Beauty & Brains

Rare teams up with L’Oreal to boost learning around sustainable sourcing in China

By S.E. Irby

Rare partnered with L’Oreal to train suppliers on sustainable sourcing.

L’Oreal is a global beauty giant, housing well-known brands like Maybelline and Garnier. The company sources 1,600 raw materials from more than 100 countries, and as part of its sustainability program, Sharing Beauty with All, L’Oreal aims to ensure that the raw materials used in its products meet the company’s standards for sustainable sourcing.

Suppliers are critical to the effort, obtaining the raw materials from farmers and setting them on their journey through the supply chain. As L’Oreal answers to growing global demand for eco-conscious and socially responsible cosmetics, the company is turning to its suppliers for help keeping its products true to those titles. And when L’Oreal needed help boosting supplier engagement in Asia, the company turned to Rare.

In May, L’Oreal tapped Rare to help educate its key Asian suppliers on sustainable sourcing, with a training in Shanghai, China. L’Oreal’s Asian suppliers work with resources like raw honey, mint and ganoderma, a mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine. The training laid out L’Oreal’s requirements for sustainable sourcing and emphasized the importance of transparency, including the basics of knowing each material’s plant source, location of origin and cultivation methods (including whether the methods were environmentally-friendly and involved fair labor practices). Rare helped suppliers apply the criteria in work plans, showing them how to map out sustainable supply chains for their own reference and outline a step-by-step process toward sustainable sourcing.

The Rare team drew from recent experience working with farmers, suppliers and brands on sustainable sourcing in the textile industry in China. There, Rare has worked with local cotton farmers to convert practices like chemical pesticide use and water waste, and advance organic agriculture. Rare’s work is fueled by 40 years of experience helping communities of farmers, fishers and other resource users understand their impact on the environment and change their behavior. To make new behaviors stick, Rare has also worked to build up markets for sustainably-harvested materials and the products they make up. Rare’s part in the L’Oreal training brought both efforts together, to motivate new behavior among important actors within the supply chain.

Rare has worked with farmers in China, helping them transition to growing organic cotton. Farmers who use organic methods benefit from improved soil health, improved water quality and a climate-smart approach which improves the holistic ecosystem.

Professor Shangbai Shi, an expert in organic agriculture in China and Rare’s Senior Technical Director for its work in the country, took suppliers through the global context of sustainable sourcing and provide more information on its basic principles. “Rare’s experience in sustainable agriculture in China helped to lay the pathway for the suppliers to fulfill L’Oreal’s standards by highlighting best practices, connecting suppliers to sustainable producers on the ground, and more,” says Professor Shi.

The training also included interactive lessons to show suppliers the bigger picture of sustainable sourcing, and how individual behavior can affect the entire supply chain. One activity had suppliers play out roles as animals and plants, during which they could picture the interdependencies between the two groups and watch what happened to them and their scarce resources (like water) when impactful humans came into the mix.

“We wanted to draw a parallel between the natural ecosystem and the supply chain ecosystem,” says Veronica Yow, Sustainable Markets Manager for Rare in China.

Like the natural ecosystems it is meant to protect, the sustainable supply chain acts based on interdependencies. To create a supply chain “ecosystem” that sources sustainably, suppliers, farmers and other actors must each do their part, and work in harmony to make sure materials are produced sustainably and complete information about that process is available. “It was important for suppliers to understand their role in protecting the environment and become motivated to take next steps,” says Yow.

Yow says the message came through. “We asked suppliers to tell us one thing they would share with their colleagues from the training,” she says. “One said, ‘sustainable sourcing might not be new, but this time, I finally got the point, and I will push for this.’”

Laure Lemarquis, Sustainability Manger for L’Oreal China, says the majority of suppliers left the training with a clear idea of the importance of working on sustainable sourcing, as well as how to proceed. “We are very pleased to work with Rare on the training of our natural ingredients suppliers, to onboard them on our sustainable sourcing journey,” says Lemarquis. “Through an original approach combining expertise and passion, Rare managed to spread both understanding and motivation to our suppliers.”