Exclusive interview

Estée Lauder Companies shares sustainability best practices, part 1

Nancy Mahon, senior vice president of global corporate citizenship and sustainability at Esteé Lauder Companies

Ahead of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in New York City this May, Cosmetics Design connected with Nancy Mahon, senior vice president of global corporate citizenship and sustainability at The Estée Lauder Companies, to find out how the multinational beauty company manages sustainability. Part 1 of our Q&A is all about creating value through sustainability.

Cosmetics Design: What does sustainability mean to Estée Lauder Companies?

Nancy Mahon: “As a family-founded company, The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) has always had a great sense of responsibility to the next generation, and we know that the choices we make have effects far beyond our business. So in short, sustainability to us is about making the smart (and sometimes difficult) choices of today that can help build a world that is more beautiful and enduring in the future.”

Cosmetics Design: Why should beauty brands big and small incorporate sustainability initiatives into their business model?

Nancy Mahon: “Employees, consumers, and investors are increasingly calling for brands to act responsibly and thoughtfully. As such, citizenship and sustainability is no longer a business ‘nice-to-have’ but rather an imperative to staying relevant and competitive in today’s global landscape.

“Integrating sustainability initiatives into business models in a strategic and authentic way can lead to clear benefits for brands. To name just a few, successful initiatives can drive operational efficiencies, improve talent acquisition and retention, and bolster brand reputation and consumer loyalty.

“With a portfolio of 25+ prestige beauty brands each with a distinctive identity, we often seek to create and integrate such initiatives via a tailored approach rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. From Aveda’s commitment to clean water to the M·A·C AIDS Fund’s support for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, we seek to preserve and nurture each brand’s unique purpose and identity. In doing so, these initiatives in turn often become the key business drivers and differentiators for the brand itself.”

Cosmetics Design: Where do these initiatives have the biggest value?

Nancy Mahon: “Sustainability programs create the most value when effectively and efficiently integrated across the product life cycle (from sourcing, to manufacturing, to consumption). With that said, conducting a value chain assessment to map out your business’ areas of greatest social and environmental impact can help identify and prioritize the most significant areas of opportunity, urgency, or ‘value’. When planning and sequencing initiatives, it can also be helpful to stage projects in such a way that will allow for quick wins in the beginning, in order to build enthusiasm and encourage support for new programs. Partnering with advocates in business units is always a great place to start.”

Cosmetics Design: What are the rewards and benefits of having and meeting sustainability targets?

Nancy Mahon: “Targets are a very clear way for us to hold ourselves accountable and to show our commitment. It provides a way for us to measure our progress using a standardized vocabulary and defined milestones. Internally, targets allow employees and business units to understand and strive towards a common and well-delineated goal and to self-recalibrate/readjust where needed. Externally, targets can help encourage consumers, investors, suppliers, and industry peers to support our actions. Our targets help us drive the business forward and tell the story of our journey.”

Learn more about “Tackling the Sustainability Challenge” when Nancy Mahon speaks on May 4th at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in New York City.

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