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Sustainable sourcing: a pilot project for L’Oréal and OLVEA in Burkina Faso

OLVEA GROUP, a French industrial group specialising in vegetable and fish oils and a L’Oréal supplier for the past three decades. It is piloting one of the “solidarity sourcing” projects that will get underway this year as part of L’Oréal’s Carbon Balanced programme. Christophe Godard, who is in charge of OLVEA’s quality and production chains, tells us about progress in the improved cookstoves project in Burkina Faso.

Tackling deforestation

OLVEA has supplied shea butter to L’Oréal since 2009. It extracts the raw material in Burkina Faso, a Western African country that is renowned for its shea trees but that has faced growing desertification over the last decade. Deforestation lies at the root of the problem. “A full 95% of Burkina Faso’s domestic energy comes from wood and charcoal[1], which puts enormous pressure on the country’s forests and creates large CO2 emissions.” To combat desertification and limit the company’s own environmental footprint, OLVEA wanted to develop more responsible operating practices. The company took action, making suppliers more aware about environmental protection, replanting and steering sourcing towards certified channels.

“We had made a start on some local initiatives, but we were looking to go further” says Christophe. The company began talking to L’Oréal in 2009 about potential improvements to its shea operations. Events started to unfold more quickly in 2013 when L’Oréal launched its Sharing Beauty with All programme: “one of the pillars of L’Oréal’s programme was precisely to develop low carbon sourcing in partnership with suppliers. Our goals were the same”.

The idea behind the improved cookstoves project

Traditionally, in Burkina Faso, shea nut gathering is mostly done by women. They collect the fruit and remove the flesh to extract the nuts, which are boiled, sun-dried and cracked. The shea seeds are then dried in the sun before being sold through cooperatives. “Approximately 22,000 women work in dozens of cooperatives.” OLVEA Burkina Faso then takes over, processing the seeds into butter at its Bobo Dioulasso plant.

The idea of improving cookstoves emerged during talks between L’Oréal and OLVEA. The project seeks to enhance stove performances to reduce the amount of firewood used to boil the nuts. This creates economic benefits, by lowering producers’ spending on firewood, coupled with environmental benefits, by combatting deforestation and cutting CO2 emissions.

“It is important to make people more aware, to help them understand the environmental importance of this project” stresses Christophe.

The project will also bring health and well-being benefits to these thousands of women, who will breathe in less smoke and be at reduced risk of burns. The model of cookstove has not yet been decided on, but the goal is to use a local manufacturer employing local materials (low carbon manufacturing) to create a user-friendly stove that will maximise take-up of this technology.

How to measure carbon gains?

The launch is scheduled for the end of the year, once L’Oréal and OLVEA have okayed the action plan. “We will still have to set up a strategy to measure progress after the launch. I see that as the biggest upcoming challenge” says Christophe.

The task will be to measure the carbon gains generated by the 20,000 stoves. “It will not be easy for our four-person team to report on this information. We are counting on L’Oréal to provide us with a measurement methodology backed by the resources needed to apply it” explains Christophe.

This job has been entrusted to the panel of experts set up by Rachel Barré (lien vers article Rachel Barré), head of sustainable sourcing at L’Oréal, with whom Christophe has dealt directly since the start of the project. Led by Christian de Perthuis, economist and scientific director of the Climate Economics Chair, the committee is working on helping L’Oréal to create measurement tools and will monitor the project’s progress through to 2020.

What next?

OLVEA sees this as a pilot that will further reduce the carbon footprint of its sourcing in Burkina Faso. If the results are convincing, the model could be exported to other countries.

[1] Fourth National Report on Biological Diversity – Burkina Faso (2010)



French industrial group, global leader in cosmetic products.

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