Evaluating the environmental safety of our products

Environmental safety at the various stages of a product lifecycle is a priority for L’Oréal. Environmental safety assurance begins with raw material (RM) supply. The sourcing of RM of plant origin (~40% of the Group's catalogue) is thus implemented in compliance with the international regulations on the protection of biodiversity while the manufacture of synthetic RMs incorporates the principles of green chemistry.

Subsequently, we evaluate the potential impact of the products on the environment after use by consumers. Particular attention is paid to the aquatic environment due to the fate of hair products and body hygiene products used in the bathroom: after washing or rinsing of the body and hair, the products are discharged as domestic waste, degraded to a variable extent in water-treatment stations and then discharged into streams, lakes, rivers and the sea. L'Oréal has been equipped with its own ecotoxicology laboratory since 1993.

The raw materials for our products are thus selected on the basis of environmental criteria: biodegradability, bioaccumulation potential and ecotoxicity.

  • Biodegradability is the ability of chemicals to be rapidly degraded by the microorganisms present in natural environments. We evaluate whether the substance does or does not persist in the environment.
  • Bioaccumulation refers to the ability of certain substances to accumulate in living beings and food chains. Evaluation addresses the concentration levels that may be harmful to the survival of certain species.
  • Ecotoxicity is the impact of raw materials and mixtures of raw materials on the environment. Ecotoxicity is evaluated in the laboratory on organisms that are representative of the environment, particularly the aquatic environment: micro-algae, invertebrates and fish alevins.

In 2005, we committed to no longer acquiring or developing raw materials which would accumulate the defects of persistence, bioaccumulation and ecotoxicity. The environmental evaluation process was expanded to cover the entire raw material catalog.

In parallel with that evaluation, we conducted a lifecycle analysis (LCA) of the major product groups. LCA is an overall, multiple-criterion analysis at the various stages of the product lifecycle: from raw material supply, through product manufacturing and then distribution, through to discharge of product constituents into the environment after product use by consumers. LCA enables evaluation of the principal environmental footprints such as the water footprint or carbon footprint. LCA also enables identification of specific areas for improvement in the reduction of those impacts (e.g.: reducing the quantity of water that is necessary for rinse off shampoos).

We have thus committed to an ambitious approach to progress within the context of our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy: by 2020, 100% of our products are to be endowed with environmental or societal benefit. In parallel, our plants throughout the world have committed to a 60% reduction in their consumption of water and energy and in their production of wastes vs. the levels in 2005.