There are a lot of factors that compel me to really like Abel. The company appears to truly be innovating the perfume industry by focusing on incorporating 100% natural ingredients in all of their perfumes. Furthermore, Abel also demonstrates thoughtful and sustainable product design in nearly every aspect of its production chain, from the compostable packaging, to offsetting carbon emissions from shipping, to the caps on its perfume bottles. That being said, I’m not sure if the due diligence Abel is conducting throughout these regions can account for the extractive costs of producing essential oils. Looking more into this company and into the perfume industry has honestly made me reconsider my decision to even purchase perfumes in the first place. While they are certainly an enjoyable product to have, I’m not sure that I can justify the toll perfume creation takes on the planet, especially considering that the end product doesn’t really improve my quality of life in any tangible or substantial way. However, if I do chose to indulge in purchasing perfumes occasionally, I’ll make an active effort to make sure I’m shopping at companies like Abel.
A 15 ml bottle of the Cyan Nori perfume retails for $70, and is filled with 100% natural ingredients like tangerine, white peach, and nori. While Abel does not necessarily market itself as a fully sustainable company, its advertising is clearly directed towards consumers who are environmentally conscious. A majority of their branding is centralized around the fact that all of their ingredients are 100% natural, and therefore, “readily biodegradable back into our ecosystem”. Focusing consumer’s attention on the source of these ingredients rather than the quantity of materials that are needed to create a single bottle of perfume is misleading in that it overlooks one of the biggest challenges and drawbacks of perfume creation. Essential oils derived from natural plants are one of the primary ingredients within perfume, and the process of producing essential oils is innately unsustainable. The production of essential oils begins with the harvesting of plant materials which are then broken down and processed into oil and water vapor using steam. This water vapor is then recollected, transformed back into a liquid, and further broken down into components of oil and water. The problem with this process is the sheer quantity of natural resources needed to create a concentrated essential oil. For reference, nearly 1500 lemons are needed to make one pound of lemon essential oil.
As mentioned previously, Abel’s perfumes are crafted using natural ingredients in contrast to the industry standard of synthetic fragrance molecules derived from fossil fuels. This decision is based partially in Abel’s realization that while many consumers are desperately trying to decrease our petroleum consumption when it comes to travel and plastic use, most of us don’t conceptualize our perfume as a product that can have a substantial impact on the planet. Synthetic fragrance molecules have also been shown to be non-biodegradable, and the EPA has even characterized specific musks as toxically significant. Unsurprisingly then, there’s been mounting evidence linking some of these synthetic fragrances to an array of detrimental health effects, ranging anywhere from mild skin irritation to endocrine disruption and birth defects. Each of Abel’s perfumes arrives in compostable packaging which is sourced from regenerative forests that are “sympathetic to indigenous sacred sites where the forest owner is required to employ local workers, provide training, safety equipment and a proper salary”. Abel’s website also includes more information regarding the dyes they use, their shipping processes, and even the material that goes into their perfume bottle caps. It truly does seem as though the company is evaluating how each step of its product can become more sustainable, but I can’t overlook the highly extractive nature of producing the essential oils that are necessary for these perfumes.
Abel came to life during 2011, when founder Frances Shoemack and mater perfumer Isaac Sinclair joined forces in search of creating a truly natural perfume—something hard to come by in an industry dominated by synthetic ingredients. A decade later, Abel’s mission has evolved to extend beyond the goal of crafting a natural perfume to actively making a positive impact on both the environment and the global community. The team at Abel believes that the current generation of businesses and consumers have the power to turn the tide of the global climate crises, but only if immediate action is taken. Alongside the numerous environmentally conscious steps Abel implements within its own production chain, the company also supports a host of environmental initiatives. Abel also chooses to donate 1% of its total revenue to nonprofit organizations through the nonprofit planet network, which aims to financially empower grassroots nonprofits that are doing meaningful, impactful work that aligns with Abel’s ethos.