May 18, 2022

Understanding sustainability: What role do fragrances play?

Making sense of sustainability, dilemmas, concerns, and solutions

The word sustainability in the way it is used today refers to the capacity of the Earth's ecosystem and human activities to co-exist. While the environment comprises a large aspect of sustainability, it is made up of two other pillars: economy and society. The interplay of factors involving environment, economy, and society determines whether our actions as consumers and as brands are sustainable.

In our current climate, sustainability is an important consideration for consumers who are taking it into account as they make their purchasing decisions. However, for a brand it's not always clear how to communicate their stance on sustainability or even how consumers think about it. Our guide to sustainability is dedicated to these important topics.

Is sustainability important to consumers?

It's essential to understand the following:

• The importance of Natural & Sustainability to consumers

• Your consumers' expectations

• Their purchase habits

• Their declared preferences for taste & smell

Firmenich carried out a large consumer survey with 5000 women aged between 18 to 55 years old in the USA, France, Brazil, Mexico, and China.  Participants were screened on the following question: How often do you buy Natural, Organic or Eco-Friendly products, whether food and-or personal-home care products ?

The result was that for 70% of respondents, notions of naturalness and sustainability were important in their decision to buy a perfume.

Brands need to elaborate a clearly articulated set of claims to build an educational and compelling narrative.

Health vs Pleasure dilemma

64% of respondents feel that fragrances can impact their health and our planet's resources.

89% of respondents feel that fragrances bring pleasure and sensorial experiences.

The tension is: there exists a perception that natural products aren’t as enjoyable, and that there needs to be a pleasant combination of natural + sensorial.

Consumers don't expect natural products to be unfragranced, since they don't want to lose the pleasure aspect. But their perception of fragrances is ambiguous, which means that reassurance and transparency in brand communication are crucial.

Expectations vs Reality dilemma

Consumers say that they want natural smelling, fresh, light, soft fragrances, with identifiable ingredients from nature, but they select intense, blooming, strong, and long-lasting fragrances. The tension is: Consumers say they want natural fragrances, but when they smell natural, they don't find them as appealing.

The solution is to use a rich sustainable palette of ingredients, not limiting oneself to one type or style.  

Nature vs Innovation dilemma

Many consumers say, "The main reason for me to buy natural or organic products is because they are more healthy." Or “buying green products make me feel better about my consumption.”

They also say, "It’s okay to include synthetic stuff, as long as it does no harm to my health, with endorsement from scientists or the government.” Or “The fragrance of natural products is not long-lasting enough, and the scent is lacking in layers.”

The tension is: Consumers want to use natural products, and yet in their daily regimen they often rely on science-backed, innovative products. Nature is often perceived at odds or even in conflict with innovation, and as a concept, nature is aspirational. On the other hand, innovation is treated as part of the new world, highly dependent on technology and industry.

The solution is once again communication and education. This dilemma stems from perception, rather than reality, and a brand must be clear, reassuring, and confident about its claims.

Key findings


Communicate clearly with reassurance and transparency to resonate with consumers. Sustainable claims drive purchase intent, but they also need to be verifiable and authentic.

Commercial offer

Adapt your product offer, especially as consumers will pay more for natural, sustainable, and sensorial product benefits.

Product mix

Offer products that convey naturality and are based on a rich sustainable palette of ingredients.  Our palette offers a variety of ingredients that are also sustainable, and we are ready to help you design your ideal product.

Source: Firmenich Conscious Consumer Study 2019, FR/US/BR/CN Personal + Home Care, on-line study, sniff+taste test and focus groups

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