In 2019 the global essential oil market was estimated at around USD $7 billion. Research suggests this number will double by 2026, forecasting a market share of around USD $14.1 billion. This astronomical increase is due to increasing customer demand, as consumers begin to move towards natural products and cosmetics. Also, it is expected that pharmaceutical companies will contribute to this rise in demand, as research continues to highlight the beneficial role of essential oils in terms of health and wellness.
Essential oils are volatile oils that come from the plant they have been extracted from. They carry the main characteristics—or essence—of the plant, including its core constituents, fragrance, and flavors. The question of sustainability arises due to the sheer amount of plant material required to create essential oils. For example, to make 1lb of lavender oil, it takes around 500lbs of lavender flowers—which translates to a yield of .2%!
So, are essential oils sustainable?
The honest answer is both yes and no.
While there is no doubt the creation of essential oils is a very resource-intensive process, correct use of the oils means a small amount can go a long way. Furthermore, essential oils are a safe alternative to many harmful chemicals and toxins that are currently being leached into the environment. Let’s take a closer look at the sustainability issues that arise when we consider essential oils:
One of the largest hurdles when it comes to sustainability is overharvesting. As the name indicates, this is when a plant is harvested to a level that threatens its existence. There are websites such as United Plant Savers, and the IUCN Red List which consumers can use to ensure they are not purchasing oil from a plant that is endangered. At VINEVIDA we pay close attention to where and which species are endangered, to ensure we are not contributing to the depletion of resources.
There are two different options when it comes to harvesting essential oils: farming and wild harvest. If wild harvesting, the San Juan National Forest Service guidelines suggest no more than 5% of the local plant population. With such high demand for essential oils, many companies have turned to farm cultivation. While this can help prevent overharvesting, these farms are often monoculture crops which bring with them their own problems. Here at VINEVIDA we do our best to source wild harvested plants whenever possible. If we do purchase from farm cultivated sources it is part of our due diligence to ensure that best practices are being used to ensure sustainability.
Monoculture crops refer to crops where only one type of plant is grown. While there are some benefits to monoculture farming—such as increases in production and revenue, and more opportunity to advance technology—there are also drawbacks. Monoculture crops tend to be more susceptible to pests, which means more pesticides are used to combat them. In addition, only growing one type of plant upsets the natural balance of the soil. Having too many of the same species in a designated area will cause the level of nutrients in the soil to drop, killing off important bacteria and microorganisms.
Another issue is erosion. When there are more than one plant species it means there are multiple different kinds of roots at work to help prevent soil from erosion. With only one type of root it often isn’t enough, which leads to compromised soil. This brings us to the next issue in terms of sustainability: soil health.
One of the most important elements in sustainable growing is the health of the soil. Soil offers up nutrients, water, and minerals, along with hosting billions of insects, microorganisms, and bacteria. The health of soil directly impacts the health of the plant being grown, yet soil is degrading year-after-year due to poor farming practices and erosion. Excessive tilling, overwatering, and the use of too many pesticides and chemicals all contribute to the decline of healthy soil. Soil is not considered a renewable resource, as it takes more than a human lifetime to recover what has been lost. To put it into context, the amount of soil that can be lost in a year due to erosion could take hundreds—or even thousands—of years to recover.
Evidence shows that working towards managing soil sustainably can help improve local economies by increasing productivity, income and job security.
At VINEVIDA, we make it our goal to source plants from the countries they grow naturally in. When a species is native to a certain environment it requires much less human intervention in terms of growing. The plant is generally accustomed to the climate patterns of its origins, such as rainfall, soil, and temperature. Plants that are grown outside of their native homes tend to require things such as artificial climate control, additional irrigation and water, and chemical additives.
Another issue of dispute in the agriculture industry is the treatment of workers. Agriculture is the second-largest source of income in the world, yet also one of the most exploited. In many third-world countries farm workers live in poverty, and businesses often employ child workers.
At VINEVIDA we do our best to source plants from where they grow in abundance naturally. This means we work directly with growers from all different areas of the world. In some lower-socioeconomic countries, farmers must compete with middle-men who act as brokers, driving down prices. For example, in India, growers couldn’t sell outside their local territory, so these middle-men would come in to purchase their crops, offering unsustainable prices. The farmers would have no choice but to comply, otherwise their plants would go unsold and eventually die off and become worthless. India recently changed this law, essentially enabling growers to cut-out these middle-men and sell their plants to whoever was offering a fair price. As an American company, VINEVIDA always deals directly with local farms, which is beneficial to both us and the growers.
To help support worker’s rights it is important for companies to dig further into how their farmers are being supported. Education is particularly important, as many growers don’t know their own rights. Fair Trade USA is an organization that certifies companies who provide safe and fair working conditions, alongside sustainable livelihoods for farmers around the world. When a company is Fair Trade certified, a certain percentage of their profits go back to the producers, farmers and workers. VINEVIDA is currently looking into the process of Fair Trade certification for certain products, in the hopes of further supporting some of our farmers and growers.
In regards to our manufacturing plants, VINEVIDA works directly with dedicated processors. Employee satisfaction is a top priority, and we believe in a hands-on approach.
Multi-level Marketing (MLM)
VINEVIDA has never, and will never, use MLM. This is for multiple reasons; one in particular being the effect MLM has on sustainability. The entire purpose of MLM is to move product. When it comes to essential oils, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. At VINEVIDA we pride ourselves in offering quality over quantity. We don’t offer ill-advised suggestions such as ingesting oils or using more than what is required in an effort to create further sales. We believe when you are using a premium product, less is more. When it comes to making essential oils sustainable, the best contribution we can make is to properly educate our consumers. Essential oils are extremely concentrated products, therefore using them correctly is the way to ensure our environment isn’t overharvested or exploited.
Recycling and Waste Management
At VINEVIDA, we are always looking into new ways to minimize our environmental footprint. Currently, we are moving towards the implementation of a program which will allow consumers to return essential oil bottles to be reused. Many essential oils are flammable, and there are certain areas and states that don’t allow them to be recycled.
We are also looking at other ways to improve waste management, including our shipping practices. We are taking into consideration the type of packaging we use, and looking for more sustainable options. Furthermore, many of our staff members are able to work from home, which cuts back on both travel and electricity.
The Lacey Act of 1900
The Lacey Act is put into place to ensure that the illegal trade of plants, fish or wildlife does not take place. For example, sandalwood and certain types of cedarwood are both on the list of products that are strictly regulated and require an import declaration.
When it comes to essential oils it is important for a company to be fully transparent about their compliance with the Lacey Act. They should work closely with suppliers in order to ensure they know where the plants are being sourced and supplied from and if it is in an ethical way.
If possible, it is best for a company to come up with a certification system, so they can reward suppliers who show initiative in transparency, and carefully audit this system to ensure compliance continues.
In Somaliland, harvesting frankincense is the second-largest way to make a living. The trees grow naturally there, and one species is endemic (or native) to the region, and can’t be found elsewhere. Frankincense is a common additive in perfumes and incenses and is in high demand around the world. This is leading to a dwindling supply, as trees are being harvested faster than they can be grown. As with any item of limited quality in high demand, prices are rising, and in turn, poachers are taking more risk to illegally export frankincense. Here at VINEVIDA, we do not purchase frankincense from Somaliland. At this point, there is not enough awareness or cooperation in the communities to allow the market to be sustainable.
With the demand for essential oils on the rise, it is important for companies to teach consumers how to purchase and use them responsibly. Companies must take steps to ensure they are ethically sourcing their plants and following guidelines set out in Fair Trade agreements in regards to workers.
Here at VINEVIDA, we put a focus on sustainability, which means we believe in educating our customers on how to properly use oils in a way that will both provide benefits and prolong usage. We believe in quality over quantity, and it shows in our products. If you have any further questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.