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Véronique Courtois, the CEO of Guerlain, is on a mission to create products in the name of beauty. Her work at the French luxury perfume, skincare, and cosmetics company keeps the planet in mind, too, by establishing sustainable ecosystems for new products. Today, that means leading with science-based strategies to become carbon neutral by 2030, first by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and switching to renewable energy sources.
Last summer, the brand announced that its La Ruche production sites in Chartres, France, had switched to using 100 percent biogas, which reduced its carbon footprint by 95 percent. Guerlain also began offsetting emissions from other projects, exploring partnerships with ethical agricultural sites nearby, and launching “Women for Bees” with UNESCO for the conservation of the global bee population. For a beauty brand that relies on honeybees for many of its products, this campaign led to a larger conversation about women in the workplace, environmental preservation, and education.
Whitewall spoke with Courtois to learn how Guerlain acts with biodiversity protection, eco-innovation, and social impact in mind, and why luxury must be synonymous with sustainability.
WHITEWALL: Since Guerlain’s founding in 1828, nature has been at the forefront. How are your strategies today aimed at creating a better future for the planet?
VÉRONIQUE COURTOIS: In recent years, Guerlain has undergone a profound transformation, placing sustainability at the heart of our strategy as one of its vital components.
By 2030, Guerlain will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 47 percent compared with 2019, and by 2030 Guerlain will reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to purchased goods and services, transportation, and distribution by 57 percent—per ton of product produced. Our two main levers consist of improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources. More than half our emissions come from air transportation, therefore we work on decreasing air freight and optimizing our air/sea ratio.
WW: Last year, Guerlain unveiled its “Women for Bees” initiative led by Angelina Jolie, which elaborated on its dedication to honeybees—species critical to the existence of 80 percent of the world’s flora and fauna. What will the program do for the beehives themselves?
VC: Through our partnership with UNESCO, we will facilitate the creation of 2,500 hives in 25 UNESCO biosphere reserves by 2025, ultimately restocking 125 million bees.
The “Women for Bees” program is designed to create female-led employment and education opportunities in selected micro-economies, reaching women all over the world so they can build a network and pass on these skills to their communities beyond the confines of the program. Angelina Jolie put it best by saying, “If you teach a woman, she’ll teach someone else.” This is incredibly true, and so valuable to the growth of this initiative.
WW: During Guerlain’s digital Skincare Symposium last June, it announced its Bee Lab Research Platform. How do the hired researchers help drive Guerlain’s goals?
VC: We understand that we borrow from nature, that no resource is without end, and that we must be conscious of how our products interact with and rely on the fruits of our environment. This approach to our work requires us to be informed.
We know that we cannot grow, advance, and act for our environment if we are not continuing to learn and innovate along the way. Through our Bee Lab Research Platform, we have geared ourselves with the tools to do our best work, to further dedicate and explore the species, what they need, how they exist, and how our work can serve to continue to promote the species and never deplete it.
Throughout the years, we’ve become more passionate about this work—it is not merely a cause we give back to, but a brand pillar. What we know now about bees has prompted us to invest in them more than we ever have before; to lean into the species, learn from it and about it, and invest in doing all that we can to maintain it so that we can continue this work.
WW: Guerlain sources black bee honey from Ouessant Island, a UNESCO biosphere reserve in France, for various products. How did this extraction earn the company a philanthropy award?
VC: The Ouessant Island has one of the purest ecosystems in the world, and it is the native home of the very rare black bee species. The honey these bees produce is impeccable in purity and nutrients. In 2010, Guerlain formed a relationship with the Brittany Black Bee Conservatory, in which we offered to aid in protecting this species and preserving the uniquely rich Ouessant ecosystem. From that, we set up a sustainable development philanthropy program to help fund beekeepers, promote and communicate the importance of their work, and provide legal support to better protect the bees.
We’re proud to begin 2022 with a new chapter in our story through new bold initiatives to come and ambitious targets to deliver a sustainably driven tomorrow and beyond. More than ever, the future of Guerlain will be crafted by making luxury synonymous with sustainability, centered on its efforts to protect and preserve the bee—a sentinel of the environment and the symbol of the house.