauty". The company has supported masses of research into the effects of beauty, which has shown that beauty is an essential need of humanity. Research demonstrates there is a positive impact on cancer patients, young girls with eating disorders, or people in difficult social situations and others, who benefit greatly from being able to show their best face to the world. I challenged Alexandra: But, surely, beauty is rather superficial and even judgmental? Is being beautiful a worthy goal of sustainable development? Alexandra asserted: "Taking care of yourself and achieving an inner feeling of beauty helps people to reconstruct themselves. If somebody thinks that beauty is superficial, then they haven't thought a lot about it. We feel good if we consider ourselves to be as beautiful as we can be. This is the reality."  

Alexandra also talked about the culture at L'Oréal, saying: "It's about individuals and the talent they have. At L'Oréal, we are provided with a job in which you can express your talent. We are passionate about human beings and allow people to express and integrate issues such as work-life balance and more. L'Oréal never lets people down - if you are not good at one thing, we find you another - every person has talent and the idea is to connect that talent to the needs of the business."

At the Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference, Alexandra will talk about Relevance and Materiality, topics which in themselves are both relevant and material! I am looking forward to hearing more of  what Alexandra has to say and hope you will be joining me!