The global perfume market size reached USD 33.5 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at 6.1% over the next five years. As consumption of perfume increases so too does the need for industry practices that sustain business continuity and protection of the natural resources to which perfume is tethered.
Rising public awareness of the impact consumption has on the environment has also influenced companies to rethink their approach to business. In 2020, Mobium Group surveyed over 2000 Australians between the age of 16-75. “Unprompted, global warming is the #1 thing people call out as their biggest social or environmental concern.” Global warming even beat COVID-19 for the top spot. The six environmental issues respondents were most concerned about are ocean pollution and overfishing, climate change, plastic waste, toxic chemicals, loss of forests and habitat, and air pollution.
To respond to these concerns, sustainability has an important role in corporate strategy, touching every aspect of bringing a fragrance product onto the market. Consideration is given to the growers and producers of raw ingredients to the sites where fragrance is produced, the packaging, how the product is shipped, sold and how remnants of the product are disposed of.
Perfume is a complex product, sometimes containing hundreds of ingredients. Traditionally, perfume formulas are highly guarded secrets. A brand owner will purchase the compounded “juice” from a perfumer’s oil house. The exact formula is never divulged to protect the intellectual property of the perfumer and oil house. This has been a standard industry practice, but it is evolving as more brand owners are asking to trace the origin of ingredients used in their products to ensure they comply with sustainability and ethical sourcing standards. Increased transparency is desirable.
All multinational flavour and fragrance producers now have sustainability strategies in place, which support improved traceability for ingredients and service to clients creating ‘clean beauty’ products. Swiss company Givaudan is on a journey to become the first in its industry to receive B Corp certification, which will offer independently verified proof the company is living up to the highest standards of being a responsible and sustainable business. Swiss competitor Firmenich has a sustainability plan with three pillars: Acting on climate change, embracing nature, and caring about people. Their plan aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These plans take effect at the top of the company chain and flow down to the small independent farmers, many of whom are based in developing nations.
Mid-size producers have also embraced sustainability. Family-owned company CPL Aromas has built a plan on four pillars, one of which is innovation. CPL Aroma’s EcoBoost Technology is an innovation that results in a high impact fragrance at 10% of the normal fragrance dosage. This is an entirely different way for perfumers to formulate and provides many benefits including a reduced carbon footprint since less energy and packaging is used in manufacturing, and waste and transportation costs are smaller. In general, perfumers now write shorter formulas compared to previous generations, making future reformulation required after changing regulations much easier and there is less impact on the environment when fewer ingredients are used.
“EcoBoost will fundamentally shift the way fragranced products are developed and made, to truly support a more sustainable future for everyone.” - CPL Aroma perfumer, Angela Stavrevska
Brands are the junction point between suppliers and consumers. They are significantly accountable to ensure everything that goes into a product is sourced with sustainability in mind, and any negative impact on the environment that results from consumption is negated or minimised.
Garnier International Scientific & Sustainability Director Aurélie Weinling says, “Today, our world faces distinct challenges and consumers are increasingly changing their behaviour, becoming more conscious of the need to protect the environment and save natural resources for future generations. We have the opportunity to make a real impact, helping to create access to sustainable beauty for all. We believe in the pressing need to shift from a linear approach, whereby companies ‘take, make and dispose’ of natural resources, to a more circular, regenerative economy.”
The concept of a circular economy was introduced in China during the 1990s. Restorative and regenerative by design, materials used to create a product or component can be disassembled and broken down by nature or returned to production in one form or another. Recycling or repurposing non-biodegradable materials reduces the need for purchasing new commodities, and renewable energy is used in manufacturing and transportation. This is a seismic change for the global cosmetics industry, which currently produces 120 billion units of plastic packaging annually.
The change has been gradual and although many brands are supportive, access to sustainable materials has been limited, such as recycled glass in the quality used for perfume bottles. The bottle of the latest fragrance launch by Italy’s Acqua di Parma uses 10% recycled glass. “COLONIA C.L.U.B. is environmentally friendly: with a view to sustainability, the bottle, which is made partly of recycled glass, and with a top made of recycled plastic, is fitted with a dispenser which helps make it easy to separate for recycling. The outer packaging is made of 100% FSC cardboard, a certification that promotes responsible forestry management worldwide. Finally, the labels are made of fully recyclable mono-material.”
While larger companies like Garnier hold more control over the ingredients and components that go into their products due to their size and buying clout, small independent companies often face additional challenges to work sustainably as the suppliers they have access to are limited or more expensive and not all costs can be passed onto the consumer. Marie-Lise Jonak is the co-founder of Ormaie, a niche fragrance brand based in France that uses 100% all-natural ingredients in its formulas. “The Ormaie raw materials are selected for their quality and the ethical and ecological conditions in which they are produced.” The fragrances are colourant-free. The glass bottles are produced using renewable energy and the bottle caps use beech wood sourced from responsibly managed forests. While it is standard practice for perfume packaging to be cellophane wrapped, Ormaie has designed a paper box made from 40% recycled fibres, 55% from sustainably managed forests and 5% from cotton. Brands like Ormaie believe consumers are willing to pay a little more for peace of mind knowing that their products were created with sustainability in mind.
Ormaie Co-Founder Marie-Lise Jonak visiting Agence de Parfum in Sydney, Australia
As brands become more vocal about sustainability, these practices are becoming the new standard instead of a novelty. Consumer choice is influenced not only by the brand story and the desire to smell good but also by a brand’s demonstrated value of sustainability. While there is still a long way to go to allow consumers to play a more active role in fragrance sustainability, there is an increase in retailers offering perfume refilling services instore and initiatives like the TerraCycle program has been welcomed by the public who can now dispose of used cosmetic packaging at selected David Jones department stores.
In addition to sustainability, digital is the other big trend in fragrance right now. There is no doubt that in the future, technology will play a key role in supporting the industry to create even more sustainable scents as nature remains the source of perfume’s inspiration.