The Estée Lauder Companies made a public pledge in 2016 to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by the end of 2020. For the company with brands including Aveda, Clinique, Estée Lauder, and Origins, that means reaching carbon neutrality across direct business operations.
So far, 2020 is off to a promising start. CDP gave the company an A- on its climate change scorecard for 2019, up from a B for 2018. The company has also made progress toward reaching 100% renewable electricity this year as part of its RE100 commitment.
By the end of June 2019, 66% of the Estée Lauder Companies’ electricity globally came from renewable sources. The company has already achieved its RE100 goal in North America. Last November they signed a virtual power purchase agreement for 22 megawatts from a new wind farm in Oklahoma — the company’s largest renewable deal to date.
Recently we caught up with Nancy Mahon, SVP of global corporate citizenship and sustainability for the Estée Lauder Companies, to find out how the company is getting to net zero.
What are the main advantages to reducing carbon emissions?
Sustainability is a core element of our business strategy and operations at the Estée Lauder Companies. We know that climate mitigation strategies, including investing in high quality renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, will result in a more financially productive business model in the long term.
Additionally, employees, consumers, investors, and communities are all critical stakeholders to our success, and they are demanding more action on reducing our carbon footprint.
Have you reached net zero carbon emissions?
We are close. The Estée Lauder Companies is currently on track to reach net zero carbon emissions and source 100% renewable electricity in 2020.
What steps are you taking?
Integral to progress in 2019 was the continued rollout of a portfolio of projects including solar power and wind energy. Recent investments in support of the net zero goal include installing a 1.4-MW ground-mounted solar array at the company’s Melville campus in New York.
Our employee resource groups (ERGs) are taking initiative to drive sustainable change across our company. We currently have 30 ERGs worldwide — with 4,500 employee members globally — each with a designated person responsible for leading initiatives within the sustainability space.
We set a goal that, by the end of 2020, 100% of our employees worldwide will have access to training on basic sustainability and corporate social impact programs. That way citizenship and sustainability will be top of mind every day we come to work.
What’s been the biggest challenge, and how are you addressing it?
As a global enterprise, we are always faced with the challenge of thoroughly assessing the sustainability of our expansive network of operations, production, and supply chains across all levels. To overcome the challenge, we created a transparent work culture so that anyone in the company can identify issues and propose solutions.
Sustainable packaging is one example. We need to have an actionable discourse with our suppliers to see what their current practices are, and what practices are upcoming to help inform our five-year plan to scale to the goals we set. Partnering in a meaningful way is so important. We have to speak with every key player.
We are constantly challenging ourselves to be ambitious but practical. Our citizenship and sustainability strategy and execution must be grounded in measurable and achievable results. I think we have done a good job balancing ambition with practicality — and celebrating our progress instead of perfection.
Do you have advice for fellow environmental leaders?
The sustainability issues that we face are immense and require humility when approaching them. I challenge myself to think critically about our strategies and not assume that I have all the solutions at hand. That is why we put so much emphasis on cross-sector partnerships and constant dialogue with all stakeholders. Collaboration across the enterprise is essential, but forming deep collaborative relationships with NGOs, policymakers, and others is equally important.
For most companies, supply chain represents a large portion of their emissions. Take a closer look at this area. We have found success in operating with five-year goals. A significant commitment to addressing our business’ impacts on climate change requires time, but also a sense of urgency to realize results.
Although good work is underway, more ambitious long-term goals and targets are needed to create change. I hope to see more companies join the Estée Lauder Companies in setting goals that cover areas such as packaging, energy, sensitive supply chains, and waste.