EssilorLuxottica: Short-sighted CSR program?
Created in collaboration with LSE Green Finance Society
EssilorLuxottica’s (EL) CSR initiatives have two broad aims: to achieve net zero by 2030 and to make corrective lenses more accessible for BoP (Base of Pyramid) communities in less developed countries by 2050. Our findings show that EL has yet to make substantial progress in its environmental commitment. While its social projects have brought about significant benefits to the community, the allegation surrounding it being a monopoly raises ethical questions. Our article explores how EL could mitigate this by redistributing its profits to become a more sustainability-oriented business.
One would be surprised to find that most eyewear is manufactured by one giant company – EssilorLuxottica (EL). Originally two separate entities, Italian frame manufacturer Luxottica merged with French optical lens producer Essilor in October 2018, creating the world’s 175th most valuable company by market capitalisation. Its combined portfolio includes luxury brands such as Ray-Ban, Oakley, Vogue Eyewear, Prada, and other high-street outlets and optical retailers.
EL’s CSR initiatives
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the idea that companies should play a positive role in communities and consider the environmental and social implications of their business decisions. EL’s highlight CSR initiatives include going Net-zero worldwide by 2025 and community investment over the next 30 years to help 95% of people overcome refractive errors by 2050.
Doing good for its customers, consumers, and communities while doing good for the planet is at the heart of the company-wide sustainability program called "Eyes on the Planet", launched in July 2021. With a focus on less-developed countries, $14B would be invested in creating sustainable access points, innovating for affordable solutions, funding subsidised and free services, and raising awareness.
Has EL been doing good for the planet?
We can answer this by taking a closer look at their carbon, water and waste footprints.
2021 (in. GV)
2021 (ex. GV)
Total Scope 1 + 2 Emissions (tCO2eq.)
*Information from Essilor Luxottica 2021 Universal Registration Document (2022)
*2021 data is split into two categories to show the impact of the GrandVision acquisition in 2021
2021 Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions have only decreased by about 8% from 2019 levels. EL’s on-site solar PV systems in Italy total 1515tCO2/year of avoided emissions, a mere 0.21% of EL’s 2021 (ex.GV) scope 1+2 emissions.
EL relies more heavily on Renewable Energy Purchases instead to reach its net-zero goals.
The table above shows the proportion of energy sourced from renewable energy providers with Energy Attribute Certifications (EACs). This reduced 124,000tCO2 /year or 17% of 2021 (ex.GV) Total Scope 1+2 emissions. It is unclear if the renewable energy purchased by EL is bundled or unbundled to the EACs. Unbundled certificates are controversial as they are cheap, allowing companies to “switch to renewables” at only a 1-2% premium over dirty sources. This creates little additionality as most solar and wind installations are built using government subsidies, and operators are not obligated to spend revenue gained from selling renewable energy on increased capacity.
Although EL obtained carbon neutrality in Spain and Italy in 2021, achieving its ambitious targets seems unlikely. EL should also make it clearer to investors if it is using bundled or unbundled certificates, as this could raise additionality concerns.
2. Water use and waste production
Total water use (M^3)
Total waste generation (tons)
Total hazardous waste (tons)
Waste recovery/recycling rate
EL’s rise in post-pandemic production seems to have outstripped its efforts in circular design, waste reduction and water efficiency.
Has EL been doing good for communities?
EL’s 2.5 New Vision Generation program is an ongoing initiative we can evaluate. An independent review by Dalberg Global on Eye Mitra, a flagship 2.5 NVG program, found a total quantifiable impact of $US 4.4M per year and Increased income and productivity of wearers. 91% of Eye Mitra providers feel more respect from their community, while 10 million people were equipped in 2015.
EL has also partnered with governments to eradicate poor vision. For example, Doddaballapura Taluk in India was declared free of poor vision after
An advantage of EL’s vertical integration is the tight control of its supply chain. In 2021, EL conducted 165 assessments of Group Eyecare Activities in compliance with CSR objectives, 52 audits of current and potential suppliers and 41 audits of production plants in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe manufacturing Apparel and Footwear. EL seems to be doing good for communities with its extensive development projects in LDCs and tight control of its supply chain.
Has EL been doing good for customers?
EL has been accused of being a monopoly. If the profits generated from the artificially high prices in developed markets are channelled to fund the CSR programs in LDCs, pursuing CSR objectives at the expense of a certain consumer class cannot be said to be an ethical practice. Additionally, there might be adverse consequences, such as artificially higher prices and reduced consumer surplus and choices.
There appear to be many accusations, however, most are unsupported by empirical data. Forbes’ blog posts alleged that EL holds an 80% market share of the industry, however, this was based on an earlier blog post under the same publication in 2012.
In reality, according to UBS, EL only holds 42% global market share as opposed to 80%. Fig. 5 shows the sunglasses retail value market shares of both Essilor and Luxottica in 2016, based on Bloomberg’s findings. While it captures a smaller fraction of the industry, both statistics are consistent with each other.
*Information from Statista on Luxottica and Essilor’s market share in the sunglasses industry worldwide
Luxottica published a statement in the Optometry Times denying the allegations and claiming a market share of below 20% in the U.S. However, this figure only pertained to the U.S. market, and Luxottica’s reach extends far beyond this. There has also been no official release of data to date. In light of the merger with Essilor, the market share is likely to have increased considerably.
Perhaps the most sensible conclusion is that while EL may not possess monopoly power as high as 80%, it nonetheless has substantial domination over the industry, and it is still growing. In July 2021, EL acquired a 76.72% ownership interest in GrandVision, in addition to EL’s other retail subsidiaries. EL’s claim lacks force in light of the growing vertical integration.
Although EL has stellar development programs in LDCs that deliver many social outcomes beyond improving eye care for the poor, its accusations of being a monopoly have negative social and economic consequences for consumers in developed countries. Additionally, EL is lagging in its environmental goals as it has not shown significant reductions in waste production, water usage or scope 1+2 carbon emissions. Meeting its lofty net zero goals seems unlikely unless EL’s renewable energy purchasing program is ramped up significantly, as few of its plants have the infrastructure for on-site renewable energy generation.
One way EL can improve its CSR credentials is by acknowledging claims of being a monopoly and mitigating this by pledging to redistribute a proportion of its profits to further its social and environmental goals. Firstly, we suggest using their massive economies of scale to accelerate their vision testing and manufacturing of glasses for LDCs and, secondly, building more on-site renewable energy infrastructure that will help EL deliver on its net-zero goals more sustainably compared to purchasing renewable energy.