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Firmenich’s shift to conscious perfumery, far from curbing perfumers’ creativity, has instead proved to be a source of innovation and inspiration. The delicate interlinking of stringent sustainability requirements, scientific research, commercial goals and consumer satisfaction is a balancing act involving numerous participants working in unison and focused on the same vision.
In a drive to develop perfumery with a positive impact on people and the planet, Firmenich has launched a programme with ESG (environmental, social and governance) targets to reach by 2030. Underpinning the plan to adopt a more conscious form of perfumery are the combined pillars of biodegradability, renewability, carbon impact reduction, transparency and certified ingredient procurement. Set up several years ago, these platforms have begun to bear fruit and deliver fragrances that have now been launched on the market. To understand how these commitments have come to life and examine the interplay between creativity and responsibility at the composition company, we talked to the team driving this movement and a perfumer who has fully embraced the philosophy and the new practices it entails.
“The starting point for the transformation process was understanding consumers and their interests, so we could model innovations in response. Because at the end of the day we need to design a perfume that people like, without compromising on its appeal. Unless there is a tangible benefit for the end client, the approach is pointless,” explains Michal Benmayor, vice-president of global strategic business development. The decision to focus on the sustainability demanded by consumers led the company to review all its production methods, set up collection of new traceability data and create suitable monitoring tools, totally overhauling its industrial model.
“Over the last five years, perfumery has been undergoing a revolution comparable to the emergence of modern-day perfumery in the late 19th century. The transformation underway is deep-reaching and cross-disciplinary. We now have to supply and assess a whole series of data on our ingredients and our fragrances, a process that impacts the entire value chain, from responsible purchasing of raw materials to the regulatory compliance, IT systems and, of course, the daily task of perfume creation,” says Marie-Aude Bluche, senior director of the Green Unit, in charge of the palette and development of conscious perfumery. “When it comes to raw materials, we are essentially seeing two main areas of change: biodegradability and renewability. For the former, our research and development programme Green Gate, set up in 2010, aims to exclusively create biodegradable molecules. For the latter, we have introduced new processes: we are revising the methods used to obtain raw materials with the goal of reducing our dependency on petrochemicals. In the ingredient transformation processes, we are now including renewably sourced carbon from three different sources: biomass, recycling and CO2 capture.” This offers the advantage of preserving the olfactory forms that consumers enjoy, changing only the processes for obtaining them. It is important to remember that a 100 % natural fragrance would be incapable of fully satisfying the public’s hedonic expectations because, as Michal Benmayor explains, “our noses have become so accustomed to certain standards.”
To bring some order to the various products involved and get a 360° view of an ingredient or concentrate’s environmental impact, various custom tools have been developed, including EcoScent CompassSee our article Responsible formulation: different tools, one ideal. Michal Benmayor describes it as: “A benefit for our clients, who have to choose which criteria to focus on and be able to explain them very simply to consumers, with clear claims backed by verifiable data: 100% renewable or 100% biodegradable, for example.”
Marie-Aude Bluche believes that it is also a process that has to start inhouse. “The creative teams need to be trained so they have the means to be proactive. This involves olfactory research programmes focused on measurable targets for biodegradability, renewability and naturalness so our perfumers can become familiar with using these innovative resources,” whether ingredients or tools. “In conscious perfumery, perfumers have to deal with a huge range of variables, some of them occasionally contradictory. This complexity can be simplified using the right matrices, which, with the help of AI, make the process easier.”
Perfumer Ane Ayo sees the Firmenich system as a crucial guide to meeting client needs. “As a perfumer, we are aware that these new methods and materials are the future, there’s no way round it.” This approach is also proving to be a source of innovative inspiration. “For those of us constantly looking for something new, driven by insatiable curiosity, responsible ingredients produced by biotechnologies, for example, are a source of ground-breaking tones. We used the recently launched FirGood technology, which avoids petrochemicals with an extraction process whereby water concentrated in the biomass acts as a universal solvent, to obtain ingredients that reflect reality, such as FirGood ginger, green pepper and pear.” These new additions to the perfumer’s palette play different roles, filling a gap or, conversely, conjuring up historic monuments that are difficult to source, such as the ingredient “produced by fermentation, called Dreamwood, which is environmentally friendly while also staying close to a Mysore sandalwood.” Ane Ayo, who recently created A Drop d’Issey for the Issey Miyake brand using ingredients exclusively from the Naturals Together platform combining sustainability criteria with fairness towards communities, is delighted to be receiving an increasing number of client briefs that include care of people and the planet in their specifications. “The Miyake team, in particular, wanted to focus on this area. We had the tools and solutions needed to help them as well as the ingredients capable of evoking purity and simplicity, two notions that were central to the project.” The perfumer opted for an Ambrox Super produced by biotechnology, here used as an overdose, creating a pleasing clean mineral effect and ticking all the boxes in terms of environmental protection, along with an upcycled Virginia cedar, a by-product of the furniture industry.
The culmination of a chain of decisions taken over a long period and implemented by a whole range of actors, this latest Issey Miyake creation to be launched on the market “is the outcome of a great many coordinated efforts, especially since, when selecting from between several competing proposals, in the end the brand made a fairly hedonic choice. The composition creates the right sensations while having been made in a totally innovative way,” points out Michal Benmayor. A new framework for creating fine fragrances is in place. It can be adapted to suit each brief, and is always accurate and rigorous in terms of the qualities claimed.