Preventing environmental impact
Human health goes hand in hand with "environmental health". L’Oréal has developed methods of predictive evaluation used to anticipate the beneficial or negative effects of a substance on humans, and the Research & Innovation department has adopted a similar policy to evaluate the effects on the environment.
L’Oréal’s approach concerns both the upstream selection of new raw materials, new active ingredients to be incorporated in its products and downstream evaluation, to know their impact on the environment. Every year, L'Oréal introduces new raw materials into its portfolio either to improve the quality of its products or to gain in performance.
When a new raw material is selected, its environmental impact needs to be predicted. The aim is to gradually move the portfolio towards raw materials from renewable resources, with a low environmental impact. L’Oréal’s approach is original as it is multi-disciplinary.
It concerns the scientific study of chemical substances on the environment and personal safety. For the last 15 years, this has been the mission of the ecotoxicology department in environmental research led by Mark Leonard which is at the origin of methods validated and recognized worldwide.
It also concerns the desire to use renewable natural resources as much as possible, without threatening biodiversity and the ecosystem from which they are taken. Prediction concerns not only respect for biodiversity – 40% of L’Oréal products are plant-based – but also the conditions linked to this biodiversity: fair trade, the corporate and societal impact of their production. This is the job of the sustainable development department responsible for biodiversity and sustainable development (SD) directed by Rachel Barré.
Since June 2012, both approaches are included in the environmental research and sustainable development department located in Aulnay, at the headquarters of L’Oréal Advanced Research, directed by Laurent Guilbert.
Ecotoxicology: Systematic environmental evaluation.
Ecotoxicology means studying the behavior and effects of chemical substances on the environment. More than 15 years ago, the L’Oréal group formed a small ecotoxicology team. Today, the laboratory in Aulnay employs ten or so people. The teams have gained international recognition and are responsible for methods that are validated and recognized worldwide.
From the start of the product development process, the laboratory eliminates any ingredients whose environmental profile is not favorable.
These ingredients are analyzed using globally defined criteria, in particular the RSE qualification system for raw materials recommended by European Reach legislation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals).
Once the raw materials tests have been conducted, studies are carried out to predict their environmental impact. "Even if, given current scientific knowledge, we find that a product has no environmental impact today, we have to anticipate the scientific progress of the next 20 years that could call our analysis into question", explains Mark Leonard, director of the laboratory.
As vertebrates are prohibited, all studies are conducted on models such as monocellular algae, micro-crustaceans (daphnia), fish eggs, coral cells, etc. Calculations are then used to extrapolate the results to obtain data that are representative of toxicity for the environment or biodegradability, in other words their ability to decompose without endangering the environment. However, multiple conditions need to be taken into account such as substance concentration, methods of exposure, and hydrodynamic parameters of species to get to humans.
"The environmental impact is not limited to analyzing the impact of a chemical substance on an organism or an ecosystem at any specific time", explains Mark Leonard. In fact, thousands of interacting species have to be considered. A chemical substance can be transferred to humans from an animal or plant species.
"Substances can accumulate over time, stored in organisms or in a link in the food chain, known as bio accumulation. We also have to analyze the absence of damage in all situations, whether they are usual, such as rain, hail or snow, but also in unexpected conditions such as variations in the levels of CO2 in the air, the chemical composition of water or the texture of a soil".
The policy extends to the suppliers of raw materials. The Ecotoxicology department will use its evaluation know-how when the environmental impact of the substances supplied is not sufficiently documented.
While the studies were initially conducted in vivo, in silico simulations are increasingly carried out, by means of mathematical modeling tools. More and more frequently, research teams are required to produce data that can be used to calculate the environmental impact of a formula before it is chemically synthesized, limiting the environmental impact to a minimum.
Product evaluation - OECD: final step in the validation process of a new alternative method: More information here.
Predicting the impact of the use of natural resources on biodiversity
At L’Oréal, 1200 ingredients or 40% of raw materials are already of natural origin: plant or microbial (bacteria, micro-organisms, yeasts, etc.). In new raw materials selected, this rate is even higher as 56% come from nature.
The Research & Innovation department is still working to identify alternatives to substances from the petrochemical industry that have less of an environmental impact for equal performance, in particular exploring the potential of natural molecules or solvents This proactive approach in some cases has enabled plant alternatives to be found for raw materials from the petrochemical sector: 70 % of newly recorded polymers are plant-based. Some synthetic polymers are thus being replaced by polysaccharides However, procurement should not threaten biodiversity or upset an ecological balance.
Rachel Barré’s Sustainable Development (SD) team acts very early on with L’Oréal Advanced Research to set up projects to reduce the environmental impact of procuring natural raw materials.
Concretely, a laboratory issues a "declaration of interest" in using a plant-based raw material. The SD department asks a certain number of questions about the species concerned, its country, wild nature, culture, harvesting. In other words, for a given species, all the challenges of the sector are identified. A species may be threatened in one country but not another
The challenges are summarized in a "plant file", and this table is used to question a supplier in detail and determine if the raw material can be included in the portfolio or not The predictive nature of this approach goes far beyond the environmental aspects to take account of economic and cultural aspects. A plant may represent an important source of income and jobs for local populations. L’Oréal is especially sensitive to ensuring a fair return for local populations to ensure the sustainability of the supply. This is true for Argan trees in Morocco.
"We believe that, to preserve the environment, biodiversity needs to be valued in order to protect it better" explains Rachel Barré, head of the SD department.
In 2010, numerous products containing argan oil were launched, such as Huile Universelle by Kérastase. In 2010 again, a new raw material from this sector was added to the existing range: the kernel powder will be used in Ushuaia products for its exfoliating properties. Anticipating the creation of sustainable and fair sectors is an approach being developed in other regions around the world. This is the case in Africa for the suppliers of shea butter. The SD team in Brazil is currently attempting to invent a way of using the biodiversity of the Amazonian rainforest with its supplier, Beraca (explain who is Beraca). Two ingredients are being studied: the Açaï berry (whose extract is used in the Fructis Color conditioner by Garnier) or pracaxi oil. These ingredients can only be found in Brazil.
Taking account of the local cultural dimension is essential. In China and India, research is conducted in respect of the heritage of traditional plant medicine. This is true for Emblica in India exploited in agreement with the National Biodiversity Authority.