Opportunities and Advantages in Green

  • The development of new products and processes with environmental friendliness in mind can spur more innovation and exciting offerings.
  • Taking initiatives to source more local or sustainable ingredients from unique providers can spur greener product development.
  • Green doesn’t just mean sustainable for the environment—there are also financial, cultural and ethical factors to continually consider.
  • Green certifications can help tell the story of eco-consciousness to a brand’s consumers, as well as display a competitive advantage.

Everyday, we are exposed to numerous chemicals, often without even knowing it. Good and bad, chemicals saturate the environment, and nearly everything has been touched by advanced chemistry in some way. Many of those advances were inconceivable just a few decades ago, and there is much to be thankful for. Now, there’s a new focus, taking innovation to a new level: going green.

Green chemistry seeks to reduce the use of energy and resources, reduce waste, eliminate costly treatments, produce safer products and improve competition in the marketplace. The philosophy is that it’s better to be proactive in the prevention of waste than to react after development. The principles and framework for this approach include using benign substances instead of toxic ones, using fewer materials and natural resources whenever possible, using renewable materials, designing for energy efficiency, and planning for end of product life by using recyclable or biodegradable materials.

Companies within the industry can tackle green initiatives in many different ways. “There is great effort in reducing the overall footprint of the company itself or in the products it is making,” says Marcie Natale, market development manager, Eastman Chemical Company. Green chemistry can provide one key to lowering environmental footprints while continuing to manufacturer products that consumers want at prices they are willing to pay.

According to Warner Babcock Institute for Green Technology, for a technology to be considered green chemistry, it must:

  1. Be more environmentally benign than existing alternatives.
  2. Be more economically viable than existing alternatives.
  3. Be functionally equivalent to or outperform existing alternatives.

Green chemistry concepts offer an exciting and beneficial new way of designing products. It allows the reduction of products’ impact, without necessarily changing the products themselves. Brand owners are taking note, changing their requirements to reflect trends in thought, and raw material suppliers are making the effort to promote green chemistry technologies in the creation and production of new innovations.

Biocatalytic Process

Eastman is taking steps to further reduce the environmental footprint of its chemical manufacturing, particularly for commonly used emollient esters. “We are taking a traditional process and implementing a greener methodology to reduce energy, waste and water consumption,” explains Natale. The customized approach utilizes a biocatalytic process that redefines efficiency and environmental responsibility.

The Eastman biocatalytic green process uses enzymes and closely controlled conditions to make the esters, eliminating the high temperature and strong acids traditionally required in their manufacture.

The company won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) green chemistry award in 2009 for its biocatalytic process, which the company says can save 75% of the energy used and greenhouse gases emitted compared to a more traditional production method. “It is exciting to be manufacturing products that already exist, but [are] produced by a greener manufacturing process,” continues Natale. Eastman claims the process reduces energy inputs in excess of 50%, reduces waste by 90% and eliminates water consumption almost entirely. [Additional information about the process is available in the October 2008 GCI magazine feature The Value of Green Processing, as well as coverage of Eastman’s EPA award.]

Typically used in the pharma industry, which can afford a more expensive process, the biocatalytic method allows the manufacture of novel ingredients, and Eastman had been using it to manufacture anti-aging ingredients. The company then applied the 12 principals of green chemistry from the EPA to refine its operation (See EPA’s 12 Principles of Green Chemistry). Now, Eastman expects to be commercializing products from that process in the first quarter of 2011. “We spent the past year and a half refining the process so that we could produce affordable green chemicals,” says Natale. “Green chemicals are in demand, but they come with a cost, a premium. The right thing to do is to be able to provide the most green materials that consumers can afford.”

The company’s initial target is emollient esters for skin care applications. The anticipated launch will highlight 2-ethylhexyl palmitate (a common cosmetic ester, with additional emollient esters to follow. A vital building block in thousands of beauty industry products, esters are used as emollients, emulsifiers and specialty performance ingredients. Annual cosmetic ester consumption in North America is estimated at more than 50,000 metric tons. When using the biocatalytic process and sourcing natural raw materials, Eastman can produce both natural and green ingredients, which allows brands to meet the demand for the use of sustainable and renewable ingredients. The green profile of these ingredients is related to the manufacturing process used to produce them rather than the raw materials used, explained Natale.

“We are looking at the technology to see where else we can apply it, and are currently investigating manufacturing green surfactants,” she adds. In addition, investment into green polymers could be valuable as it would impact packaging in addition to the products themselves. As a majority of ingredients fall into the categories of surfactants and polymers, in addition to thickeners, those could be key areas for development.

Renewable Resources

The increasing demand for natural products can have a negative impact on the environment. Concerned about biopiracy and species extinction, the industry is striving to source its raw material in the best way in order to protect the environment—using certified channels, fair trades and, now, plant cell cultures.

Arch Personal Care Products plans to launch its Regenistem line at the 2011 In-cosmetics show in Milan. The Regenistem process allows the company to take only small quantities of plant cells from seeds or leaves, grow them in culture plates and then into bioreactors. The controlled environment allows the company to push the potential of the plants to the limit and manufacture very interesting ingredients.

“The process allows us to harvest rare or old plants and isolate unique actives or enhance the production of them, all while controlling the biomass in the laboratory,” says Vince Gruber, PhD, director of research for Arch Personal Care Ingredients. The process minimizes requirements for harvest and cultivation, which wastes resources and opens the world of opportunity for the industry.

The first in this line, Regenistem Rice is an extract from a particular red rice species that is more than 1,000 years old and comes from a high elevation in Nepal.

Brand owners interested in a unique label claim—or simply in the actives and what they can do for the skin—can take advantage of such biotechnological processes. “Brands are driven by unique ideas,” explains Gruber. “Plants that are unique or that grow in unique environments and offer benefits to the skin allow brands to build stories around them.” Driven by innovative companies looking to carve out a niche for all-natural products, the process is renewable, not based on petroleum.

Similarly, Sederma has invested €1 million to create a plant cell culture lab and library, allowing the company a neverending source for molecules of interest by controlling the cultures. After five years of research, Sederma will launch its first product based on plant cell culture that claims substantiated innovative positioning in 2011. The development of products based on plant cell culture doesn’t exploit wild or crop plants, allowing the company to meet evolving consumer needs in a new way. The company has also improved plant extraction with new processes such as supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, which needs limited energy, recycles the gaseous solvent and doesn’t discharge any solvent to the environment.

Sederma is also helping its customers to formulate certified organic products by conforming to Ecocert certifications for several of its natural ingredients, constituting the natural grade range.“Sederma products have strongly demonstrated of their efficacy,” says Olga Gracioso, director of marketing. “Consumers expect the natural products they buy will be effective, [and] this is why we work to develop green but efficient products.” Sederma recently launched Kelisoft in water- and oil-soluble versions to expand options for deodorant formulation. This product is based on a vegetal molecule that exerts an anti-inflammatory action to shaved or waxed areas, and helps reduce hair growth.

Finding Alternatives in the Face of Growing Regulations

Gruber’s primary concern with possible tougher regulations is the potential that they will stifle innovation. While more options promote green product development, limiting options will make the industry less exciting and be a disadvantage for consumers. “With tough regulations, smaller companies, which are [often] quick to market, find it hard to meet them,” he explains. “But getting better control of ingredients that are used is important from a safety perspective.”

Arch Personal Care Products is focusing heavily on natural ingredients and preservatives, specifically for controlling microbial growth. Consumers don’t appreciate the importance of preservatives, and pressure to regulate and remove effective preservatives could potentially harm them. Effective preservatives capable of ensuring microbiological safety with few reactions have been demonized without serious scientific support, according to some experts. “Infections. Contamination. These are not things that should be taken lightly,” Gruber explains. “There are ingredients on the label for a reason: to maintain the integrity of the product.”

It is an opportunity, however, for suppliers to meet consumer needs in innovative ways. Arch’s Mikrokill ECT was created in response to a growing market need for a cosmetic preservative with wide global regulatory acceptance. The patent-pending, paraben-free and formaldehyde-free preservation system features an antimicrobial blend of widely accepted ingredients that provide broad-spectrum activity on bacteria, yeast and molds: benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, glycerin and sorbic acid. “We’re still looking for alternatives to benzyl alcohol, but otherwise we are working our way to a completely natural and efficacious product,” says Gruber.

Arch is also looking into extracts from natural products that have preservation qualities to meet this new demand within the regulatory environment. The company does its own challenge testing in-house, taking a finished product and introducing microorganisms to see if it’s able to withstand them. “We are screening a number of natural ingredients for use as preservatives,” Gruber says.

Balancing Act

Yet, some innovations can’t be replaced with biotechnology. “There is a balance required,” says Gruber. “Relationships with indigenous cultures, the idea of making sure the people harvesting the crops are receiving sustainable contributions, is going to play a critical role moving forward.” Arch Personal Care Products has the ability to source botanical extracts through several global distribution partnerships with indigenous people in Africa, South America and China. The company’s alliance with the Centroflora Group of Brazil, for example, will afford Arch a sustainable organic botanical extract portfolio comprising products from Brazil offered with full traceability of the produced extract, guaranteeing the safety and quality of raw materials.

Natural and organic ingredients supplier Beraca recently has been recognized as a member of the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT) as it aims to develop its sustainable use and supply of ingredients from the Brazilian biodiversity, as well. Beraca’s primary goal: developing the sustainable use and supply of ingredients from the Brazilian biodiversity following environmental, social and economic criteria. Beraca aims to be completely transparent, to assist consumers in proving their acquisition of natural ingredients is carried out in an ethical manner. “Green” products do not necessarily refer to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity but to biodiversity-based products and processes—which are increasingly subjected to patent protection. This raises critical questions on how access to the resources and associated traditional knowledge took place, and how derived benefits are shared.

Whether brands utilize product from suppliers, such as biotechnological processes or biodiversity partnerships, for ethical or marketing reasons is up to them. “There are a lot of companies that know this is just the right thing to do,” says Natale. “It may not be translated or on the jar.” Either way, consumers are taking notice.

Getting Certified

Many suppliers have completely changed the way they produce ingredients for the industry. Alban Muller offers a comprehensive line of water- and oil-soluble plant extracts, preservative-free in a natural glycerin (derived from local rape seed cultivation) carrier.

The company also recently developed new natural cosmetic textures (Amifeels) with no silicones or parabens to meet growing market demand. The base formulations help to speed the creation of natural cosmetic products, saving time and money. The established formulas retain good sensorial properties while remaining natural and silicone-free, and can be customized by adding natural actives, fragrances and colors. The line features eight textures with different viscosity, and more will be launched soon.

The supplier, known for its eco-responsible approach, uses only renewable solvents and environmentally friendly technologies to reduce the consumption of fossil energy. The production factory is ISO 14001-certified, which means it has been upgraded to minimize impact on the environment. The standard is not an environmental management system as such, and, therefore, does not dictate absolute environmental performance requirements. Instead, it serves as a framework to assist organizations in developing their own environmental management system. ISO 14001 can be integrated with other management functions and assists companies in meeting their environmental and economic goals. “It has been a good investment to focus more on green initiatives, as this will generate many positive results in terms of new products and technologies,” Muller explains. By minimizing the risk of regulatory and environmental liability fines and improving an organization’s efficiency, leading to a reduction in waste and consumption of resources, operating costs can be reduced. With the consumer push for companies to adopt stricter environmental regulations, adoption of such certifications provides companies with a competitive advantage.

Smart Business

Environmental and brand values go together—they are not in opposition. “Going green is investing smart,” says Muller. “With our water filtration gardens, we don’t have to pump water for miles to a recycling factory that will charge us for each liter; we just pour it into our gardens, and we get pheasants and ducks to admire at the same time.” Reducing the waste of energy and resources eliminates unnecessary costs and may produce safer products for a growing marketplace. Gruber encourages others to consider what is best for the consumer, what is best for the company and ultimately how best your efforts can serve the sustainability equation.

Green chemistry presents industries with incredible opportunity for growth and competitive advantage. The demand for natural and sustainable products encourages creativity and search for alternatives in the formulation and packaging of beauty products—fostering competitive advantages on a global scale. Yet, social responsibility leaves the choice up to you, to elect the best possible choices for you, your business and your planet.

For one oral care brand’s perspective on addressing consumer wants and needs by utilizing natural ingredients, see the White Smile, Green Formulation sidebar.

Sara Mason is a freelance writer based in the Chicagoland area. She was previously managing editor of GCI magazine.

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