Avon's CSR Report Gives Its Paper, Water & Energy Use a Makeover

Avon's CSR Report Gives Its Paper, Water & Energy Use a Makeover

Makeup is sometimes used to conceal embarrassing flaws. Today, with the release of its latest corporate responsibility report, cosmetics giant Avon opted to reveal more about its sustainability and philanthropic work than in the past. Titled "The Beauty of Doing Good" and available online-only at responsibility.avoncompany.com, the self-assessment covers 2009-2010 and is the third such evaluation in the company's 125 year history.

Avon wanted to increase transparency across the "three pillars" of its corporate responsibility missions: empowering women, sustainability and philanthropy. "Presenting the report online, in an interactive format, saves paper, but also lets us update the data more frequently," said Susan Arnot Heaney, Avon's Global Director of Corporate Responsibility. She added that Avon plans to publish a full report every odd year, with continuous updates of new developments, performance data, news and achievements as they happen.

Produced in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, Avon's corporate responsibility report aims for GRI Level B standards, a notch higher than the Level C achieved in Avon's last self-assessment. The update includes a GRI Content Index listing of all standard disclosures covered in the report.

As with all such efforts, the details tell all the good stuff. Little familiar with Avon's sustainability story until now, I was expecting to find a focus on organically sourced beauty care products. That's in here, in the form of Avon's policy to promote sustainable palm oil practices. I also anticipated an update on Avon's support of breast cancer research (about to celebrate its 20th anniversary), and prevention of violence against women (founded 2004), both of which are touched on here too.

What surprised me is how much Avon has in common with the Fords and Fedexes of the world: Like big manufacturing and distribution companies, Avon is trying to drive up its energy efficiency, improve resource optimization, and chop down its waste. On those topics, here are a handful of achievements highlighted by Heaney when we chatted:

• Paper. By volume, Avon’s paper consumption leaves a larger footprint on the planet than do its cosmetics ingredients, Heaney explained. Surprised? Turns out that Avon is one of the largest commercial printers in North America. Famous for a direct-sales model embodied by "the Avon lady," Avon has no retail outlets. Instead the company relies on "brochures" that agents pass on directly to customers every two weeks.

For instance, the current holiday edition of the North American version of this small-sized catalog was bigger than usual, but suggests the huge amount of printing Avon does: The publication numbered over 200 pages, with upwards of 15 million copies printed.

To formalize its effort to cut the impact of this river of ink and paper, Avon last year launched Hello Green Tomorrow, a broader green agenda that included the Avon Paper Promise: a comprehensive policy for promoting responsible use and protection of forest resources, and developed with input from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and several other environmental NGOs. In October 2010, Avon joined (by invitation) the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), WWF's initiative to eliminate illegal logging and drive improvements in the world's most valuable and threatened forests.

As part of this pledge, Avon has set a target to buy 100 percent of its paper from certified and/or post-consumer recycled content sources by 2020 with a certification preference of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). As of 2011, 74 percent of Avon's brochure paper met the Avon Paper Promise commitments, and approximately 25 percent of paper used in Avon's product brochures is sourced from FSC certified forests.

• Reforestation. In 2010, as part of Hello Green Tomorrow, Avon contributed $2.1 million to a Nature Conservancy Program to help restore 5,000 acres in the Atlantic Rainforest in South America. Latin America is increasingly important to Avon, accounting for $4.6 billion of Avon's $10.9 billion in 2010, making it Avon's largest global market. In 2011, Hello Green Tomorrow expanded its support for reforestation efforts to Indonesia.

• Green buildings. Avon launched its Green Building Promise worldwide in 2010 as well, formalizing a long-held commitment to design and build all new major buildings and renovations in accordance with LEED (or local equivalent) certification standards.

The company achieved Gold in Zanesville, Ohio (U.S.), Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Guarne, Colombia; Platinum certification in Shanghai, China; BREEAM Very Good in Northampton, U.K. At its new U.S. Headquarters in New York City, Avon is aiming for LEED Gold for Interiors, awaiting final certification.

GHG emissions reductions. At its manufacturing operations, Avon exceeded their initial goal of 25 percent GHG emissions reduction, on a 2002 base, four years early with a 31% reduction reached by 2008. The company has committed to a further 20 percent reduction by 2020. Overall, this would cut GHG emissions by 40 percent from 2002 levels.

Material use & waste reduction. In 2010, Avon increased by seven percentage points to 76 percent the share of waste that was reused at its global manufacturing sites. In its distribution centers, the rate rose to 80 percent.

Water use reduction. In 2010, Avon reduced overall water usage by 10 percent in manufacturing operations, both in absolute and per unit terms, and by 23 percent throughout administrative facilities and distribution centers in absolute terms. Avon's long-term goal is to reduce water intensity by 40 percent by 2020.

There's plenty more in the report. And if you simply must read it in print, you can build your own version of the report and generate a custom PDF through their site.

Green lipstick photo via Shutterstock.