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Sustainability and social impact in the beauty industry

A conversation with The Estée Lauder Companies' Chief Sustainability Officer

In the dynamic world of consumer goods, the role of sustainability and social impact has become increasingly crucial. Nancy Mahon, Chief Sustainability Officer at The Estée Lauder Companies, sheds light on the company's efforts, the impact of partnerships, and the involvement of internal stakeholders in helping to foster a greener future.

Global Retail Outlook 2024: Industry perspective


As a part of our recent report, Global Retail Outlook 2024, we asked 200 retail leaders across the globe to provide their expectations for revenue and operating margin for the industry as a whole. Over the last few months, we have also gathered the industry perspectives by interviewing some of our clients and below is an excerpt of one of such conversations with The Estée Lauder Companies.

The power of consumer businesses

For The Estée Lauder Companies, sustainability isn't just about reducing environmental impact, it's about creating social impact with and for key stakeholders. Nancy emphasizes the unique and influential position consumer goods companies have in that regard. "Consumer goods companies have an incredible opportunity to connect with not only employees, but also consumers, and that collective power of people and brands can lead to impactful change," she states. This power, she believes, positions organizations like The Estée Lauder Companies as pivotal players in helping to address global challenges.

Driving value for stakeholders

In order to use this influence, sustainability efforts must be aligned with the brand, with retail messaging and in the employee experience. "We need to talk about our work in a way that's relevant to all stakeholders and is valuable to them" she says, emphasizing the need for an approach that benefits employees, consumers, investors, and governments alike.

Partnerships for progress

It’s clear that partnerships play a role in The Estée Lauder Companies' sustainability journey. Nancy highlights the collaborative efforts with both industry peers and partners from various sectors who share The Estée Lauder Companies' commitment to sustainability. The beauty giant has engaged with packaging suppliers, competitors, and even those in unrelated sectors, illustrating that sustainability is a collective effort. "It is a team sport," says Nancy. “And our scale helps to initiate and create meaningful change.”

Environmental ratings, regulations and reporting guidelines

Nancy proudly mentions The Estée Lauder Companies’ recent achievements in the environmental ratings. The company earned high marks in the climate, water, and timber categories from the CDP (system for sustainability reporting). 

When discussing the evolving landscape of Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) Nancy has a positive outlook. While recognizing the challenges, she welcomes the potential for standardization in the reporting field. Standardized reporting would not only simplify the process for companies but can also provide a harmonized narrative that can be shared globally. This, she believes, will help facilitate a more transparent and impactful way for us to tell their sustainability stories.

Empowering internal stakeholders

At The Estée Lauder Companies, employees play an important role in the sustainability journey. An internal survey called “ELC Listens” revealed that employees really value having “green” buildings, for example. As a result, the company amplified internal communication about its sustainability initiatives and has empowered employees through the creation of green teams in various offices. This helps to foster a sense of involvement and ownership among employees.

Education is another way for The Estée Lauder Companies' sustainability strategy to filter down to its employees. Several teams from different departments recently took part in a training initiative focused on understanding Scope 3 emissions and there’s a climate hackathon planned with the IT team, recognizing the significant impact IT decisions can have on sustainability.

Personal connection to sustainability

Nancy's personal connection to sustainability goes beyond her professional role and is also clearly present in her family life. "We were blessed as a family to not be heavily impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it did become a time for us to re-evaluate priorities and consider the broader impact we have on the world. Whether it's using recycled plastic or cardboard, or minimizing water usage while brushing our teeth, my family now actively engages in sustainable practices wherever possible.

Read our full report 2024 Global Retail Outlook to deep dive into more such industry perspectives.

Nancy Mahon, Chief Sustainability Officer, The Estée Lauder Companies says

“Obviously in a large company, the complexity of working on sustainability is very different but the principles are essentially the same – it's about making conscious choices, understanding the impact, and actively contributing to positive change.”

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