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Climate Change and Ingredients Sourcing

by james.runkle@drummondst.com

The acceleration of climate change driven events is creating an increasing pressure on the environment and living organisms that depend upon it with consequences that will be hard to fix or reverse in the future. Every living organism that is exposed to environmental changes is impacted. We need to understand the scenario to put in place effective actions to mitigate the changes that will affect the environment we know and the way we source natural ingredients for cosmetic use. The call for action is now.

Global Warming
We exist in a thin layer of the atmosphere, 7 miles above sea level. Life has been preserved for thousands of years with the right conditions of temperature and air, mostly nitrogen and oxygen, but also greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide that released in the atmosphere contributed to stabilize the right temperature for living organisms. However, since the industrial revolution in the late 1800s, increasing burning of coal, oil, and natural gas, has caused more carbon dioxide to be released in the atmosphere, eventually trapping the heat, with the consequence of increasing its temperature, a process referred as global warming. Extreme weather has also triggered melting of glaciers, ice caps and contributed to sea level rise. In the US, greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, have been associated with transportation, electricity production, industry, residential/commercial heating, and agriculture practices.1

Climate Change and its Effect on Plant Growth
A plant needs water, air, sunlight, optimal temperature, and the right soil to properly grow. Climate change is affecting all the above, except for sunlight.

With most of the water being saltwater from the ocean, only 3% is fresh (glaciers, groundwater, lakes, rivers, etc.). A warmer climate is causing an increased water evaporation, eventually trapped in the atmosphere. Cycles of rain are altered; dry areas are getting drier and wet areas wetter. Plants would find it difficult to adapt to these changes and in dry areas, farmers would need more and more ground water to sustain irrigation.

With carbon dioxide increasing in the atmosphere, plants are growing faster, but weeds also, with the difficulty to control them. Plant-feeding insects are proliferating due to the decrease in plant nutritional value and increase in sugar content when plants are grown under a higher carbon dioxide atmosphere. This decrease in nutritional value is a concern for the human diet but also for other uses (such as cosmetics and supplements and their ingredients quality). Plants contain less protein, zinc, iron, and vitamins, especially B vitamins.2,3

Temperature changes during nighttime or daytime alter the normal growth of the plant and its reproductive stage. With increased heat some plants grow faster, and farmers would need to manage irrigation, planting, harvesting, etc., but extreme heat would harm plants, especially during pollination, and the yield would decrease dramatically. Many plants like winter exposure and warmer winter will also reduce yield or select out many plant varieties. In general, because of increasing heat, the plant cultivation geographical map is shifting, moving northern.

Finally, climate change is also affecting the quality of the soil, so essential for life development. A healthy soil is a living system that sustains plants, animals, and humans.4 It contains billions of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, insects, spiders, and many other organisms interacting together and with the plant’s roots. Soil contains organic matter, often derived from living organisms but also from plant decay (humus). This organic matter is vital for life, it absorbs water optimally. The symbiosis between the soil and the plant’s root is very important, and it helps keep the plant healthy. The quality of the soil translates in the quality of the plant and its products, the massive cleaning of forest for land cultivation is depleting the soil and carbon is released in the atmosphere instead of being kept in the soil.

Some examples of Plants disruption
Many plants providing ingredients for our cosmetic products grow in coastal zones, such as 70% of coconuts trees. These zones are threatened by rising seas. Moreover, scientist studying coconuts plants have shown a negative impact on growth by rising temperatures.5 The cultivation and yield of Lavender, Jasmine, and Rose, in Grasse, France, have been seriously affected recently by more extreme weather, including droughts.6 These plants are essential to produce essential oils for the fragrance industry. Medicinal plants are more and more popular in our industry due to a wellness push. Many species of medicinal plants grow on mountains and many of them are difficult to cultivate. Warmer temperatures are threatening most species, pushing species to adapt and grow to higher altitudes to remain viable with species not able to adapt and possibly to disappear.7 Basic life is changing in the ocean, too. Phytoplankton and Algae are declining due to a warmer ocean and efficiency in photosynthesis is affected.8 With declining fishing and algae availability in the arctic sea due to climate change effect on temperature and on El Nino driving stream, global sourcing of omega-3 has been challenged with main production shifting to indoor algae cultivation and fermentation.9

Climate change is real and we, as an industry, need to work with our suppliers to sustain our ingredients sourcing. Development of climate change resistant species, vertical and cellular farming to balance the pressure on cultivation and wild picking, and finally optimization of plant usage by improved extraction and process methodology, are urgently needed to reduce the demand on classical supply chain and implement a more sustainable use of resources.

1. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. EPA, 2015
2. Samuel S et al. Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition. Nature 510 (7503):139-42, 2014
3. Chunwu Zhu, et al. Carbon dioxide levels this century will alter the protein, micronutrients, and vitamin content of rice grains with potential health consequences for the poorest rice-dependent countries. Science Advances 4(5); 2, 2018
4. Soil Health. USDA, 2019
5. Sunoy J, et al. Impact of climate change on plantation crops: coconuts. In Impact of Climate Change on Plantation Crops, ed. KB Hebbar et al., 2017
6. Quito A. The top luxury company in the world is fighting to save the flowers that go into its perfume. Quartz, 2019
7. Das M, et al. Impact of climate change on medicinal and aromatic plants: review. Indian J Agric Sci 86: 1375-82, 2016
8. Roxy MK, et al. A reduction in marine primary productivity driven by rapid warming over the tropical Indian ocean. Geophysical Research Letters 43(2): 826, 2016
9. Cheung W, et al. Climate change exacerbates nutrient disparities from seafood. Nature Climate Change 13: 1242-49, 2023


About the Author

Giorgio Dell’Acqua is passionate about the environment and sustainability. He has given many lectures in the past on sustainable supply chain, natural ingredients and upcycling as well as publishing several articles for the industry on this topic (see below for references). Giorgio is currently Chief Science Officer at Nutrafol, a company specialized in natural based supplements and topicals for healthy hair and scalp. After obtaining his PhD in Cell Biology in 1989, Giorgio worked in Academia for 15 years as an investigator in applied medical research. Moving to the private sector in 2000, he has spent the last 20+ years as an executive and cosmetic scientist in the personal care industry. During his career, he directed R&D, Innovation, Science, and Product Development at multiple companies. He has helped bring 200+ successful active ingredients and finished products to market, has authored more than 90 publications in medicine and cosmetic science, and he holds 2 patents. Giorgio is also on the executive board of the US Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCC) as its 2024 secretary, he is the chair for the NYSCC outreach committee and he is a member of the NYSCC Scientific Committee.

References (sustainability)

Han M, Dell’Acqua G. Exploring extremophiles: a novel and sustainable path for innovation in the cosmetic industry. Cosmetiscope 30(2): 1-7, 2024
Dell’Acqua G. Green isn’t enough. Social Progress is the next chapter for naturals. Cosmet. Toil. (Cover page article), 134(7): 28-40, 2019
Dell’Acqua G. Recycling natural by-products from food and agriculture waste into powerful active ingredients for cosmetic applications. H&PC Today 13(3): 16-19, 2018
Dell’Acqua G. Sustainable product development. CTSCC Nutmeg Newsletter 35(3): 7-11, 2018
Dell’Acqua G. Communities under the forest – Can we separate humans from trees? NYSCC Cosmetiscope, 24(2): 15-16, 2018
Dell’Acqua G. Garbage to glamour: recycling food by-products for skin care. Cosmet. Toil. (Cover page article), 132(2): 28-37, 2017
Dell’Acqua G. The challenges of sustainable development. NYSCC Cosmetiscope 23(2):1-6, 2017
Dell’Acqua G. Sustainable ingredients with scientific edge. Midwest SCC Scoop 47(6):7-11, 2015
Dell’Acqua G, Calloni G. Sustainable ingredients and innovation in cosmetics. Cosmet. Toil., 128(8): 528-536, 2013