Sustainable Harvest for Flavors and Fragrances

Luke Grocholl

Introduction: Ethical Harvest of Raw Materials

Sustainable Harvest

Many factors combine to drive demand in natural source raw materials. Historically the flavors and fragrances (F&F) industry looked to nature for new ingredients. This trend continues today as many developers actively seek new innovations from natural products. The overall consumer demand for natural ingredients is also a major contributing factor towards the interest in natural raw materials. The harvesting of natural raw materials, however, can put considerable strain on the environments where they are cultivated or gathered. The sustainable and ethical harvest of raw materials is a movement the (F&F) industry is familiar with.


Historic Harvest Rules

Ethical harvesting of food and ingredients is not a new concept. Kosher is perhaps the oldest formalized food ingredient requirement, and this several thousand-year-old system requires the ethical slaughter of animals (Sh’chitah in Hebrew). The halal slaughter requirements (Dhabihah in Arabic) require a similar, humane practice. Although religious laws codified ethical food harvesting practices, it would be many centuries until civil laws enforced ethical harvest practices.

Concerns about sustainable harvest are more recent, but still centuries old. Some leaders recognized the unsustainable depletion of Europe’s forests, as trees were cut for building material, fuel, and to clear land for agriculture, as early as the 16th century. In 1713, Hans Carl von Carlowitz, who administered mines in the German state of Saxony, wrote a handbook on forestry with the first documented guidance on the sustainable harvest of trees. His concept of Nachhaltigkeit (sustainable harvest or sustainability in English) influenced many European and American leaders to develop sustainable forestry management. Similarly, Japan, during the Edo period (1603-1867), adopted many recycling and sustainable policies as a reaction to severe deforestation. Despite regional treatises and local requirements, it would be almost two centuries until a nation would adopt sustainable concepts as a law.

The Lacey Act in the U.S.

A combination of habitat loss and hunting practices (particularly commercial hunting) in the latter half of the nineteenth century in the USA resulted in federal concerns on sustainability. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the American passenger pigeon, which once numbered in the millions, was hunted to extinction. The last authenticated sighting of a wild passenger pigeon was in 1901 and the last captive pigeon died in 1914. As the species significantly declined, many states passed laws attempting to protect the birds, however, inconsistent laws and enforcement made such regulations insufficient. The passenger pigeon, hunted for food, was not the only species that local laws failed to protect. Other birds, for example, were hunted for their plumage, driving species like the Carolina parakeet to extinction and putting the snowy egret at severe risk, despite state and local ordinances.

Inconsistencies and difficulties enforcing the various state laws lead to the need for federal conservation legislation. In 1900 the Lacey Act1, introduced into Congress by Representative John Lacey, established protections and made poaching illegal at the federal level. Initially the law focused on closing loopholes where protected species harvest in one region were transported to other regions where no such protections existed. The law has since been expanded and amended to make the trade illegal for any protected species, whether harvested within the United States or internationally. It further seeks to control and limit the introduction of invasive species that could negatively impact the environment. Within the F&F industry, the Lacey act is most commonly invoked when verifying the source of tree or other woody plant derived ingredients. The Lacey act requires that material where a protected species may be used in manufacture must verify the origin of the raw material to confirm it was harvested legally.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) & the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES)

Today, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)2 identifies protected species and regions. These fall under the protection of the Lacey Act, so care should be taken when sourcing ingredients derived from natural raw materials. Additionally, any species identified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES)3 are also covered under the Lacey Act. CITES entered into force in 1975 and is one of the oldest and most widespread international agreements on endangered species with 182 nations signing onto the agreement. CITES identifies and protects ~5,000 animal species and ~29,000 plant species. When sourcing flavor & fragrance ingredients, it is common to confirm that no raw materials were derived from species identified under FWS or CITES. Information on protected species can be found on the respective websites of the FWS and CITES.

A common ingredient on the FWS and CITES watch list is Indian sandalwood. Extensive harvesting of sandalwood on the subcontinent for fragrance applications as well as traditional medicines has driven the tree close to extinction. Today, most sustainable sandalwood is harvested in Australia, so it is important to verify not only the species but also the origin of some ingredients. Many animal-derived fragrance sources may also be flagged by FWS and CITES. Care should be taken when sourcing castoreum from beavers as many beaver populations are protected. Similarly, civet cats and musk deer, though sought after in the fragrance industry for their aromatic secretions, are protected species.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

Palm trees (oil palms) have become an important agricultural crop in many tropical areas, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Thailand, and Colombia. Palm trees are extensively cultivated in these regions where the palm kernels are harvested for palm oil extraction. Palm oils have many industrial and food applications, and some fatty acid derivatives of palm oil, such as myristic, palmitic, stearic, oleic, and linoleic acids, are used directly or as raw materials in flavors and fragrances. The demand for palm oil, however, has resulted in significant deforestation and habitat loss.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)4 was established in 2004 to help ensure that palm oil is harvested in a legitimate and sustainable manner. Any fatty acids or fatty acid derivatives should be verified to determine if they are of palm oil origin. If the material is of palm oil origin, an RSPO certificate will help ensure the ingredient was grown and harvested in a sustainable manner.

Conflict Minerals and the Dodd-Frank Act

In addition to the concerns regarding the harvest or trade in plants and animals, there are also ethical concerns regarding harvesting (mining/processing) of minerals and similar non-living resources. Some elements such as tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold are extracted from mineral mines in regions known to support terrorism and human rights abuses. The minerals cassiterite (containing tin), wolframite (containing tungsten), coltan (containing tantalum), and gold ore are collectively known as conflict minerals because of the wars, terrorist acts, and other human rights abuses they may be used to support.

To control the trade in conflict minerals, provisions were added to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, better known as the Dodd-Frank Act5. The provision prohibits the use of the metals (tin, tungsten, tantalum, or gold) derived from the minerals mined in Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Although few of any of these metals are used directly in the flavors and fragrances industry, they may be use indirectly in processing equipment or as a component of catalysts used in some manufacturing processes. Where there is the likelihood of any of the four metals being used in the supply chain, F&F firms should verify the materials are not sourced from minerals that originate in the countries cited in the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX)

Just as there are many laws, agreements, and guidances that govern raw material harvest, there are many conventions that oversee the fair and ethical treatment of workers. The ISO 26000 standards6, Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI)7, Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)8, the Social Accountability International (SAI) SA8000 standard9, and the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI)10 all have global standards and audit platforms to ensure a safe and ethical work environment. SEDEX, the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange11 is one of the most commonly used standards for fair labor treatment in the F&F industries.

SEDEX provides a platform not only to evaluate supplier ethical labor and environmental practices, but it supports a forum for the open disclosure of practices for potential customers and partners. This forum is based on a self-assessment questionnaire and allows SEDEX members to request disclosure from other members. Many SEDEX members choose to go further, opening their sites up to third party SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audits (SMETA)12.

There are two types of SMETA audits:

  • A 2-Pillar audit which evaluates labor and health & safety standards
  • And a 4-Pillar audit which, in addition to labor and health & safety, also evaluates environmental and business ethics

By participating in SMETA audits, SEDEX member companies demonstrate an open disclosure of their ethical practices and invite evaluation to global standards of such practices. SEDEX and SMETA often go hand-in-hand with sustainable harvest practices to demonstrate a firm’s commitment to ethical business practices from raw material acquisition through handling and manufacturing.

ISO 14000 and Environmental Management

Just as fair labor practices are important to the flavors and fragrances industry, environmental management and sustainability are also important. The SMETA 4-Pillar audit evaluates environmental practices. The ISO 1400013 standard also establishes an environmental management system. As part of the ISO family of standards it complements the ISO 9001 quality management system. Similarly, it integrates well with other ISO programs such as the ISO 22000 food safety management system.

ISO 14000 provides for a globally, recognized environmental management system that integrates well with many firms existing food safety and quality management programs. Although ISO 14000 is the most commonly used and accepted environmental management system, some firms may use other environmental standards such as the European Commission developed Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS).14


Today’s consumers are often concerned not only with how their products taste and smell, but what impact they have on the environment. Similarly, players in the flavors and fragrance industry desire to be good environmental stewards as well as contributors to sustainability and environmental diversity. The demand for naturally derived raw materials may create challenges in meeting environmental and sustainability goals, but by adhering to the regulations and guidance on sustainable harvest and trade, flavor and fragrance firms can meet their environmental goals.

Coupling sustainable harvest with fair trade, fair labor, environmental stewardship and sustainability practices highlight the desire of the flavors and fragrances industry to be leaders in global citizenship. Furthermore, holding oneself to internationally recognized standards and audits help assure customers and consumers that sustainable and fair practices are the core values that drive the flavors and fragrances industry.