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Sustainable Fragrances 2011: the Age of Transparency

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured
Posted: August 24, 2011

This article originally ran in the August 2011 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. All rights reserved.

In 1969, when the burning Cuyahoga River made the cover of Time magazine, the modern environmental movement galvanized, leading to the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is a science agency with regulatory authority, said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for the Office of Research and Development, and science advisor to the EPA. As the organization’s mission progressed over time, issues became more subtle, encompassing not raging river fires, but more nuanced and less easily explicable issues such as endocrine disruption and climate change. Anastas has learned throughout the years that we are capable of doing the right things wrongly, such as in the case of achieving energy efficiency by using toxic substances in light bulbs, thus netting unintended consequences. And so, said Anastas, innovative thinking and design that focuses on the possibilities, rather than the limitations, of design is crucial. To illustrate, he discussed the effect of computational toxicology in lowering the toxicity of newly introduced ingredients. When applied to nano substances, for instance, this can net the application and not the implications of new technologies. Anastas added that innovative design must rely on multidisciplinary research that brings many voices to the table to define the maximum number of possible solutions. This point of view was backed by Julie Zimmerman, Yale University’s acting director of the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, who noted that 70% of the total cost of a new ingredient or process is determined at the design phase. Anastas concluded that “transparency is coming,” adding that industry must get ahead of the curve with green chemical engineering.

Picking up on the theme, Douglas Fratz, vice president, scientific and technical affairs for the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), discussed the rise of “right to know,” pointing out that many NGOs oppose confidential business information (CBI) protections, particularly for fragrance formulas. Michelle Radecki, vice president and general counsel of the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), outlined the recently revised Consumer Product Ingredient Communication Initiative developed by ACI, CSPA and the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, covering cleaning products, air care products, automotive care products, and polishes and floor maintenance products.

Effective January 2012, the new rules note that, “Fragrances can be listed as such, but manufacturers must refer to the availability of more detail elsewhere, such as a link to the list or a subset of the list of fragrance materials authored by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) or a list disclosing the ingredients that the manufacturer uses in its fragrances.” In contrast, Radecki highlighted what she saw as shortcomings of Design for the Environment’s (DfE) approach, particularly inadequate protection for CBI and the inclusion of the option of listing fragrances by the ingredients in the fragrance and fragrance ingredients not used. While ACI supports transparency, Radecki said, CBI must be defended, fragrance formulas must be afforded trade secret protections, companies must be protected from revealing information to competitors, and individual ingredient identities in formulas included under CBI. “Trade secret protection provides societal and environmental benefits by creating the incentive for product research and development leading to meaningful product innovation and improvement,” she said. “Successful innovation provides jobs, which support families and communities, as well as environmental benefits such as reduced packaging, reduced transportation costs and carbon footprint."

From the perfumer’s point of view, Guy Vincent of Aveda explained that, after trustworthy reputation, the first reason consumers buy Aveda products is the fragrance. To continue its reputation and provide fragrance excellence, Aveda has grown its organic essential oil purchases from 20% of its palette to 90% in the past 10 years. However, this has incurred huge operational costs. Sometimes, said Vincent, working conditions are not safe for locals. Ethical sourcing requires improvements in processes for safety and ecology. But, he said, “It doesn’t take much money to make a difference.” In addition, in order to cause no harm, Vincent noted that sometimes formulators have to do without beautiful, but endangered materials, such as Indian sandalwood, to ensure business sustainability.