Transforming traditions for the future
Following necessary changes and investment in a local production plant, we catch up on progress two years later on new ‘closed’ processing methods for the age-old harvest of Cistus Labdanum.
In the sunburnt hills of Andalusia, Spain, the bushy ‘Cistus Labdanum’ tree grows. This shrub, a member of the rockrose family, produces a rich, aromatic resin, prized for its pungent, ambery properties and used in fine fragrance. The fragrant resin, which clusters on the branches of the young trees, is harvested by hand, and traditional processing methods in the region were rudimentary.
A positive change
Determined to make positive changes to the harvesting methods, over the years Givaudan has worked hand-in-hand with the local resin producer, Biolandes, to improve working conditions. In 2013 these efforts culminated in the construction of new additions to Biolandes’ processing facility and the introduction of greener methods for the cistus harvest. Below we explain the journey and provide updates on the new processing plant in Spain.
When using traditional methods, cistus branches were cut by hand and scalded in drums of alkaline water, which strips and separates the fragrant resin and exudate. The mixture was then stirred by hand in drums in the open air, mixed until homogenous, and neutralised with acid before the branches were disposed of. With the fragrance industry clamouring for the 1,000-5,000 tonnes of branches that can only be processed during three months of the year, this harsh, seasonal work represents an intense harvest, requiring 6,000 man-days.
Collaboration with Biolandes
Until now, it had been challenging to industrialise these artisan operations, and in 2013, recognising the crude nature of this process, and the potential to make positive changes, Givaudan collaborated with Biolandes to set up a new labdanum gum extraction unit and bring operations up to date. The aim was to support Biolandes’ industrial investment to modernise this traditional supply chain, in the knowledge that the additional cost of the investment would be absorbed by the higher new price of the labdanum extract.
Olivier, Head Speciality Natural Raw Materials Buyer at Givaudan explains Givaudan’s approach: “We have many materials in our supply chain and we are gradually optimising each one, cleaning up their impact on the environment and on working conditions.
“It had become clear that although cistus production had always been done this way, a change was needed, and Givaudan was keen to spearhead this change. More broadly, governments and industry are also waking up to the notion of corporate social responsibility, thus further raising standards across the board. Understandably, resistance comes from rural regions, which fear losing jobs to industrialisation, but Biolandes took this on board and worked to lower this effect. The aim of both Givaudan and Biolandes was to create a safer, more sustainable workplace, and a more ecologically sound way of mixing and disposing of the effluents used in the process. This is what we achieved.”
Encouraged by Givaudan’s support, Biolandes decided to construct a new building in which to process the gum; even though the basic extraction process remains the same, the new automated methods have helped to improve working conditions, also giving rise to improved yields and more tightly controlled use of solvents and dosages. Furthermore, wastewater from the manufacturing process is now depolluted in a water treatment station.
To ensure the longevity of the project, Givaudan committed to continue purchasing from Biolandes and to pay a premium for the gum over the next five years. Olivier explains how the manufacturer has benefitted, too: “The project has enabled Biolandes to be ahead of the game, anticipating sustainability needs for the future.”
He concludes: “Biolandes isn’t a unique example – we take the same approach with all our suppliers: we travel, meet with partners in our countries of production, and when we see things that don’t make sense, we try to engage with stakeholders and improve things.
The Biolandes study, however, was the first time Givaudan made such a direct impact on industrial transformation. Elsewhere, we have created model distilleries or introduced greener farming practices. Wherever we operate, we continue to ensure standards are upheld through continual auditing.”