They may only be a mere two centimetres in size, but a lack of stature doesn’t stop precious bees from carrying the hefty weight of the world. Quite literally, our planet simply wouldn’t function without the existence of the busy creatures – and Guerlain is rolling out its mission to ensure they never die out.
As the damaging effects of climate change continue to rip across Earth, bees are in the firing zone with numbers across Europe and the US dropping. Dedicated to protecting this most precious of wonders, the luxury beauty brand’s enchantment with the petite insects transpires centuries.
The maison’s adoration with bees began in 1853 when Founder Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain dedicated a citrus cologne to Empress Eugénie in celebration of her marriage to Napoleon III, creating a majestic totem that would flourish for 168 years and counting.
From the sweet nectar blossoming in olfactory creations and skincare products to borrowing the uniquely shaped, historic Bee Bottle to inspire artisans, the bee has become more than the essence of the LVMH-owned brand. In turn it has inspired the company to act as a beacon of sustainability, shielding the vulnerable species for the benefit of future generations.
“Pollinators like the bee – wild and domestic – are the victims of our way of life,” Cécile Lochard, Guerlain’s Chief Sustainability Officer, shares with The CEO Magazine. “The bee actually suffers from the virtue that we usually grant to this change: permanence.
“We believe it to be eternal because it pollinates our collective memory, our infantile imagination – a dangerous error.”
It is estimated bees pollinate 80 per cent of the world’s flowering plants, equating to around US$180 billion globally each year, according to the National Institute of Agronomic Research.
However, over the past 15 years up to 90 per cent of bees have disappeared in some regions.
“It is crucial to protect the bee as it sits at the heart of biodiversity,” Lochard says. “By pollinating flowering plants, foragers guarantee the reproduction of numerous plant species and no less than a third of the world’s food supply.
“Indispensable for the pollination of flowers, bees constitute an essential link in the chain that helps to maintain the balance of ecosystems.”
The bee has been at the heart of the French brand’s sustainability mission for almost 15 years. While some big businesses toss around terms that include green, clean and eco-friendly, leading to a rise in greenwashing – especially in the beauty industry – Guerlain truly endeavours towards a renewable future.
“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 is obvious.” – Cécile Lochard
Sustainable, transparent and natural formulas with eco packaging; a vision to be carbon neutral by 2030; Women for Bees (in partnership with UNESCO and in collaboration with the French Observatory of Apidology); the Guerlain for Bees conservation program; and an external sustainable board of 13 experts are among the major pillars of the maison’s dedication to sustainability.
Not only is Guerlain responsible for beauty of the superficial visage, but it also encompasses the beauty of our natural world.
“Nature has never ceased to inspire our creations as well as our commitment in the broad sense and more recently our raison d’etre, which has placed the bee at the heart of our actions,” Lochard says. “Guerlain commits and acts for a more beautiful and sustainable world, by elevating nature to an art to pass on its wonders to future generations, with the bee as sentinel.”
The force of women and bees
One of the oldest brands in the world has turned into the protector of the bees – and it has UNESCO and Angelina Jolie on side to bring its bold legacy to fruition.
Partnering with UNESCO on its Women for Bees initiative, Guerlain’s new societal program is dedicated to preserving bees while simultaneously creating an international network of women beekeepers.
“Over the past 20 years, bee populations have suffered dramatic losses never seen before,” Lochard says. “There’s been a dazzling decline in bee populations all over the developed world.
“It’s a worrying phenomenon dubbed the colony collapse disorder or colony collapse syndrome.”
Aiming to promote diversity, protect biodiversity and inspire younger generations, the five-year program began in June 2021. France, Italy, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Russia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and China are among the regions being targeted in the first two years of the initiative in which beekeepers in training will be taught the theoretical and practical skills required for beekeeping.
By 2025, 50 women will have graduated from the Guerlain x UNESCO Women for Bees program having built 2500 hives across 25 UNESCO biosphere reserves – restocking an incredible 125 million bees.
As UNESCO’s 2021 Godmother of Women for Bees, Angelina Jolie will meet with female beekeepers to follow their inspiring progress.
“When women gain skills and knowledge their instinct is to help raise others,” Jolie shares. “I’m excited to meet the women taking part in this program from all over the world. I look forward to getting to know them and learning about their culture and environment and the role bees play in that. I hope the training will strengthen their independence, their livelihoods and their communities.”
Not only is the program a commitment to the environment, but it helps empower women through education, giving them the tools to create their own beekeeping operations and generate income, consequently creating more equality within communities.
“All over the world, there are more women in hobby beekeeping than in professional beekeeping,” Lochard explains. “But things are changing fast. More and more women are taking formal training.
“Because of the multiple roles of beekeeping and the crucial place of honey in the food chain, beekeeping should be an integral part of rural development strategies and policies for the direct benefit it brings to human wellbeing.”
How Guerlain is creating a sustainable future
There is something quite regal about the bee. From the ancient Greeks adopting the motif for gold coins and jewellery to Napoleon Bonaparte choosing the unique emblem to represent his status as Emperor in the 19th century, the humble insect has been culturally significant for millennia.
Signifying wealth, good luck and prosperity in ancient times, bees are a fitting symbol of what’s to come if the world protects them.
While they are at times an overlooked pillar of biodiversity, bees are crucial in creating a successfully sustainable future. And the 193-year-old brand is positioning itself as the queen bee of the global hive.
“We’re a key player in the natural and clean beauty domain and have become the benchmark luxury house in terms of naturalness,” Lochard explains to The CEO Magazine.
By 2021, 100 per cent of Guerlain’s new skincare products will be composed of at least 90 per cent of ingredients with natural origins.
“It represents a real challenge, especially when it comes to the make-up category and the ability to maintain the levels of performance that meet our high standards, but it enables us to open a new chapter of its quest towards natural beauty by launching three essential products of a make-up routine formulated with more than 95 per cent of natural-origin ingredients,” she says. “We are by essence the nature-driven brand.”
The French-founded brand launched its Bee Respect platform in 2019 – a digital tool to help consumers understand the whole cycle of its products. Providing details of more than 500 formula ingredients, packaging elements, some 40 suppliers, manufacturing location and carbon footprint, people can see what it takes to manufacture a product from start to finish.
“It requires full transparency with no fear,” Lochard says. “I do believe that in any company and organisation, when you work on sustainability you have to keep in mind you work for the present but above all for the youngest generation.
“For younger generations, there is no luxury without commitment to protect the planet, because the habitability of their future world depends on it.”
Toxic chemicals flushing into oceans, plastic waste and deforestation caused by harvesting ingredients including palm oil are some of the adverse effects of the popular sector.
However, preserving biodiversity, using innovative eco-designs, innovating clean beauty products that don’t sacrifice efficacy, promoting a circular economy, reducing C02 emissions and regenerating nature are some of the ways Guerlain is leaving a light green footprint on Earth.
The brand even reduced its Orchidée Impériale day cream jar weight by 60 per cent in 2017. And the jar is also produced with partly recycled materials.
“It was an audacious bet on our ultra-premium line, but it has paid off,” Lochard shares. “It also meets the essential values and principles in luxury: to create precious objects that can be personalised, kept and treasured or handed down.”
And it’s bold moves like this that will truly make an impact on the natural world and within the environmentally damaging industry, which is expected to be worth US$716.6 billion in 2025.
“This is the luxury revolution underway,” Lochard says. “This new era of transparency, which is in demand, also makes it possible to magnify artisanal excellence and high standards.
“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 is obvious.”