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Your next fragrance could be made from upcycled elements

Bérengère Bourgarel, one of its perfumers at TechnicoFlor, explains what upcycling, in vogue in many sectors, consists of in fragrance, and goes through the many initiatives undertaken by the family-owned group to move towards greener fragrance making

Published: Oct 4, 2022 12:01:09 PM IST
Updated: Oct 4, 2022 12:05:36 PM IST

Your next fragrance could be made from upcycled elementsTechnicoFlor has developed a whole collection of perfumes from upcycled materials such as wood chips, clementine peels, or cocoa pods. Image: TechnicoFlor

TechnicoFlor recently launched an entire collection of perfumes formulated from upcycled materials, including waste from the food and furniture industries. A feat that culminates more than a decade of commitment to environmentally conscious practices. Bérengère Bourgarel, one of its perfumers, explains what upcycling, in vogue in many sectors, consists of in fragrance, and goes through the many initiatives undertaken by the family-owned group to move towards greener fragrance making.

Q. What is your role at TechnicoFlor?
I have been a perfumer at TechnicoFlor for two years. Perfumery is a vast universe, since it touches three categories of products: fine perfumery, the one we put on our skin, body products, i.e., perfumes for shampoos, shower gels, creams, deodorants, oils, etc., and home products, such as detergents, fabric softeners, candles, or even room diffusers. A perfumer is often required to specialize in one of these categories because they are very different professions, approaches, use cases, and products. At TechnicoFlor, we are lucky to have a specialization while also working on other use cases. In my case, I largely work on fine fragrance, but I also make scents for shower gels and creams, and candles.

So the scents you create can be found in sectors as diverse and varied as perfumery, hygiene products, cosmetics, and cleaning products. When did the question of sustainability arise at TechnicoFlor?

The group has been developing 100% natural products for 15 years and is one of the pioneers in this field. Sustainability is deeply ingrained in our DNA. We launched a CSR approach in 2013, which led to the creation of fair trade channels, the launch of natural formulations, and the integration of fair trade materials in our compositions. Few believed in it at the time, but TechnicoFlor was a visionary. Today, we can say that we are experts in natural and sustainable formulations. We took an even bigger step in terms of sustainability two years ago with the launch of numerous initiatives, including a tool that calculates the biodegradability of our perfume formulas, a responsible purchasing policy, and an eco-score that evaluates the impact of our formulas on the entire production chain, from creation to delivery of the perfume to our customers.

Q. What solutions has the group implemented in order to move in the direction of ever more natural and sustainable formulas and compositions?
When we think of perfume, we often think of the bottle and cap, but the perfume itself, the juice, must also become more environmentally sustainable. This is necessary and important. To do this, we have to make shorter formulas and use ingredients -- raw materials -- that are increasingly sustainable. So for that we had to get informed, conduct research, and try to understand alongside suppliers how we could proceed, knowing that this is as much about naturality as it is about the process. This year, we managed to launch a collection from upcycled raw materials, and we realized that some materials were already upcycled, such as clementine peel, without being considered as such. We now have about 30 upcycled raw materials, both synthetic and natural, and this collection also meets a very strict environmental specification. Each of the perfumes had to be composed of one of these materials, have a biodegradability index of over 80%, and include a maximum of fair trade ingredients.

Q. How does upcycling work in the world of fragrance?
At TechnicoFlor, we do not produce raw materials. We buy them from our suppliers, either in powder or liquid form, and then we create our compositions from what we have sourced. The challenge is to only source raw materials from our suppliers that are upcycled. And they can come from different industries; this has allowed us to discover different olfactory facets that we didn't know. There are, for example, wood shavings that are recovered from woodworking, white wine lees from the deposit collected in barrels, and cocoa pods which, surprisingly enough, have odorant molecules. In the long run, we will inevitably find other raw materials to use. Today, there is a huge waste problem, and upcycling allows us to try to propose solutions.

Also read: Waste is the latest source of inspiration for perfumers

Q. How is working with these upcycled raw materials different for your process?
What's great is that it doesn't change the way I work at all. It's just the smell that's going to be different. This cocoa absolute from the pods will have slightly different facets than the one from the bean. It's a matter of smell, but it doesn't change our techniques. It's even very interesting, because these upcycled materials bring new, different and sometimes surprising olfactory facets to the perfumes.

Q. But is there some difficulty in combining the art of conventional perfumery with techniques or solutions that are less harmful to the environment?

Creating a perfume with strict specifications is necessarily a challenge, but that's also what's interesting about this job. You have to dig deep, push your creativity, and find a new way of working. It just takes a little more time. There are going to be more and more constraints, so you just have to adapt and be creative.

Q. Waste is at the center of attention these days, becoming the raw material of choice in many sectors. Is it really a sustainable solution?
We'll find out in the future. We are inevitably moving towards this, because thanks to biotechnology we can obtain almost anything we want. As natural resources are gradually depleted, the perfumery sector, like other industries, could in the future rely on biotechnology. In any case, there is true awareness in the perfumery industry, and things are evolving very quickly in terms of environmental responsibility. This can only be a good thing.

Q. Would you go as far as saying that you bottle waste?

I don't know if I would go that far. The word 'waste' is so pejorative... We have the image of something that is not engaging, that does not smell good, the opposite of perfumery finally. But it's undoubtedly the future. We are going to run out of space one day on Earth, and waste takes up a lot of it, it's problematic, so upcycling is inevitably part of the future of perfumery.

Q. What's the next step in perfumery in order to adopt an even more responsible model?

As I said earlier, the next step will be biotechnology. This is the ultimate in environmental responsibility.

This interview has been translated from French.

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