Sustainability and philanthropy top CSR agenda

By Leah Armstrong

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Estée lauder Corporate social responsibility Personal care

The emergence of the ‘conscience-consumer’ in recent years has moved Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) from the periphery to the centre stage of cosmetics and personal care companies. But do the main brands share a common vision for the future, and what is highest on their CSR agenda?

Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, L’Oreal, Beiersdorf, Estee Lauder and Avon all display a common awareness of the growing priority social responsibility now occupies in the cosmetics market. Common to all the brands' CSR initiatives is an emphasis on sustainability, environmental awareness, philanthropy and community impact. However, interestingly, the brands differ in their approach to these aims.

‘A Beautiful Environment’

Each of the main companies stresses its commitment to both the research and production of environmentally sustainable cosmetics. Unilever, which chairs the roundtable on sustainable palm oil, recently appealed to governments to support a moratorium on tropical rainforest deforestation. The company states that sustainability can drive growth and is therefore imbedded in its business plan.

Estee Lauder claims to have developed spray-ball technologies in cream and lotion manufacturing facilities, giving water-free cleaning at its powder site. L’Oreal has issued three main targets for 2015, aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions, cut in half water per unit of finished product and cut in half the waste generated per unit of finished product.

High on the agenda is consideration for the disposal of their products and its effect on the environment after use. Aveda and Khiels are two brands to have received ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certification for biodegradable cosmetics products which have minimised the effects on the environment from production to disposal. P&G states that it has invested in ‘fate research’, looking closely at the impact their products will have after use.


A notable trend emerging from the CSR policies of each brand is an emphasis on philanthropy and the development of partnerships with charities and community organisations.

Beiersdorf and Estee Lauder both run ‘employee volunteer’ initiatives, in which employee’s skills are ‘donated’ to charities. Estee Lauder states that 50 percent of its employees took up this initiative. Nivea, under Beirsdorf, has been working with Plan International, a children’s aid organisation ‘to intensify social commitment to children in a targeted and sustained manner’. This is in line with Beiersdorf’s main CSR principles of education, family and culture.

Unilever has set up the ‘Vaseline Skin fund’, which works to improve the lives of those affected with skin conditions by providing them better access to specialist knowledge, advice and support. It aims to help 3 million worldwide by 2012 through this program. L’Oreal also supports missions to operate facial repair surgery. Estee Lauder focuses on breast cancer awareness and research.

Helping women

Interestingly, many of the brands emphasise a commitment to women in their philanthropic objectives. L’Oreal supported UNESCO in the 10th anniversary of ‘For women in science’. Unilever has worked to employ more women in Saudi Arabia and India. Dove, under the Unilever brand, also launched the ‘Dove self-esteem fund’, which aimed to give women more self-esteem. Bobbi Brown, president of the eponymous Estee Lauder brand, supports ‘Dress For Success’, a charity that helps women succeed at job interviews.

Whilst there many be differences in the way each brand has approached CSR objectives, it is also clear that common trends seem to be emerging from what has become an increasingly important aspect of businesses in the cosmetics and personal care industry.

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