A View from the top

Alexandra Palt is trying to make L’Oréal 100% sustainable

L’Oréal is a giant of the beauty world, and now its executive vice president is pushing the company to lead the industry on sustainability and corporate responsibility, writes Andy Martin

Friday 24 July 2020 19:15 BST
Alexandra Palt, executive vice president of L’Oréal
Alexandra Palt, executive vice president of L’Oréal (L’Oréal)

L’Oréal is the biggest beauty company in the world. It sells around 7 billion soothing, smoothing, fragrant, appearance-enhancing, age-defying products every year. Something for nearly every person on the planet. Which is a lot of beauty. But, at the same time, all those beautifying potions and perfumes have to be contained inside something. Which means 7 billion pots and packages to be disposed of. “And still,” says Alexandra Palt, “that is only 0.05 per cent of the world’s total plastic use.” So she is doing something about it. Thus making L’Oréal and the world that bit more beautiful than before.

Palt argues that beauty is a basic human right. And you may say: “she would say that, wouldn’t she”, given that she is that great rarity, a human rights lawyer turned executive vice president at L’Oréal. But she is persuasive. She acknowledges one serious weakness: hot sweet dumplings for dessert. They’re a throwback to the Vienna of her birth, and not so ubiquitous in Paris, where she has trained her forensic guns on making L’Oréal 100 per cent sustainable and an industry leader in corporate responsibility. No more plastic, s’il vous plait.

Palt brings a literary, intellectual and cosmopolitan sensibility to bear on the beauty business. She is at home in several languages and is currently reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in English. “That’s quite difficult for me, because there are a lot of old words.” She could have studied literature, history or philosophy at the University of Vienna, but she chose law in the end because “I really cannot take injustice. Law seemed like a way to do something about injustice and human suffering. Now I’m almost 50 and I’m just as emotional and involved as when I was 20.”

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