An approach that companies use to expand sustainable business practices is to build new brands centered on sustainability. For example, last year confectionery manufacturer Kanro released its Hitotsubu Kanro earth brand (in Japanese), which drove the development of products centered around four ecological concepts, including upcycling and recycling.
There is also the approach for a company to set its own original standards for the environment or society and develop certified products that meet those standards. In order to visualize the value delivered by its products, Mitsui Chemicals certified a series of Blue Value™ products with reduced environmental impacts and Rose Value™ products that help improve quality of life. The expansion of sales revenue ratios for these products is incorporated into the company’s management objectives.
At a glance, these methods may seem straightforward, but from the consumer’s point of view, three major issues arise: uncertainty about whether the evaluation criteria are appropriate (1. objectivity), difficulty drawing comparisons between products (2. comparability) and lack of information presented in a manner that is accessible and digestible (3. ease of understanding).
Lessons from L’Oréal’s Overall Product Environmental Impact score
In France and the UK, L’Oréal is working on an Overall Product Environmental Impact score that evaluates and discloses the environmental impact of each of its products holistically over their life cycle. The overall score is displayed as five grades on a scale of A to E based on data from L’Oréal Group products within the same category sold in 2020. It also provides individual assessments of carbon and water footprints, which have particularly significant environmental impacts.
Last year, the group began implementing the score in the U.S. with its Garnier-branded haircare and skincare products and plans to gradually expand the brands and products covered. Along with the rollout, the group used a consumer survey to confirm strong demand for product sustainability information.
As far as objectivity (#1) is concerned, the score was developed with the help of 11 independent scientific experts and comprises 14 planetary impact factors rooted in the planetary boundaries concept. It is aligned with the Guidance for the implementation of the EU Environmental Product Footprint (PEF), which is said to represent the most rigorous standards. Detailed documents on the evaluation criteria are available to view, and each product’s assessment results are audited by an independent certification authority.
Since each product displays a score out of five, comparability (#2) is a given. In addition, the group’s findings are shared with the roughly 60 cosmetics companies that belong to the EcoBeautyScore consortium in an attempt to shape industry standards. Once the consortium finalizes its own standards, planned in late 2023, L’Oréal has pledged it will switch over to the new scoring system.
The A to E rating scale, a format that is considered easy to understand (#3), has also been implemented in nutrition labels for food products in the EU. Furthermore, a website was launched that allows users to search for and compare products by score. When you visit the page for an E-rated product, it also provides a link to an alternative with a higher score.
Supporting consumer ownership of purchasing decisions
In the medical world, patients gather exhaustive information on risks and benefits to make independent, informed decisions. Through this endeavor, L’Oréal has demonstrated its commitment to help consumers get adequate information to make informed purchasing decisions.
For the company, this approach goes beyond a passive stance of simply avoiding greenwashing, assuring transparency and fulfilling responsibilities — it provides a new formula for consumer decision-making and is essential to creating an ethical marketplace.
Takeshi Nozawa (Author), Translation by Melody Poland