Why is Guerlain so passionate about protecting bees? Cécile Lochard, Guerlain’s Director of Sustainability, shares more on the luxury house's focus on bee preservation and sustainability goals

The concept of preserving our environment and raising awareness on animal conservation isn’t new. Several types of wildlife face the growing risk of extinction, from African elephants to Malayan tigers, and the call to do more to prevent the extinction of endangered species is greater than ever.

In fact, one of nature’s most precious wonders and frequently overlooked insects is under grave threat: Bees.

These tiny pollinators have a large impact on the world’s food supplies as they protect and maintain ecosystems along with animal and plant species. The potential extinction of bees is worrying and more needs to be done to protect them.

Related: Earth Day 2021: 5 Easy Ways To Be More Sustainable

World Bee Day, supported by the United Nations, falls on May 20 and French luxury beauty brand Guerlain is commemorating it by raising awareness on this biodiversity threat. In fact, the maison, as part of its efforts, is launching an international fund drive in the hopes of raising one million euros to aid the Guerlain For Bees Conservation Program. The said initiative will take place between the 20th and 22nd of May when Guerlain will donate 20% of its worldwide sales towards the cause. Loyal patrons of the House can support the advocacy by simply reposting the brand's 20th May World Bee Day image on their personal Instagram story and use the hashtags #GuerlainForBees and #WorldBeeDay. For every repost, the House will donate 20 euros to the cause; not only that but it will also spread social awareness on the importance of this noble and hardworking creature, the bee. 

The connection between bees and beauty may not be realised by many but the maison wants to change that. Cécile Lochard, Guerlain’s Director of Sustainability, has been leading the company’s biodiversity programme and sustainability communications since January 2019.

In an exclusive e-mail interview with Tatler, Lochard shares more on this global topic and Guerlain’s sustainability drive, her works as part of Guerlain’s push for sustainable innovation, preserving biodiversity and promoting a positive social impact.

Guerlain has a long history in the beauty realm and with sustainability being a key topic today, why has the brand chosen to focus on bee preservation for the past 10 years?

Cécile Lochard (CL) The bee sits at the heart of biodiversity. Bearing witness to our times and at-risk, bees(1) play an essential role in the pollination necessary for plant reproduction.

Close to 75 per cent of cultivated plants and 90 per cent of wild flowering plants depend on pollinators, of which most are bees. This tacit agreement between bees and flowers that was struck several million years ago guarantees a balance in nature. With an annual honeybee mortality rate that now stands at 30 per cent(2), the disappearance of bees is a worldwide phenomenon that is endangering biodiversity. 

The collapse of colonies is not only bad news for honey lovers or users like Guerlain. By pollinating flowering plants, bees guarantee the reproduction of numerous plant species and no less than one-third of the world's food supply.

It is estimated that they pollinate 80 per cent of the world's flowering plants—an environmental/ecosystem service that the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) has valued at 153 billion euros per year worldwide.

For close to 170 years, bees have buzzed between our creations with the same endless passion for exceptional raw materials. And we owe them much. To do our part (and then some…) to protect bees seemed obvious. With this goal in mind, we have dedicated meaningful partnerships to bees.

How has the maison taken steps to protect bee populations?

CL Faced with the worrying decline in pollinator populations, Guerlain is more intent than ever on their protection. And to be more visible and powerful on all the actions initiated we decided recently to reunite them under a common banner such as an umbrella brand: the Guerlain for Bees conservation programme.

  • Bees Protection with sustainable research and philanthropy partnership with the Ouessant Brittany Black Bee Conservation Association (ACANB) since 2010
  • Bees Welfare with OFA French Observatory of Apidology since 2015
  • Bees repopulation, should I say millions of bees restocking with Unesco since 2020
  • Education on bees as raising awareness on the challenges surrounding their protection is crucial with our Bee School Volunteering Program, Good Planet Foundation and Elyx Foundation

The Guerlain for Bees conservation programme includes meaningful partnerships and initiatives dedicated to bee preservation, totalling six key partners with values and commitments aligned with Guerlain throughout the past decade:

  • A sustainable development philanthropy programme with the Ouessant Island Brittany Black Bee Conservatory Association,
  • A partnership with the French Observatory of Apidology (OFA)
  • The creation of Bee School
  • Women for Bees in partnership with Unesco and in collaboration with the OFA
  • Patronage of the GoodPlanet Foundation
  • Support for the ELYX Foundation

Tell us more about Guerlain’s partnership with Unesco.

CL I would love to elaborate on the five-year sustainability partnership with Unesco Man and the Biosphere (Unesco-Mab) in collaboration with the French Bee Observatory: “Women for Bees”, a women’s entrepreneurial beekeeping programme.

Our aim is to train and create 50 affiliated women beekeepers worldwide who will be able to develop quality, model beekeeping operations within Unesco designated biosphere reserves, contributing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The role of the French Apidology Observatory (L’Observatoire Français d’Apidologie) will be to supervise training, support and hive installation.

This “Women for Bees” five-year programme is part of a Unesco-Mab and LVMH partnership that supports Unesco’s scientific intergovernmental Man and Biosphere programme. The latter is aimed at conserving biodiversity and supporting practices that sustainably use biodiversity as well as ecological, social and economic dimensions for sustainable development.

Due to be set in motion on June 21, 2021, the 30-day training will take place at the OFA, located in the Massif de la Sainte-Baume in Provence, France. Each participant will acquire the theoretical and practical bases of the various aspects of beekeeping, including the running of a professional apiary thanks to the OFA Beekeepers’ expertise. The participants will become fully professional beekeeper entrepreneurs as well as members of an international network of female beekeepers and share their skills and knowledge to help train others.

Angelina Jolie has become the Godmother for the 2021 promotion of the project. Within this role, she will meet women beekeepers and follow their progress throughout the year.

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Today, the Guerlain x Unesco Women for Bees programme aims to promote diversity, protect biodiversity and inspire younger generations in concrete ways. By 2025, 2,500 hives will have been built within 25 Unesco Biosphere Reserves and 125 million bees will have been restocked.

Maison Guerlain thus contributes on its own scale to the global issue of repopulating bees, while associating with it the promotion of female entrepreneurship.

Could you share more about Guerlain’s sustainability drive? How sustainable are the brand’s beauty products, considering various factors such as packaging, shipping etc.

CL Over the last few years, the House has progressed significantly in structuring our sustainability approach and the singularity of our house: a nature-driven brand with bees at heart. For several years, Guerlain has been committed to eco-formulation and eco-packaging design as a means for sustainable innovation.

Each new Guerlain formula must meet a minimum of 90 per cent naturally derived ingredients whenever possible. To cite a few recent examples, the new Abeille Royale Lotion features over 98 per cent naturally derived ingredients. On makeup, which has traditionally been extremely challenging for brands to propose natural products, Guerlain has been pre-cursor, and in 2019, we launched L’Essentiel foundation formulated with 97 per cent of natural origin ingredients.

We also just launched new versions of three essential products of a makeup routine formulated with more than 95 per cent of natural origin ingredients: our iconic Terracotta, made of 96 per cent naturally derived ingredients, L’essentiel High Perfection, the new high perfection foundation with 96 per cent naturally-derived ingredients and Kiss Kiss Shine Bloom, the new 95 per cent naturally-derived shine lipstick.

Our eco-design battles are not the same for all our portfolio, it depends on the categories and products concerned. For skincare and perfume, we prioritise lighter packaging, often made of glass—the most effective eco-design action we have identified. In 2017, Guerlain reduced its Orchidée Impériale jars’ weight by 60 per cent than the previous generations. Going forward, 100 per cent of our new glass bottles and jars have to be made with partially recycled materials and/or reducing their weight.

Regarding client’s communication on sustainability, we led the way in the term of transparency and traceability in the luxury sector with Bee Respect. We launched the Bee Respect platform in 2019, which is a digital tool to help consumers better understand and be informed about the whole lifecycle of Guerlain products: formula ingredients, packaging elements, suppliers, places of manufacture or their carbon footprint. For us, the exceptional quality of our products, requires full transparency with no fear.

How have bees become a symbol of the Guerlain brand and what are some of your most iconic products inspired by them?

CL Guerlain’s relationship with bees dates back to 1853. Our founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain dedicated a citrus Eau de Cologne to Empress Eugénie to celebrate her marriage to Napoleon III. Naturally, he named it “Eau de Cologne Impériale”. He then entrusted glass-makers Pochet & du Courval to create a bottle adorned with his majesty’s coat of arms, the bees, and a festoon pattern, inspired by the Place Vendôme column. The Bee Bottle was born. It would become an icon.

The Empress was so impressed with this gift, that she named Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain “Supplier to the Empress” (“Fournisseur de l’Impératrice”), which helped to rapidly spread Guerlain’s renown throughout Europe’s great royal courts. A legend was born.

The emblematic Bee Bottle is still made in the Pochet & du Courval ateliers and now lends itself to colour and personalisation.

Our perfume bottles can be refilled time and time again in a celebration of how luxury can meet sustainable development as guided by bees.

The “Dames de table” continue to seal and hand decorate this historic bottle, creating some exceptional versions that perpetuate traditional craftsmanship, art and artisanship.

Since then, the bee has been a strong source of inspiration at Guerlain, from fragrance to skincare. For 10 years now, our iconic skincare range Abeille Royale keeps proving the benefits of bee products on skin repairing. Some of our olfactive creations also prove this unbreakable bond between the bees and Guerlain, such as our Aqua Allegoria collection that showcases many codes related to bees or even some of our exclusive creations that borrow the unique shape of the historical Bee Bottle. The bee has also inspired artists and artisans to create bottles for Guerlain’s exclusive perfumes.

Tell us more about the Abeille Royale skincare line and its relation to bees.

CL Abeille Royale was created in 2010, from the discovery that wrinkles are in fact a different form of scars, so we used the potent power of honey to repair scars, and Abeille Royale was born. So, to find the best repairing honey, we went to Ouessant—known to be a protected biosphere, where the Black Bees are free from pollution, and produce a powerful honey. And for more than 10 years now, we have been working hand-in-hand with the Beekeepers of Ouessant island on bee protection.

Abeille Royale is the perfect example of our sustainability actions, as in addition to the sustainable supply chain and sourcing, we worked first on Abeille Royale formulas as our ambitions regarding naturilty are extremely stringent: each new Guerlain formula must meet a minimum of 90 per cent naturally derived ingredients whenever possible. And for instance: the new Abeille Royale Lotion features over 98 per cent naturally derived ingredients and the new Eye Serum Abeille Royal is 94 per cent natural origin ingredient.

Regarding eco-packaging: Abeille Royale is one of the torchbearers of our Eco-design strategy. In 2019, following the commitment it had made to reduce its carbon footprint with its Orchidée Impériale jars two years previous, Guerlain proved itself a pioneer yet again with its choice of 90 per cent recycled-glass Abeille Royale cream jars. This success story is illustrated by the number of customers who not only love the jars but also now happily travel with them. This satisfied response continues to spur us on.

We understand that this international drive is brand new for Guerlain. What is the message you hope to send to your loyal customers and clients?

CL Many brands consider that when it comes to recyclability or any additional contribution to the environment, the brand has no control over, and a certain amount of responsibility lies with the customer.

At Guerlain, we believe that we have to be very transparent on all these key issues and we launched two years ago, as mentioned before, the Bee Respect digital platform: an accurate angle regarding customers’ growing demands for transparency and explanations regarding their products and their end of life.  

In a nutshell, our philosophy of eco-packaging: the search for irreproachable purchases, a quality extended to virtuous processes and backstage impacts. This is the luxury revolution underway through this new era of transparency, which is in demand, but which also makes it possible to reveal or magnify artisanal excellence and already high standards.

And you know, as individuals we can all embark on a more sustainable life. For instance, and regarding our own employees’ commitment, Guerlain launched the Bee School in 2018, its volunteering program, as part of its meaningful partnerships dedicated to bees. It is an awareness-building program for children and elementary students in which Guerlain employees come in to teach them about the role of bees and raises awareness about their protection. Guerlain employees are enabled to do so through Guerlain’s Commitment Day, a day made available to all employees dedicated to volunteerism.

Since 2019, our Bee School program has been put in place internationally. Our ambition for 2021 is that all the House’s employees take part in the program in May, as May 20 is the UN-supported World Bee Day.

1 Evaluation report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

2 Source: The French Observatory of Apidology (OFA)