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Sustainable Fragrances 2011: the Age of Transparency

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

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Clorox research fellow Gregory van Buskirk and corporate responsibility corporate communications officer Aileen Zerrudo explained that 40% of the company’s growth is now coming from sustainable brands. In addition, Clorox will make sustainability improvements in 25% of products by 2013. Noting that the launch of its GreenWorks product line in 2008 was a turning point for the company, Zerrudo announced that the company has just introduced a mobile product ingredient app and website “that will give consumers immediate access to product ingredient information while they shop or whenever they need it.”

Michael Bronner, vice president of Dr. Bronner’s, presented the point of view of a sustainability and natural/organic veteran. Outlining the company’s unique history, he declared, “In a truly ecological company, everything connects.” The company has embraced 100% precycled bottles and strict IMO Fair for Life certification. The company, which sources about 500 ha of peppermint grown in India, sustains farmers’ profitability by estimating the cost of production (labor, land and inputs) and adding 10% profit, plus an additional 10% organic premium. All cost of inspection and certification, he noted, is paid for by the private sector.

Information does not equal meaning, said Steve Herman, president of Diffusion LLC, pointing out that challenges of sustainability and transparency continue past the product manufacturing stage. Today, he said, the public is resistant to facts, in part due to chemophobia, a lack of scientific and toxicology understanding, a deluge of information of highly variable quality, and an uncivil discourse environment. Yet even as consumers, NGOs and regulators demand greater ingredient transparency, common definitions are elusive. “If the EPA and the World Health Organization can’t agree on a safe threshold for dioxin, is it unreasonable that consumers are confused by allegations of dioxin contamination in cosmetics and fragrances?” Herman asked. His solution included the following: Web-based ingredient disclosure; easiest possible nomenclature, linked to industry created tutorial on toxicology basics; all criticism of safety issues addressed rapidly, head-on and in simple language.

Finally, representing those pressuring the fragrance industry for greater disclosure, US EPA DfE environmental scientist Libby Sommer described the program’s goals as: identifying safer aroma chemicals and fragrance formulations, full transparency of human health and environmental hazards of fragrance ingredients, and achieving such activities at the most efficient cost. “In general,” said Sommer, “[consumers and NGOs] are seeking greater oversight of the chemicals in products, including fragrances.” Echoing this point, Erin Switalski, executive director for Women’s Voices for the Earth, stated, “Today’s consumers want more information.”