Corporate Responsibility

Sniffing out the complexities of sustainability

By Sarah Harding

The fragrance experts at CPL Aromas talk to Sarah Harding about the perfume industry’s movement toward greater susta

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The fragrance experts at CPL Aromas talk to Sarah Harding about the perfume industry’s movement toward greater sustainability, and the complexities involved.
The fragrance market is accustomed to variations in consumer demand, as trends swing from sweet accords and floral scents to woody notes, and a growing taste for ‘unisex’ perfumes. However, the mega-trend encompassing all of these is the continued movement toward greater sustainability.
Angela Stavrevska, UK Creative Director and Perfumer for CPL Aromas, explained, “We have seen quite a dramatic shift in consumer thinking over the last few years. Traditionally ‘natural’ was seen as the only ecologically green way to develop fragrances. But this was overly simplistic and didn’t look at issues such as water usage and wild harvesting, which, although giving a natural crop, aren’t necessarily good for the planet and its inhabitants. Today both our customers and their consumers understand more about the total impact that their purchases have on the world and they are interested in the use of clever science and technology to develop products that can be made sustainably.”
Considering impacts on the environment and communities, as well as business, sustainability can be a complex topic… perhaps as complex as some perfumes! Emily Heron, Head of Sustainability, commented, “The rising pressures on the planet and society from factors such as pollution, climate change, rising population, inefficient use of resources, and improper waste management, have an impact on our business, employees, customers and communities. Although we are only one company, we recognise that our actions and decisions have an effect on a global value chain.”
In an effort to integrate sustainability into every aspect of the business, CPL Aromas operates all of its manufacturing facilities in line with the environmental standard ISO 14001 (3 of 5 facilities are certified; the 2 remaining facilities will be certified over the next 3 years). Environmental and safety performance is also measured through regular internal and external auditing.
“We are also in the process of launching a brand-new sustainability vision and strategy, in line with the UN sustainable development goals, to lead greater positive, transformational change,” explained Heron. “This will include a vision for what we can and should achieve, as well as a systematic approach to sustainability management, in line with our business strategy… CPL Aromas is committed to working with suppliers who have strong business ethics, respect people and understand the need to preserve and improve the environment. We have recently formed a team tasked with building relationships with our suppliers to achieve high standards in these areas.”
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In order to deliver on these responsible sourcing commitments, CPL Aromas is conducting audits of its main direct raw material suppliers with a natural origin.
Of course, just because a product is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean that it is always more ‘sustainable’ than a synthetic alternative. As explained by Nick Moore, Global Purchasing Director, many synthetic raw materials come from renewable feedstocks such as turpentine. As long as these feedstocks are managed in a responsible way, modern chemistry can strive towards waste reduction and recycling, cleaner and more streamlined processes to get best yields possible and helping to reduce or eliminate potentially harmful by-products. Synthetics can also be more sustainable than naturals as they are less impacted by adverse changes in weather patterns. Nevertheless, natural ingredients are important raw materials for the fragrance industry, and it is important to manage their sourcing responsibly. A variety of issues need to be considered, from sudden climatic changes to political or economic problems.
In the case of adverse weather conditions or other factors affecting the yield of natural ingredients, Moore was quick to reassure that CPL Aromas supports its supply partners in times of difficulty, saying “In difficult times we always support each other and so we can normally be assured of volume supply ahead of our competitors”.
Joanne Brown, Naturals Ingredients Buyer,  added, “Our Specialist Natural Team travels and visits key growing areas, forging strong working relationships with growers and producers, working directly with them, to ensure CPL purchase the finest natural ingredients. These partnerships offer the growers & producers loyalty and therefore security of sales, opportunities for growth & expansion, which in turn promotes investment back into the land, education into best farming practice and also community projects. Where Natural ingredients can be sourced from more than one origin, and can be interchanged, these partnerships are formed at more than one origin, and this helps to limit risk”.
But don’t natural ingredients grown in different parts of the world smell different?
“Yes,” agreed Stavrevska. “Natural ingredients grown in different part of the world do smell different – and quality and smell will differ greatly depending on this and many factors. Natural essential oils and absolutes are themselves complex blends of odorous chemicals. These chemicals tend to be in certain ratios depending on the plant, but the ratios can shift depending on soil type, water and weather variations. So even crops grown in the same field can vary, depending on whether some areas of the field are shaded. And year on year, the same field can produce slightly different oil quality, in terms of odour and colour, in the same way as terroir and growing conditions affects different vintages of wine. We look at batch-blending from year to year to ensure that our customers’ fragrances don’t vary in terms of odour, as well as regulatory and colour wise.”
Naturally, the efforts surrounding the move towards greater sustainability also affect the businesses involved – and the good news is that these effects are largely positive.
Heron said, “Over the past 20 years or so, sustainability has become more than a trend or a buzz word. Companies are dealing with unprecedented combinations of economic, social, environmental and technological trends, requiring sophisticated, sustainability-based management. Research and experience indicate sustainability efforts embedded throughout strategy result in positive impact on business performance.”
Amongst other benefits, explained Heron, sustainability-driven strategies may improve a company’s ability to manage risks and opportunities associated with key sustainability issues, and improve financial performance through cost saving initiatives and efficiency improvements.  
“Along with many businesses, we recognise that there are significant cost savings to be had through sustainability-related operational efficiencies and reduction of waste,” she added. “For example, as availability of non-renewable energy sources declines, CPL is investing in renewable technologies – a long-term investment with significant cost savings. In recent years, such technologies have seen significant improvement and affordability, and using efficient, energy-saving and energy-generating technologies, such as solar power and LED lighting, protects us against rising costs and lack of supply, as well as minimizing our carbon footprint.”
In conclusion, said Moore, “Our industry has been impacted in the last 2 years with production of key raw materials from one major supplier and the impact of pollution on the environment from China. My advice would be two-fold. Firstly, ensure you have multiple sources for your key feedstocks. Secondly, ensure the production methods employed are non-polluting, including, air, water, soil and noise”.
Heron agreed, adding simply that, “The fragrance industry is fast moving, and CPL Aromas is at the forefront of change. True sustainability is the work of many and we have dedicated teams that strive to look differently at challenges, break new ground, and challenge the status quo. In doing so, we’re actively shaping standards and supporting the next generation of fragrance innovators through key areas of our sustainable business vision.”
By acting responsibly and using resources efficiently (including human resource), CPL Aromas is planning ahead to sustain their activities in the long-term. In these experts’ view, it is essential that a corporate strategy is systematically pointed towards growth that is sustainable, not only taking into consideration economic impact, but also the environmental and social effects of the business.
With thanks to:
Angela Stavrevska, UK Creative Director and Perfumer, Emily Heron, Head of Sustainability, Nick Moore, Global Purchasing Director, Joanne Brown, Naturals Ingredients Buyer, at CPL Aromas, the world’s leading international, fragrance-only fragrance house, with 18 sites throughout the world. Employing 550 people globally the company produces fragrance concentrates suitable for fine fragrances, personal care products and household applications. CPL Aromas has sites in: UK, US, France, Dubai, Germany, Turkey, Hong Kong, Colombia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan & Australia.
Sarah Harding worked as a medical writer and consultant in the pharmaceutical industry for 15 years, for the last 10 years of which she owned and ran her own medical communications agency that provided a range of services to blue-chip Pharma companies. In 2016, she began a new career in publishing as Editor of Speciality Chemicals Magazine, and in 2019 we were honoured to welcome her as Editorial Director at Chemicals Knowledge.