How environmentally and socially conscious is your fragrance?
Working in the purpose recruitment space where I place highly skilled sustainability talent within the cosmetics sector, to drive impact both within the company and on a broader scale, this is not a question to be sniffed at.
Climate-conscious consumers are leading the way with their wallets, showing support for brands that go above and beyond in implementing sustainability initiatives for a better planet.
The fragrance industry is, therefore, under intense pressure from savvy consumers and other stakeholders who want a quality scent without compromising on a sustainable positive impact for both the environment and the communities it serves.
Below I've highlighted three key challenges where the industry is receiving scrutiny while spotlighting the companies that are blazing a trail for the production of sustainable products that foster a more resourceful future.
Nature vs. Nurture
It wasn’t so long ago that your favourite scent contained musk - considered to be one of the most valuable natural substances in the world - created by extracting natural musk from the glands of the endangered musk deer (now banned in perfumery).
While synthetic musk can help protect wildlife without compromising on fragrance quality, there is a grey area surrounding its impact on human health due to the chemicals used, and some perfume manufacturers are turning to botanical musks.
There was plenty of intrigue last year when respected French cosmetics house Guerlain announced the addition of a new organic alcohol made from beetroot in its Aqua Allegoria Nerolia Vetiver fragrance. The gesture, which supports responsible farming, is a firm nod towards the further development of robust sustainability practices within the company.
Guerlain has in recent years advanced their sustainability intentions with a heavy focus on the preservation of bees. Guerlain has four sustainability pillars to align the production of its fragrances with best practices, including lifecycle traceability and carbon neutrality goals.
Mass production of perfume, like any product, can result in a waste of resources and be harmful to biodiversity. Guerlain has replanted more than 10,000 orchids in the Tianzi Reserve in Yunnan, China, since 2009, and has also revived vetiver plants, growing in Tamil Nadu, India. The entire plant can be used to avoid waste and yields of the perennial grass that holds aromatic oil in its roots, are now 30-40 per cent higher due to crop rotation.
However, Frédéric Malle makes bold the statement that it can be more sustainable to respect and protect flora and fauna by using synthetics to make a signature fragrance. Malle’s Synthetic Jungle scent is one of the perfume editor’s greenest perfumes to date and a tribute to the admired and much-loved 1970s perfumes.
Giving Back to Society
Former assistant to the designer John Galliano, Timothy Han focuses on protecting nature via his small-batch scent ‘editions’. His fragrances are vegan and crafted using natural, in-season ingredients where possible. In 2010 Han played a major role in assisting the United Nations with a steering group to inspire and motivate the luxury industry to collectively strive to protect natural biodiversity and 13 years later, still devotes time to ensuring his brand is as sustainable as possible.
The London-based Canadian founder’s minority-owned business, champions diversity and inclusivity. Each fragrance is gender neutral and aims to create positive change. The release of the eau de parfum inspired by Heart of Darkness – a compelling novella by Joseph Conrad about the ivory trade and its effects on the native inhabitants of the Congo – is a deliberate choice to highlight imperialism and racism. For this fragrance, Han has teamed up with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and a portion of the sales for this fragrance will be distributed to grassroot communities and elephant conservation projects in the Congo.
Sana Jardin is another fragrance brand using its profile and products to create a positive impact on the planet. Founder Amy Christiansen was inspired to evoke social change after watching her grandmother empower women in developing countries, and so launched the Beyond Sustainability™ movement.
The initiative creates social change through commerce, not charity, and supports female change agents in their community. This is achieved through sustainable practices and fair trade to preserve heritage skills and inspire the next generation of artisans.
Sana Jardin has worked on its Orange Blossom Project since 2015, supporting the indigenous Amazigh community in Morocco that harvest floral ingredients for the firm’s perfume production.
Traditionally, the floral harvests only provided short-term employment for the female harvesters, but Sana Jardin collaborated with Nest, which supports artisan communities, and floral ingredient supplier Les Aromes du Maroc to enable the harvesters to upcycle the abundant floral waste. They now create their own line of products for year-round employment with mentors and training support.
The beauty industry creates an estimated 120 billion units of packaging alone each year and fragrance firms can no longer ignore the impacts of wasted material.
Le Labo hones its packaging efforts as equally as its products (which are natural, vegan and freshly hand-blended to order) to ensure the end product is as sustainable as possible.
The New York perfume house has innovated to the extent that all packaging, from the bottle to the box, is made from either recycled or recyclable materials. Better still, the bottle is refillable (online refill is currently only available in the US but some lab refills are available in selected labs worldwide), meaning you can use the very last drop and return the bottle to receive 20 per cent off another scent such as THÉ MATCHA.
Eco-friendly alternatives to traditional fragrance packaging largely relies on refillable options to ensure minimal waste. ByKilian believes its product should be bought only once but then refilled indefinitely to revolutionise the beauty industry and fulfil its founder Kilian Hennessy’s ethos that true luxury should last forever.
These are just some of the brands I love and stories that inspire me. What other fragrances and designers are inspiring you for the same reasons?
Shaqeeb has more than five years of experience working with senior-level executives across different industries. He has supported these professionals with the expansion of their teams, allowing them to break into new market segments/geographical locations by placing both mission-critical and growth roles. His passion for sustainability led to his transition to Acre where he works as a Senior Consultant for the consumer goods team, focussing on consumer health, hygiene and cosmetic industries.