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The Three Pillars of Smart Sustainability

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor
Posted: February 27, 2009

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But how can the industry deliver on the promise of sustainable naturals that deliver on consumer expectations but which also adhere to the world’s ecological realities? “It’s clear that you can only do this through technical and scientific solutions,” said Brinkgreve, “delivering on naturals and reducing the environmental impact. Nature itself is not going to help us. We need technology.” With this in mind, Brinkgreve presented three pillars of sustainability: ecology, society and economy.

Eyes Wide Open Ecology

“Everyone says that agriculture and naturals [are] the solution for the [ecological] issues in the world,” said Brinkgreve. “I think it’s partly true.” He reminded the audience of forestry and agriculture’s prominent role in global CO2 emissions. With that in mind, Brinkgreve asked, “Are naturals really the answer? Or are artificial molecules maybe better for creating fragrances? I understand that we want naturals and the consumer wants naturals, but we should not forget that technology can help us there and [with] the [ecological] impact we are going to have by selling more natural fragrances. I’m not saying we should [stop using naturals], but we should be concerned.”

The exploitation of land in the quest for botanical resources has had stark consequences, as with the deforestation of Borneo (see Projected deforestation in Borneo) and Indonesia. “I’ve just come back from Indonesia where I saw how people burned down the rainforests with petrol just to get a little bit of palm oil,” said Brinkgreve. “I think we need to be more conscious of what we do there. There is less land available and [thus] more pressure on it. Quality will also be impacted. We ask too much of the earth.”

“Pesticides are a problem as well,” he continued, “and so we say we want organic. There are no pesticides, so it’s good. But I ask myself: are organics the solution?” Here Brinkgreve cited Bourland’s skepticism of organic farming’s promise, adding that he has witnessed the detection of pesticides in organic products. “Can we really say that we’ll go to organics for our natural fragrances and cosmetics? Organics are one of the few things that consumers understand. However, it probably makes more sense to talk about a more holistic certification of naturals, which cover far more things than just the environmental impact of using pesticides.”

This holistic solution, which in Brinkgreve’s opinion would factor in all impacts of a material, would work in tandem with a call to local populations to cease deforestation. Meanwhile, in cases in which it made sense, the industry could employ greener synthetics to spare natural resources.