What sustainability in perfume means

As with defining sustainability in any area of ​​consumerism, what constitutes a “sustainable fragrance” is constantly evolving. There is no legal definition of what makes a fragrance last, and so many factors come into consideration for both fragrance producers and conscious buyers.

As Amy Christiansen, founder of conscious luxury perfumery house Sana Jardin, says, “There’s no doubt that we all need to do our part when it comes to reducing our impact on the environment.” The beauty industry alone creates around 120 billion packaging units each year, “and then there are the issues of overuse, volatile organic compounds and excess waste”, which can also arise in because of the manufacturing process of a perfume.

Increasingly, we demand brand transparency so we can make better purchasing choices. “Consumers are passionate about using their purchasing power to support brands that work for social change and engage in sustainable initiatives,” says Christiansen. As a result, there has been a significant shift towards more conscious practices within the fragrance industry.

“My belief is that sustainability is a state of mind that guides every step in the creation of a perfume,” says master perfumer Aurélien Guichard. As the nose behind countless famous fragrances – from Gucci Guilty to Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez – and now his own fragrance house, Matière Première, he stresses that sustainability in perfumery is not just about the finished product.

Here, the experts help us highlight the key factors that make up a lasting fragrance, make the topic a little less overwhelming, and make shopping with a clear conscience a little easier.


“By definition, our profession as perfumers is deeply linked to nature,” says Guichard. “It’s in our philosophy to preserve what inspires us and provides us with our ingredients.”

He believes that “it is the responsibility of the perfumer to carefully source the ingredients that will go into the formulas”. Ergo, Guichard both cultivates its own perfume plants using organic, cruelty-free and sustainable production methods, and collaborates with partners whose social and environmental behavior is on par.

In addition to access to responsibly produced natural ingredients, the industry is providing increasing access to new synthetic ingredients produced using the principles of green chemistry (these include “ingredients that are sustainably produced and recycled from waste”, he explains).

Erik Madigan Heck

The superiority of natural ingredients over synthetic ingredients is an ongoing debate in perfumery, but Christiansen also believes that, from a sustainable perspective, there are times when using synthetic ingredients is more environmentally friendly. environment.

“For example, sourcing certain ingredients such as sandalwood can be detrimental to the environment,” she explains. “A synthetic alternative will therefore have less impact on the planet while avoiding the overexploitation of crops.” She also believes that synthetic ingredients of animal origin should be used to prevent wildlife from being hunted, harmed or killed during the creation process. “Musk is the perfect example; Natural musk comes from animals, in particular the musk deer or a civet, and is fortunately now prohibited in perfumery.

When it comes to the composition of a perfume, Guichard works with a very short list of ingredients, making sure that everyone counts. “This minimalist approach also shows a kind of sobriety, which for me is part of sustainability,” he says. “Use less resources for the best qualitative result.”


This concept also applies to production. “Brands need to be aware of the amount of products they produce,” Christiansen believes. “Smaller production runs can reduce environmental impact.”

Harvesting the ingredients, creating the formula and making the final product are all equally important. It’s something that Guerlain, one of the oldest and most revered perfume houses in the world, takes very seriously.

Among the brand’s pillars of work are: biodiversity (protecting raw materials and ecosystems on sites); eco-design (manufacturing while limiting the environmental impact of products and activities, including controlling CO2 emissions caused by transport and travel); sustainable purchasing (agreeing on sustainable collaborations with partners, suppliers and service providers); and social responsibility (promoting diversity and improving the working and living conditions of employees and local communities, while supporting charities linked to the brand).

Social impact

Indeed, social responsibility is present in all sustainable perfumery – in the cultivation and exploitation of ingredients and all production elements. But is worth pointing out on its own.

As at Guerlain, Sana Jardin considers the integration of humanitarian values ​​in the supply chain to be essential. “We want to use sustainable fragrance as a vehicle for social impact and female empowerment,” says Christiansen. For example, the brand’s model gives its flower pickers the skills and materials they need to increase their wages through trade, not charity. “This alternative business model is based on ‘flower recycling’ and illustrates that luxury commerce can be used to drive social change.”


Finally, the packaging of a perfume is also essential to its impact on the planet. To be sustainable, all branded materials used for a fragrance should be as environmentally friendly as possible and fully recyclable. As Guichard says: “The most sober and responsible packaging that will preserve the superior quality of the perfume itself”.

Think: reusable (usually in a refillable capacity), recyclable or biodegradable being non-tradable assets.

Additionally, Christiansen says, “Brands must also understand the need to adapt and evolve to reflect the ever-changing landscape.” At Sana Jardin, she seeks more eco-friendly alternatives for every detail, such as recycling disposable paper coffee cups in paper fiber for the outer packaging, and bioplastic caps made from recycled textile waste. .

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Sarah C. Figueiredo