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Estée Lauder Companies Push for Sustainable Storefronts

Published July 13, 2023
Published July 13, 2023

Beauty’s sustainability mission doesn’t end with products but extends to the shelves these items sit on. From virtual shade-matching to eliminating returns (and the resulting waste that comes with them) to smart packaging for single-use sachets and green electricity to power stores, there are many facets to the sustainable beauty retail experience. Whether it’s eco-friendly material innovations to in-store recycling initiatives, it’s been an all-around effort from retailers, brands, and suppliers alike.

Credo was a frontrunner in the sustainability-led retail revolution, debuting a four-phase approach in 2021 that incorporated circular practices, eliminating single-use products and virgin plastics as well as PVC, PFAS, and BPA variants, with an emphasis on using recycled materials instead. Selfridges’ Project Earth placed an emphasis on repair, resell, refill, and rental models for a more circular consumption premise, while also requiring brands to use materials from certified, sustainable sources. FaceGym was the first brand inside said department store to produce a concession using recycled fixtures and also uses recycled and preused materials for the interior design of its own studios. Duty-free owner Gebr. Heinemann requires recycled, recylable, plastic-free, or refillable packaging components. Zalando became the first retailer to require brands to do an assessment using the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Brand & Retail Module, which uses data to identify more environmentally conscious solutions and measure performance around ethical and environmental parameters.

Now Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) is doing its part with the launch of the Responsible Store Design Program, which spans three pillars: new stores, existing stores, and visual merchandising. A sustainability assessment is made by incorporating factors such as water and energy conservation, responsible material sourcing, and waste reduction. ELC uses a point-based scoring system for new stores, while existing stores and visual merchandising components will have to adhere to all outlined requirements.

“Sustainability has long been part of our corporate strategy and company culture, and our new Responsible Store Design program is a creative and impactful way to showcase ELC’s sustainability commitments to both our employees and our consumers,” says Al Iannuzzi, Vice President, Sustainability. “We're excited to launch our branded retail sustainability program and look forward to scaling this work beyond our pilot stores to impact retail operations globally in the future.”

In 2020, the corporation had implemented Green Building Standards across all spaces, including elements such as low-flow fixtures and zero industrial waste-to-landfill for innovation, distribution, and manufacturing sites, as well as future aims to receive WELL and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. The Responsible Store Design program builds on these standards, incorporating prerequisites such as LED lighting and sourcing low-emission materials for store design. These sustainable practices are audited via ELC and independent firms to ensure implementation.

Both new and existing stores will be required to have energy-efficient technologies, such as ENERGY STAR-rated equipment and LED lighting, water-efficient plumbing fixtures, visual merchandising free from virgin acrylic materials, recycling available on-site for customers and employees, and materials sourced in alignment with ELC’s Thoughtful Material standards. ELC’s Thoughtful Material Standards include using PCR materials, responsibly sourced fibers, and prioritizing easy-to-recycle materials such as paper, cardboard, and glass where possible.

Additionally, new stores will also be required to have a waste management plan in place to reduce landfill contributions. Existing stores will need to develop a cleaning program with Ecolab (or an equivalent)-certified products, have a store closing procedure that turns off nonessential equipment and lights, and offer in-store applicators made from materials such as paper, bamboo, or of recycled origin. Partaking in ELC’s Virtual Power Purchasing Agreement (VPPA) will also ensure all spaces are using renewable energy sources.

The requirements for visual merchandising are energy-efficient technology, virgin acrylic-free setups, display elements being sourced in line with ELC’s Responsible Material standards, plus fulfilling at least one end-of-life parameter. Said parameters include designing merchandising with no integrated lighting or easily recyclable materials, minimizing packaging elements, and implementing partnerships to recycle these elements post-display.

Six stores thus far, including the Origins store in Nanjing Deji Plaza in China, have aligned with this framework. Having precise parameters and independent governing bodies to make sure they are being reinforced will be a key component in moving sustainable retail models forward. Offering existing stores the opportunity to make adjustments that will enable them to partake in these standards will help to do better with what is available now, rather than needing to completely rebuild from the ground up—although there are undoubtedly initial costs involved that may be easier for larger enterprises than mom-and-pop stores to swallow. For budding entrepreneurs, ELC’s guidelines could be a helpful tool in constructing an eco-friendly space. And given the massive amounts of waste generated by in-store displays, overhauling visual merchandising to incorporate more sustainable elements and making them more recyclable can only be of benefit. Only time will tell how many brands will rise to the challenge.


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