Plant power: Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins weighs in on the importance of sustainability

Plant power: Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins weighs in on the importance of sustainability

It ain't easy being green

Text: Renée Batchelor

One half of the two brothers who run the French skincare and bodycare powerhouse Clarins, lets us know why sustainability is more than a buzzword for the brand

Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins is not just a medical doctor by training and the younger son of the late Clarins' founder Jacques Courtin-Clarins, he is also the president of the managing board of the Clarins Group. Here in Singapore three weeks ago for the Singapore Garden Festival, we sat down for a chat with Dr Courtin-Clarins to find out about the sustainability efforts of the brand.

Why is it important for Clarins to promote sustainability? 
The first product that my father ever made was 100 per cent, pure plant extract. When you use plants, it's normal to want to preserve nature. And when you study the life of the plant and you find a lot of ideas — for example on how to fight pollution or skin irritation — that are beneficial. It is a challenge sometimes. But to be both sustainable and competitive is important. If you're only environmentally-friendly, it's not enough, you need also to sell the product. At the beginning of producing any new product, we always want to decrease our carbon footprint. With new products, sustainability starts from the beginning — with developing the product and designing the packaging.

We are also sustainable in other ways. Our new Clarins building — which we have been in for two years—  is an environmentally-friendly building. We have two certifications one for Europe and Breeam for the UK, but we want to even surpass these measures. being environmentally-friendly ranges for everything from the lights we us to evem the use of cars. In Clarins we only use electric cars — we have cut out diesel completely and we are always working to reduce carbon emissions. The goal is to continually better ourselves all the time.

Is sustainability important to the consumer?
At the beginning, sustainability was a philosophy for the brand. Today, the employees of Clarins are very proud to be part of an enviromentally-friendly company. The consumer today also demands sustainability in their companies — whether it's a beauty company or not.

Seeds of Beauty
Tell us about Seeds of Beauty
The Seeds of Beauty programme has been Clarins' focus for the past few years. It is an environmental protection and poverty alleviation programme that was launched in China, Indonesia and Thailand to restore ecosystems and ensure plants harvested for Clarins products are done sustainably. This ensures we protect nature and provide the local farmers with a sustainable livelihood for a better future. Since its launch in 2012, we have planted 185,000 trees and 126,000 medicinal plants.

We want to continue Seeds of Beauty as it's a success. At the beginning we invested in China and Thailand, because a lot of people were felling trees, but forgetting to replant them. But sometimes, it is difficult to convince farmers to do so, because it is a long-term project that takes 100 years, and there is no immediate benefit for them or their children. We help them to also plant medicinal and fruit trees, or smaller plants they can benefit from more immediately. We also have a programme to replant coffee, fruit and medicinal trees in Sumatra. And they don't use the slash-and-burn method, so I hope there is less of a pollution impact in Singapore. We've planted 320,000 trees and plants, and yes we want to continue and do more, and even plant that many every year.

As a doctor and a businessman why is sustainability important to you?
When you are a doctor, you know there is a lot of medicine from plants — it's incredible. A long time ago, medicine was only available through plants and the Chinese with their TCM — and also doctors in Europe —  really know the importance of plants and why you need to preserve them. For me it's a philosophy, I was born with and grew up with plants around me — because of my father's oils and products and what he grew in his garden.

Are there ever plants you want to use but can't? And what do you do to promote biodiversity?
Sometimes we have a plant like edelweiss, that is not possible to use because it is endangered. But we studied this plant extract and knew it was efficient, so we decide to plant a field of edelweiss, so that we could use this ingredient. Christian [Courtin-Clarins] and I decided to buy a big territory of about 10 hectres in a mountainous area, and we want to cultivate our plant extracts there. We are reserving this for rare plants and those that are difficult to obtain.

Dr Courtin-Clarins planting trees in Yunnan
We also work with the organisation Jardins du Monde, as it's important to be sure that they cultivate and harvest the plants well and that the money is going to the right people — the local population. There are still many plants that we don't know the properties and possibilties of and even now science is just beginning to discover how to extract the precise molecules from a plant that you need. Jardins du Monde has an ethno-botanist in its team, so they sometimes recommend products to us. We study the plants the locals use on their skin, to understand why and how they work. Jardins du Monde has a lot of unique and undiscovered plants, particularly in Magdagascar and Burkina Faso.

What products do you use yourself?
I use the Clarins Double Serum — I really like this. I also use the Clarins Mens range for anti-ageing and particularly the Exfoliating Cleanser. This is what you'll find in my travel bag.