The article in the url below suggests that synthetic alternatives can sometimes be more sustainable than natural products. In particular, the article focuses on the production of perfume. It makes the point that, while consumers often want 'natural' fragrances that are organic and fair trade, synthetic perfumes are significantly better for the planet:
"The trend toward a minimalist aesthetic in fragrance can however be more harmful than it appears, particularly when it comes to flowers. The struggle major companies face is how to sustainably produce what is inherently an unsustainable product, especially as consumers demand more and more raw materials."
Flowers, in particular, are a challenging product to grow for harvest:
"'Flowers are very resource-intensive with low yield,' explains Torsten Kulke, senior vice president of global innovation & regulatory fragrances at Symrise … . Some 500kg (1,102lbs) of a flower, he noted, usually only yields 50 grams (1.1lbs) of essence. 'Why do you want to waste hectares and hectares of productive land?'"
In response, companies like Symrise ("one of the 'big eight' global fragrance companies that provide the bulk of the formulas for the fine fragrance market") are working hard to deliver products to a new generation of customers who seek natural, authentic, and sustainable:
"In a coastal jungle in northern Madagascar, biologist Fanny Rakotoarivelo places a plastic bubble over a branch of papaya flowers. Inside, air currents run through the flowers, sucking out essential oils. The scented air that remains is funneled into another bag, which Rakotoarivelo places inside a metal briefcase. It will be flown and delivered to the German headquarters of Symrise, the second largest flavors and fragrances company in the world, where scientists will attempt to recreate the scent."
Another of the "big eight," IFF has also pivoted to respond to the shifting demands of consumers:
"IFF announced its Natural Ethics program in 2013 for its vanilla grown in the Sava region, which includes development of more biosynthetic vanilla. Firmenich works with a local partner in Madagascar that helped 1,300 farming families to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification."
While there is always demand for the 'real thing,' the costs associated with getting it are increasingly becoming available only to a select few. The rest of us will need to get used to synthetic, at least when it comes to perfume:
"'Rose costs thousands of dollars,' Kulke elaborates. 'A 98% copy you can get for a fraction of the cost.' A papaya flower could not feasibly be harvested for its oil, even in its native Madagascar – the cost, monetary and environmental, would be astronomical. The real thing is, no doubt, more complex, but in this case the copy smells just as sweet."
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A sweeter choice: synthetic perfumes, while unpopular, are better for the planet
By Alexandra Pechman
May 23, 2016