Even after 192 years, Guerlain is still at the top of its game. Here, the house’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Cécile Lochard, discusses being part of the natural-beauty revolution and protecting some of the most important members of our ecosystem – the bees.
You don’t have to be a sustainability maven to know that bees are facing some serious danger these days. According to Greenpeace, honey bees perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide, with a single bee colony able to pollinate 300 million flowers each day. And due to mostly human-induced factors, including pesticides, habitat destruction and air pollution, the numbers of these colonies have been on a severe decline since the 1960s. So how can we help? From RuPaul’s Drag Race dedicating a mini challenge to these black and yellow beauties to numerous citizen-founded initiatives spreading the word, there have recently been some extreme efforts to bring this issue into a space of global consciousness.
Over the past ten years, heritage luxury beauty house Guerlain has also been intensely contributing to the conversation via its partnership with Ouessant Brittany Black Bee Conservation Association, as well through its now-cult skincare range Abeille Royale, which celebrates the benefits of bee products when it comes to skin repair. But the connection between the house and bees dates way back to 1853, when the label’s founder, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, created a fragrance for Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, called Eau de Cologne Impériale. To bottle it up, he commissioned legendary glassmakers Pochet & du Courval to create a flaçon decorated with the emperor’s coat of arms, a festoon pattern inspired by the Place Vendôme and – you guessed it – bees. Since then, the heroic insect has been a strong source of inspiration at Guerlain, and not just aesthetically.
In celebration of this year’s World Bee Day, which is being marked on 20 May, the French beauty brand is taking things further, setting an ambitious goal of raising €1 million to support six initiatives and partnerships dedicated to bees. “Faced with the worrying decline in pollinator populations, Guerlain is more intent than ever on their protection,” says Cécile Lochard, the house’s Chief Sustainability officer. “To be more visible and powerful with all the action we’ve initiated, we decided recently to unite [the initiatives] under an umbrella brand – the Guerlain for Bees Conservation Programme.” These six pillars have involved research and financial support, as well as an entrepreneurial beekeeping programme for women that was developed with UNESCO.
Having written the groundbreaking book Luxury and Sustainable Development: the New Alliance, published in 2011, Lochard has plenty to say about building a better future. Here, she chats to HUNGER about Guerlain’s sustainable tendencies, the natural-beauty revolution and the importance of bees in ensuring a more hopeful tomorrow.
DINO BONACIC: Having been part of the sustainability sector within the industry for years, how much have you seen the natural-beauty movement evolve over the past decade?
GUERLAIN: We can see how deep changes are accelerating. For a decade now, the change in the cosmetics sector has driven the demand for transparency, traceability, clean beauty and [connection to] nature. And all that is going to accelerate even more after the COVID-19 crisis. Brands will be even more attentive to their customers. As the younger generations, who are most subject to eco-anxiety, tell us loud and clear, there is no luxury without a commitment to protect the planet, because the habitability of their future world depends on it. The post-COVID-19 beauty [world] will obey this cultural change, which will lead us to [a better connection] with different species, more humility in front of the wisdom of the natural worlds and the wonders of nature, more knowledge to answer the complexities of climate challenges, sustainability and habitability of the Earth. So the future will rely on a beauty [industry] that is more focused on sustainable development, sustainable innovation and also its link to nature.
DB: How has Guerlain been evolving as part of that conversation?
G: Over the past few years, the house has progressed significantly in structuring its sustainability approach and the singularity of the house as a nature-driven brand that has bees at its heart. As our 14-year track record [shows], we have proudly managed to work sustainability [into our processes], from the formula of our products to the end of their life, from sustainable sourcing to eco-design and transparency, all the while following LVMH’s standards as robust methodologies to constantly improve ourselves. Our sustainability strategy is shaped around four key pillars, each of them associated with different key performance indicators. Firstly, sustainable innovation with full transparency and traceability as we focus on clean beauty, our link to nature and [being part of] a circular economy. Secondly, it’s taking action to help fight global warming by reducing CO2 emissions [across the business]. Thirdly, preserving and regenerating biodiversity, focusing on bee protection. And lastly, creating positive social contribution, again with bees at the heart.
DB: Why do you feel the bees need our support right now?
G: Born 100 million years ago – homo sapiens appeared only 300,000 years ago – the bee is an ambassador of biodiversity and sustainable development. We believe it to be eternal because it pollinates our collective memory, our infantile imagination – a dangerous error. Pollinators like the bee, wild and domestic, are the victims of our way of life. Let us see them instead as sentinels. This is essential when it comes to ensuring their preservation, which guarantees the food security of our planet.
DB: What makes a luxury product sustainable?
G: Luxury needs to lead the way regarding sustainability. Luxury is a symbol of excellence. And today, it seems to me that the standard value of exemplarity is fast becoming sustainability. However, we must have the courage to be nuanced in these debates as well. Because entering sustainable development means becoming more complex as we continue to be creative and evolve from green constraints to green progress. I believe luxury players must reconcile the requirements of creation and innovation – without which nothing is possible in this sector – with those of the preservation of the natural, cultural and social environment. And I do not believe that the mass market will never be eco-friendly. For example, the food sector is changing drastically and fast under consumer pressure. At Guerlain, we have stayed loyal to our core values while constantly evolving in terms of sustainability requirements and action. As a result, our development priorities have been clearly orientated towards researching more natural formulas and offering packaging that has a reduced environmental impact, but without sacrificing perceived value and product performance. And as our clients grow more and more conscious, our historic commitment to sustainability across our value chains enables us to connect with them, and deepen their loyalty as well as our brand appeal, developing a beauty [range] that is more focused on sustainable development.
DB: Interesting! What do you see for the beauty industry’s future?
G: We are at a critical moment. We can see how deep changes are accelerating thanks to a thirst for meaning, purpose, empathy, care, respect, and connection with the natural world. I enjoy working for a house that effortlessly mixes craft and nature – both are deeply rooted in its DNA. I truly believe that my green vision for luxury represents an alliance between creativity and sustainability. No product can be desirable without a sustainable society. We are dedicated to ensuring that our products and the manner in which they are produced have a positive impact on our entire ecosystem and the regions in which we operate, and that our house actively contributes to a better future. I won’t dare to quote what Dostoevsky wrote about beauty saving the world. With all due respect to him, beauty won’t save the world on its own. Nevertheless, the sector and its players are doing their part, with Guerlain leading the way.
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20 May 2021