According to the two specialists, “perfume is one the most packed products in the world, with a most unfavourable container/content ratio”. In this exclusive study structured in four chapters, Pascale Brousse, founder of the Trend Sourcing Agency, and Gérald Martines, founder of the packaging innovation consulting company In•Signes, provide a multitude of areas of focus and food for thought to reverse the current trend and make this product category enter a new sustainable luxury world.

The study is aimed to offer operational tools that help understand what we can do to improve perfumes’ environmental impact by relying on sociology and drawing inspiration from experiences in related fields,” explains Gérald Martines.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… Refuse

As an introduction, Pascale Brousse makes an update on the mindset of this industry, whose players have definitely started to think green. “Today, it is almost suspicious to launch a perfume that does not offer at least one ‘sustainable’ feature. Even the most conventional brands and composition companies have reviewed their offerings accordingly,” she says.

However, to her, it is essential to go even further towards a new age called “the Symbiocene” [1], an era of symbiosis with nature, as opposed to the current period sometimes called “Anthropocene”.

The Anthropocene is the geological age when Man acquired the monumental power to modify the very structure of the Earth System, the biosphere, the oceans, the climate… It is a state that cannot be sustained and generates irreversible damage. As a consequence, we should give up on our lifestyle, as predators of natural resources, and enter the Symbiocene age, an era to be invented and where Man would live in symbiosis with Nature,” says Gérald Martines.

He also reminds that the most pragmatic eco-design tool is to implement the 3Rs, in the right order: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. “There is actually a fourth R, which stands for Refuse. Consumers are the deciders: if they are not convinced, they will refuse the product,” warns Gérald Martines.

Inventing new formats

To proceed, the study invites companies to broaden their vision beyond the standard model consisting of an alcohol-based juice, a glass bottle and a spray, and imagine new gestures, new galenic forms, and draw inspiration from related fields. “We have already observed many experiments with unconventional galenic forms, packaging, and gestures. Solid perfumes are being reinvented, gels and pencils have emerged… But we need to go further. Right now, there are many new solutions in the skincare category consisting of concentrated formulas to be diluted. Why could it not be considered for perfumes? Perfumes that could be diluted at home? Or In&Out perfumes? The most widely known format still has bright days ahead, but young consumers are very fond of new experiences,” explains Pascale Brousse.

If we mention these different galenic forms, it is because this choice is far from environmentally neutral. Each galenic form goes with a pack and a gesture. These dimensions have a significant influence on the environmental impact,” adds Gérald Martines.

A reflection in four acts

Then, the study explores four major themes: lightening, circularity, regeneration, and the Symbiocene.

The concept of lightening is related to the sociology of lightness. “This approach should be applied to everything. The bottle, but also the cap, pump, decoration… Some brands no longer use caps, like Escentric Molecules. Floratropia does not use bottles, but pouches…,” explain the experts.

The notion of circularity includes reuse and recycling. “Even the notion of ‘flaw’ will change: it will be a differentiating point. The idea is that nothing will be thrown away, everything will have a value. Glassmaking typically generates high waste levels up to over 40%: four bottles out of 10 are thrown away! Sometimes for a tiny visual imperfection without any effect on functionality. This notion of imperfection can be questioned: why could we not consider flaws as singularities that shape the personality and unicity of each bottle?” ask the two specialists.

The issue of regeneration is closely related to that of carbon emissions. “In the years to come, we are going to have to focus on restoration and repair. Some makeup brands are already emerging with concepts based on regenerative agroforestry, which consists in working on soils to bring them back to life. It can definitely be an option in the perfume industry,” explains Pascale Brousse.

We also deal with initiatives like Coty’s and L’Oréal’s. They use ethanol or plastic based on captured CO2. It is a step in the right direction. There is a new eco-design strategy which will consist in systematically checking whether resources can be drawn from the waste available, and it even works with CO2,” adds Gérald Martines.

Lastly, the study closes with a hoped-for entrance in the Symbiocene age and what a perfume industry in symbiosis with nature would look like…