Some are, but some aren’t. And assuming they are without fully assessing each case is overly simplistic, just look at palm oil.
A push to move away from petroleum-based ingredients led to a massive upsurge in palm oil production. The resulting deforestation has led many environmental groups to campaign for sustainable production in an attempt to halt ecosystem destruction.
Although petroleum is not renewable, it is clear that the sudden switch to a supposedly greener natural alternative has had untold environmental consequences that could have been avoided with a more intelligent approach.
Fragrance ingredients also present a case where natural may not be more sustainable.
The sheer quantity of plants needed to produce even a tiny amount of certain ingredients means large areas need to be cultivated.
If this land could be put to better use, for example growing food, it is difficult to see this as anything other than excessively wasteful.
Equally, wild harvesting can present significant sustainability issues as over-harvesting can decimate natural populations of wild plants.
In addition, the energy costs in extracting an ingredient from its natural source can be very significant, further compromising its green status.
In some cases, synthetically producing certain ingredients might work out to be more environmentally sustainable, particularly if the potential of green chemistry to improve manufacturing processes is realised.
Ignoring synthetic options that might prove more efficient is irresponsible; and switching to natural or organic ingredients without fully assessing the environmental impact of the change is similarly reckless.
Furthermore, the natural and organic movement places an unrealistic focus on the part ingredients play in a product’s green profile.
If the industry really wants to go green and lower its ecological footprint it must tackle the full life cycle of a product. The most environmentally friendly option must be chosen for ingredients, manufacturing, packaging and product disposal.
Natural and organic ingredients will surely play an important role, but they are not the be all and end all.
Only when the whole of the product life cycle has been tackled in an intelligent manner will the industry become truly greener, and all involved can rightfully embrace the warm fuzzy feeling of being green.