Environment

Shampoo and cosmetics maker L’Oréal USA plans to eliminate its carbon footprint from the company’s manufacturing and distribution centers next year.

To do it, L’Oréal is getting help from an unlikely place: Kentucky, a state that still produces about 83 percent of its electricity from coal power and has no mandate to increase sources of renewable energy.

Kentucky landfills however, are full of decaying garbage that produces methane — a harmful greenhouse gas that can also be used to make renewable natural gas.

L’Oréal USA announced Wednesday it signed an agreement to purchase natural gas from the Big Run Landfill in Ashland, Kentucky. Combined with other renewable energy systems — including the state’s largest commercial solar array — the gas will offset the carbon footprint for all 21 of the company’s U.S. manufacturing and distribution centers.

“We believe that businesses have a responsibility to respond to the major environmental challenges facing the world today,” said Jay Harf, L’Oréal USA vice president of environment, health, safety and sustainability .

Harf said the agreement is part of the company’s commitment to Kentucky. The commonwealth is home to the Florence haircare plant, L’Oréal USA’s largest manufacturing site in the country.

“We are a proud employer in Kentucky and that’s where we wanted to start with this initiative,” Harf said.

L’Oréal USA is working with an environmental infrastructure investment company that plans to break ground in March on a new treatment plant at Big Run Landfill.

Big Run gained notoriety several years ago as the resting place for trainloads of trash from the East Coast. Right now, the gas at Big Run is untapped potential. The landfill burns off the methane rather than let it gather in the upper atmosphere where it contributes to climate change.

“Flaring is a better solution than just letting the gas seep into the atmosphere, but is far less friendly than capturing the gas, treating it and selling it in an interstate pipeline,” said Kristian Hanelt, managing director of Ultra Capital, the company building the new treatment plant.

The plant will convert methane into renewable natural gas and build a four-mile gas pipeline to inject it into a larger interstate pipeline.

Hanelt sees L’Oréal USA’s decision as part of a bigger shift by companies that have already heavily invested in renewable electricity and are now looking for other ways to lessen their impact on the environment.

One way to do that is by offsetting a company’s “thermal load.” That’s a company’s environmental impact for heating and running industrial processes.

“So L’Oréal is obviously, very much an early adopter in procuring renewable natural gas, but there are other companies that have done this as well and I think that’s going to be more and more popular as time goes on,” Hanelt said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.