Hits the SPOT: A Look at L’Oréal’s Sustainability Tool

Whether it’s microbeads clogging our oceans, difficult-to-recycle beauty packaging, or paying people a decent wage for their ingredients, it’s fair to say that the impact cosmetic products have goes far beyond concealing our blemishes.

So how can the industry, which is already beginning to step up, best tackle issues such as these?

This year, Fast Company picked L’Oréal’s Sustainable Product Optimization Tool (SPOT) as a finalist in the ‘General Excellence’ category of its World Changing Ideas Awards. The annual scheme honours innovative ideas for good, and the General Excellence category is for broad ideas – ‘anything that has the potential to effect true systems change or solve wicked problems.’

So, what is SPOT and how does it work in evaluating the sustainability of 100% of the beauty company’s products?

Well, it’s a product assessment tool that measures not only the environmental impact, but the social impact too, of all the L’Oréal products across every aspect of the product lifecycle – including packaging, the formula’s footprint, ingredients sourcing and the social benefit of the product.

Hailed as a first-of-its-kind in the beauty industry, the cosmetics firm teamed up with sustainability and life-cycle analysis experts EY and Quantis back in 2013 to design the tool, also convening with panels of international experts to help them develop a robust methodology. And it’s no mean feat; this is the first tool to calculate the social impact of cosmetics.

For the environmental side, the tool uses lifecycle analysis as well as the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s concept of ‘planetary boundaries’ – explained in the popular TED talk by Professor Johan Rockström.

Four years on, and all of the cosmetic giant’s new or renovated products – that’s more than 2,300 – were assessed using SPOT in 2017, and some 76% of the products launched last year have been improved. The goal is, according to L’Oréal, to improve the social or environmental profile of all of the group’s new products by 2020.

As well as assessing all the products last year, product design teams were trained on SPOT, integrating the tool into the design process for all new products. Essentially, the tool offers an environmental and social ‘lens’ and to identify opportunities for improvement, and the teams can simulate various design options across packaging, sourcing and ingredients.

SPOT sits under the larger umbrella of L’Oréal’s sustainability commitment Sharing Beauty with All, and Danielle Azoulay, the company’s head of CSR and sustainability at L’Oréal USA, says, “tools like SPOT have the power to create true change”.

So, what does this change look like in reality?

By using the tool in 2016, skincare brand La Roche-Posay improved the biodegradability of its exfoliating scrub by 10%, thanks to replacing plastic microbeads with the environmentally friendly mineral particle, perlite.

By the end of that year, none of the L’Oréal Group’s rinse-off exfoliating products contained plastic microbeads.

Last year, premium brand Vichy improved its rich skincare treatment Aqualia Thermal across four areas. First, packaging: the brand stopped laminating the box to make recycling easier, used 10% recycled glass in the jar and cut the weight of the cap by 10g (or 44%). The team boosted the biodegradability rate of the formula from 71% to 97% and the proportion of renewable ingredients sourced sustainably or from green chemistry jumped from just over half (55%) to nearly the whole (95%).

Finally, the formula sourced shea butter from a sustainable programme in Burkina Faso, benefiting more than 35,000 women producers.

So, what’s next?

“We want to make these assessments accessible to consumers to help them make more informed and more sustainable consumption choices,” says Azoulay.

This information will be available to consumers by 2020. The plan is for all of L’Oréal’s brands to adopt a social and environmental display mechanism in line with European recommendations that consumers can understand.

“We manufacture more than one billion units of product in the United States,” says Azoulay. “With that scale comes influence and opportunity to address environmental challenges.”