Green Motion Mane

Green Motion and the actual Impact of Perfumes on the Planet

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This article was published in partnership with Mane.

If we compare an Indian jasmine sambac absolute, a synthetic musk and a woody molecule produced using biotechnology, which has the most impact on our environmental resources? In order to obtain an objective and quantified response that goes beyond common preconceptions, Mane has developed an assessment tool based on the principles of green chemistry. This gives us an opportunity to improve practices, but also to push forward perfumers’ formulation methods.

At a time when consumers are demanding “green” or “clean” products more than ever, in perfumery as well as in other industries, these notions, which are not controlled by any specific definition or certification, remain vague. How can we know what the production of a perfume has really cost the planet? In order to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of natural and synthetic ingredients, in 2011 the French fragrance company Mane created Green Motion. This tool makes it possible to attribute to any given raw material a score that corresponds to its ecological footprint. “We broke down the twelve principals of green chemistry to establish a quantifiable evaluation grid, which did not exist before,” Mathilde Voisin, Ingredient Marketing Manager at the company, explains.

All the principles are taken into account : the renewability of the raw material, the type and number of solvents used if applicable, the toxicity of the solvents and that of the raw materials for humans and the environment, the efficiency of the extraction process, the energy consumption required, the impact of the finished product and that of its by-products and finally, the quantity of waste generated. 

Moving away from simplistic speeches

Once the 2500 ingredients in the perfumer’s palette are analysed, each receives a score between 0 and 100. The higher the score, the less impact the ingredient has on the planet. “No ingredient can score 100,” Mathilde Voisin points out. “As soon as a product has been transformed, it’s at a cost to the planet. The aim is therefore to improve the manufacturing processes of our ingredients to get closer to the maximum score.” Essential oils and supercritical extracts generally obtain a high score, above 50, as do ingredients produced using biotechnology, while absolutes have a score below average. As for synthetic molecules, the score is variable. While some are awarded a Green Motion close to zero, others come out rather well. “We take into account the numerous markers of sustainable development instead of just focusing on the ingredient naturality or biodegradability, which is overly simplistic”, our expert underlines. It is about moving away from simplistic answers and the demonisation of chemistry. While an orange blossom has a Green Motion score of 36, Bigarane, a synthetic molecule evoking petitgrain, receives 62, a much better score for the planet. Even though the former is made of a natural and renewable resource, it requires the use of petrochemical solvents, has a low yield, produces a lot of waste and contains allergens, which brings down its score. On the other hand, the latter, a synthetic ingredient, has a good yield, produces little waste, uses a solvent with less environmental impact and it is hypoallergenic. Against all odds, the natural option can sometimes be less “clean” than a synthetic. However, we often tend to put forward simple arguments (for example 100% natural), when the reality is often more complicated to explain. 

As well as ingredients, Green Motion also applies to compositions created by perfumers and flavourists working for Mane. The score of each ingredient that makes up a formula is then weighted according to the percentage used in order to calculate an overall score. This figure is now closely examined by many of the composition house’s customers. In fact, an online platform allows them to calculate their product’s Green Motion score of that or one of its components. “Some brands ask us to rework formulas to improve the Green Motion rating,” Mathilde Voisin reveals. “Having numerical data available allows us to set targets easily, both for our clients and internally.” While in 2015, 69% of the company’s portfolio of ingredients received a score over 50, this number has reached 80% in 2021. The company is constantly seeking to improve its processes to obtain greener ingredients, whether that be by limiting the number of required steps, improving yield or reducing waste. 

A new constraint

In 2013, a software was developed for perfumers and flavourists so they could test their own compositions on the Green Motion scale. “When I type my formula into the computer, the rating for each ingredient appears on the screen, as well as the overall score which is calculated instantaneously,” Senior Perfumer Violaine Collas tells us. “At first, I consulted it for my own personal information, it was my contribution for the planet, but now it has become a criterion we take into account in many projects.” It is a new constraint in the difficult exercise of composition. 

Ingredients that score well see their popularity rise. For example, both Orcanox, which gives off generous, warm, woody notes, and Nerolidol, a clear floral note, rarely used just a few years ago, are coming back into fashion. On the other hand, poor scoring ingredients are being avoided. “We cannot cheat with Green Motion. If a formula has to achieve a minimum score and I use an ingredient with a poor rating, I have to put less in, remove it or replace it,” the perfumer adds.

Musks in the firing line

However, not all ingredients are in the same boat. Those that are used in small quantities, such as essential oils or absolutes, will have little influence on the final score. Musks, on the other hand, which take up a large proportion of contemporary formulas and often leave a large ecological footprint, can weigh heavily in the balance. “I favour Ambrettolide, which has a good score, or I choose Muscenone, which although scoring poorly, is very strong, which means I can use it sparingly,” admits Violaine Collas. 

In her opinion, increasing demands from brands for environmental conservation are changing the way perfumers conceive their creations. “When we use an ingredient, it really must make sense. Why, for example, would you drown a composition in Hedione which is harmful to the environment, when you could choose to use just 5% of Hedione HC, which although more costly is better quality? Green Motion enables us to reflect on the ingredient’s strength and their place in the formula.”

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