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The perfume ingredient boosting biodiversity in Brazil

It can sweeten your tea and even power your car; sugarcane is a versatile plant that’s turned into a variety of useful everyday items. We source our organic ethanol, an ingredient made from fermented sugarcane, from a carbon neutral company pioneering new farming methods in order to boost biodiversity in Brazil. 

A perennial grass cultivated for its sweet juice, a dozen countries around the world dedicate 25 percent or more of all agricultural land to the production of sugarcane. This natural ingredient is a pretty big deal, but the environmental impact of traditional sugarcane farming methods can be far from sweet. 

Shaking up sugarcane

Fuelling deforestation in sensitive ecosystems, Brazil’s Atlantic Forest has been reduced to seven percent of its original size due to sugarcane and other farming. A thirsty crop, it takes a whopping nine gallons of water to produce just one teaspoon of refined cane sugar. But it’s not all bad news, a growing number of carbon-conscious farmers are rethinking how they grow this valuable crop.

When fermented, sugarcane transforms into ethanol, a type of alcohol. Aside from going on to become hangover-inducing tipples, it’s also commonly used in *perfumery. Why? Because ethanol helps a blend of essential oils to merge and increases the staying power of the final perfume. Olivia Sweeney from the Lush buying team says: “Ethanol is a key ingredient in Lush perfumes, so I wanted to make sure this ingredient was the best it could be. We work hard to source the best quality essential oils and our perfumers create unique fragrances, so why would we use an average ethanol that doesn’t aim to do better for people or planet?”

Some of the most biodiverse regions on the planet have been cleared for sugarcane farming, leading to habitat loss, soil degradation and pollution, so finding a supplier who suits the Lush buying team’s strict ethical buying policy was important. That’s when the team came across a supplier shaking up the sugarcane industry for the better. 

Transparent in their practices, this Fair For Life organic supplier from Brazil doesn't use pesticides and has a significantly lower carbon footprint than conventional sugarcane farming. What’s more they’ve invested in pioneering technology to steer farmers away from damaging slash methods. 

Working towards becoming zero waste, sugarcane bagasse is harvested from juice extraction and used to power the process. Whatever they don’t use goes straight into the grid, creating enough electricity for 600,000 inhabitants.

A happy habitat

The most exciting part? They’re helping to bring back some of the animals in the area which are on the brink of extinction. Recovering the land and replanting around 2.6 million trees, the ground only requires tillage every seven years or more and the sugarcane harvest happens only once a year. This gives native animals a chance to use the plantations as an effective habitat without disruption.

Keeping soil healthy is a priority and growing other crops and letting grass spread freely boosts soil fertility and resilience, as well as attracting insects and other animals. The improved soil quality has even led to an emergence of two new waterways in the area. Prioritising the animals in the region, forest corridors have also been built to allow wildlife to move safely through the area. 

A great example of humans and animals living alongside one another, after eight years of organic farming and sustainable methods, unusual animals were spotted in the fields. Partnering with a local researcher to carry out a biodiversity assessment, the survey showed 335 different species were present in the sugarcane plantation, 49 of which were actually endangered to some degree. Animals such as pumas, aplomado falcons and black jacobins were spotted; an exciting result for the sugarcane plantation. 

Livia Froes is part of the Lush buying team as Latin America HUB Coordinator and has witnessed the positive change these suppliers have made over the past eight years. She says: “I’ve been following this supplier’s work for over eight years now and they’ve gone through a great and innovative journey. Our supplier’s work based on sustainable practices and environmental preservation is a breaking point for outdated practices in the industry and I hope their work can be an example for other companies. 

It’s such a joy to be able to support Lush to work with a supplier that is supporting the regeneration of the Atlantic forest, one of the most devastated biomes in South America and where I’ve lived my whole life.”

These revolutionary sustainable methods have resulted in a sugarcane plantation that’s 23 times more biodiverse than conventional sugarcane fields in the region, a promising start for the industry. 

*Ethanol is denatured for use in cosmetics and is unfit for consumption, so please don’t crack open a bottle of perfume next Friday, no matter how good it smells.

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