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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Good Scents:
An Inside Look at Cradle to Cradle’s New Certified Fragrances

What do actress Michelle Pfeiffer; William McDonough, creator of the Cradle to Cradle® design framework and a pioneer of the circular economy movement; and perfume have in common? Likely nothing, until recently — when two newly launched products brought the certification into new territory.

The first is Pfeiffer’s new line of fragrances, called Henry Rose. The second is the opposite type of product — an air freshener designed to erase scent, rather than masking it — called Oderase, developed by a husband-and-wife team at UK-based supramolecular chemistry company Aqdot. Both products have received Cradle to Cradle certification from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute after being assessed by MBDC — the organization that created the Cradle to Cradle Design framework.

We caught up with Bill McDonough; as well as Jay Bolus, President of Certification Services for MBDC; Howie Fendley, MBDC’s star chemist; Henry Rose CEO Melina Polly; and Jing Zhang, co-founder and Marketing Director of Aqdot. Their insights offer a glimpse under the hood of the certification and why these products are so much better than the alternatives.

People commonly equate Cradle to Cradle with the circular economy, which is often thought of in reference to products that eliminate waste. What does it mean for a fragrance or odor remover to be designed for circularity?

Bill McDonough: It has been fun to watch Cradle to Cradle be renamed circular economy in materials. The idea that we have biological and technical circularity applies to all kinds of products. We think of circularity as one of five categories of a product’s quality: material health, circularity, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness, which is about good lives.

The first is material health. This is sort of like the Hippocratic oath of doing no harm. Oftentimes, products are toxic or completely undefined. Before you create a circular economy, you should have some healthy things. That’s why material health comes first. Material health can refer to goods or services — or goods as services; washing machines can be the nutrients of a washing service.

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We can play on the word “goods” because, what if they were bad? What if they were toxic? If you recirculate something that was bad to begin with, like PVC, it doesn’t make it good — it just makes it bad again, which we call retox.

What makes these products circular, within our broader C2C framework, is that they have biologically circular ingredients. They are designed to go onto your skin safely. They are designed to go back to the earth safely. They are designed to go back into the biome, safely.

Some products go back to technology — that’s their circular. Other products can go back to nature, that’s their circular. The C2C certification focuses on the materials being defined so they can go into systems naturally, following the cycle of life in a way that is safe and healthy. The real key here is the transparency of information, down to the last molecule — that’s what’s new.

Henry Rose

Image credit: Henry Rose

Howie, as the chemist involved in this process, what is the material and chemical relevance of the certification for a fragrance?

Howie Fendley: In the case of a product like this that has a direct application onto people and into the air, we ensure that all these molecules are biodegradable. So, the materials used are as safe as they can be. There is a direct nutrient value of these molecules when they enter into the atmosphere, so it's a combination of safe first and then circular. Sometimes we think of circular as recyclable. This is relevant for technical nutrients – products that will not go back to soil but to be recycled back into a new product. In the case of biological nutrients, the cycle is not a technical cycle it's a biological cycle. In other words, what need to understand what something degrades into. It can’t create harm and ideally it will biodegrade into other nutrients for the soil.

What stood out about Henry Rose was the commitment to complete transparency with the formulas. We’ve been asking for formulas for all kinds of products ranging from plastics to metal coatings. It was never possible to get a fragrance formula because of the proprietary nature.

Being able to get to 100 percent disclosure of every single molecule for Henry Rose is completely new. That was a big hurdle. It took a year of formulating, re-formulating, smelling, re-smelling. They would reformulate and run the molecules — and we would request for 1-2 to be changed. We eventually reached a palette of 40-50 molecules as usable for aroma, and meeting human and environmental health criteria for Cradle to Cradle. From a material health standpoint, this means that each molecule is screened for potential to cause cancer, genetic damage, ability to induce an allergic response, irritation, various kinds of toxicity and a host of other things relevant to human health.

What trends are you seeing in the industries getting certified and why is a moving into fragrances exciting?

HF: We are seeing a huge trend in personal care products. Getting full formulas is now a mark of quality, and having a third-party assessment is a stamp of approval. L’Oréal was one of the first, along with several smaller brands. There is much more interest from consumers buying these products. There was early interest in the built environment and textiles, but as those industries start to plateau, we are doing more with fast fashion to design clothes with the human environment in mind. We’re doing work with Fashion for Good. Another big change is that companies are beginning to come to us before they make their products, which is altering the mix of products/materials that they use to create products.

Why should consumers be excited about buying a fragrance that is Cradle to Cradle Certified™? 

Melina Polly: Henry Rose is Cradle to Cradle Certified Gold with a Material Health Score of Platinum, assuring consumers that Henry Rose has been held to the highest standards for human health and the environment.

Why is Henry Rose influential for the fragrance/cosmetics industry? 

MP: This collaboration between Cradle to Cradle, the Environmental Working Group and IFF (**International Flavors and Fragrances**) is unprecedented. Not only have we broken new ground with our product — the first fine fragrance that is 100 percent transparent with its ingredients — but environmentalists and the fragrance industry were able to reach across the aisle to work together towards a common goal: creating a product that is safer for humans and the planet.


Image credit: Oderase

What were the most critical issues for achieving the certification of an air freshener? For example, if it’s about material health, what did you have to examine to accomplish this?

Jay Bolus: Adding in additional chemical fragrances can at times produce unwanted side effects to human and environmental health. By assessing Oderase's formulas and processes with such depth, we’re able to rest assured that there won’t be any harmful byproducts at any time of use. 

Why is Oderase influential for the industry? How does it exemplify material health optimization?

JB: Oftentimes we’re faced with what we call ‘regrettable substitutions,’ because we don’t always know the effects alternative chemistries will have on humans or the environment. Oderase will truly change the air care industry with its ability to maintain the odor-eliminating function customers want, while also giving them the guarantee they won’t be exposed to harmful ingredients.

Why did Oderase pursue Cradle to Cradle certification? What does it mean for consumers to know it has been certified?

Jing Zhang: Bringing safe and sustainable products to the market using Aqdot’s unique performance chemistry has always been vitally important to Aqdot. We therefore consider a great alignment between the Cradle to Cradle Certification and our business priority. Cradle to Cradle Certified is becoming an international “gold standard,” science-based quality certification, which acknowledges continuous improvement — and innovation of products and processes towards the goal of being not just “less bad” but also “more good” for people and the planet.

The message that we would like to send to the consumers with this certification is that despite the novel chemistry and innovative formula, Oderase as a consumer product has been through an impartial and independent evaluation of the product’s Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy, Water Stewardship and Social Fairness, demonstrating that it will leave behind no chemicals with potentially negative impacts to human health or the environment. 

Why is Oderase influential for the industry? How is the chemistry unique in how it captures odor?

JZ: Oderase is a fragrance-free odor-erasing bathroom spray, leading the next generation of air fresheners, and meeting the growing demand of consumers who are looking for sustainable and free-from products, much needed for the air care industry. 

Now available on Ocado in the UK and slated to make it to the US, its simple and water-based formulation contains Aqdot’s patented odor-eliminating technology Aq™Bit, which captures bad odors and erases them from the air. This makes Oderase different from other air fresheners, because it is so effective at erasing bad odors that it does not need to contain any masking fragrances.

The chemistry is also unique in that AqBit is a platform technology, and hence is game-changing in a wide range of industries, including odor and volatile organic compound management, personal care, industrial chemicals, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Products incorporating AqBit will enable customers to introduce novel and differentiated brands, and make a positive impact on the environment. Now with a PLATINUM level Material Health Certificate under Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard, AqBit has demonstrated that it has no substances that are a risk to humans or the environment during manufacturing, use or end-of-use, and that Aqdot has committed to optimizing toward even safer materials.