Where My Heart Beats, Gucci’s newest fragrance, is unlike the others. While past perfumes have been made with agricultural raw materials, this is the first to be manufactured using alcohol from 100 per cent recycled carbon emissions. And it’s a world first, according to luxury manufacturer Coty, which holds the beauty licence for Kering-owned Gucci.
Gucci’s fragrance, which is part of The Alchemist’s Garden collection, uses carbon captured from industrial emissions that is turned into alcohol, and is priced at $570 for 100ml—on par with other fragrances from the Italian luxury house. From April, it will be sold at Gucci’s ION boutique in Singapore, and introduced to consumers via a digital and PR campaign.
The launch is significant for the beauty sector, which has been examining its supply chains and how to create products that generate lower emissions. Carbon recycling has become an area of focus for beauty giants like L’Oréal and fragrance upstarts like Air Company, but the space is still nascent as it is complex and expensive, with limited infrastructure. The new Gucci fragrance could help raise greater awareness of industry emissions, experts say, though it’s not necessarily a path to reducing them significantly. Longer-term carbon mitigation strategies are needed to drive meaningful impact.
Alcohol is a key ingredient in the production of fragrances because it carries scent well and disappears into the skin.
Currently, Coty fragrances uses ethanol from a variety of raw materials, such as sugarcane and sugar beets. However, that process has a significant environmental impact: sugarcane farming for ethanol production has fuelled deforestation in some of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, including Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
In March 2021, Coty signed a partnership with US carbon recycling firm Lanzatech, which makes its ethanol out of waste carbon emissions from industrial sources, such as steel mills. Instead of releasing those emissions into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, they’re now recycled into alcohol via a natural fermentation process, explains Coty’s chief scientific and sustainability officer Dr Shimei Fan. “Overall, it’s a much more sustainable process [than before],” she says.
As carbon recycling becomes a bigger focus in beauty, Lanzatech has emerged as the partner of choice. In May 2021, German chemicals giant BASF announced that with Lanzatech it was able to produce n-octanol (an important fatty alcohol used in cosmetics) that is derived from industrial emissions, such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen, at laboratory scale. In July that year, L’Oréal unveiled its first bottle made from industrial emissions as the result of a partnership with Lanzatech and energy company Totalenergies that began in 2016.
In January 2022, Coty started production of fragrances using Lanzatech’s technology, as part of its longer-term vision to integrate recycled carbon into most of its fragrance portfolio by the end of 2023. Over the past year, Coty still mixed carbon-captured alcohol with traditional alcohol to scale up its use more quickly across a wide range of Coty products. Gucci’s perfume marks the first entirely manufactured from 100 per cent captured carbon.
How it works
Experts say the process is complex. “The challenge with ethanol and water or any larger chemical is that you have to tie a bunch of carbon atoms together,” explains Martin Mulvihill, co-founder and managing partner of Safer Made, a venture capital fund investing in companies and technologies that reduce human exposure to harmful chemicals. “Because CO2 only has one carbon, getting it to tie together and then reducing it to alcohol is a very uphill process. It’s energy and resource intensive.”
Capturing carbon is a positive move for the beauty industry, but has a small impact in the wider climate crisis, says Mulvihill. “Turning carbon into ethanol and putting it back in a consumer product isn’t really sequestering it. It’s not necessarily a long-term carbon mitigation strategy.” Still, he applauds beauty’s dive into this space. “It’s helpful to have these kinds of collaborations to raise awareness about the need to carbon capture and to use waste as a resource. Things like this will help address the carbon challenge in the years to come.”
Brands taking this approach should look at the carbon footprint of their ethanol sources and conduct a thorough lifecycle analysis of their approach “to understand whether or not it meets the goals that many countries are coming to, to reach net-zero economies”, advises Emily A Carter, the Gerhard R Andlinger professor in energy and the environment at Princeton University.
“It’s great to use captured carbon but it matters if the source is one directly from fossil fuel burning, say in a power or steel plant. The perfume itself is a chemical and all chemicals eventually end up back in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so if the carbon source is from fossil fuel burning, it only delays carbon emissions temporarily and does not contribute to net-zero goals,” says Carter. “That said, working out the nontrivial logistics of using captured carbon is an important first step toward a net-zero economy.”
To assess the environmental impacts of Lanzatech’s carbon-capture ethanol, Coty says it worked with environmental consultancy Quantis, acquired by the consultancy firm Boston Consulting Group in September 2022, on a lifecycle assessment that screened and compared different natural ethanols to Lanzatech’s offering. They found that Lanzatech’s ethanol uses less water and less agricultural land compared to traditional methods of alcohol production, thus reducing the impact on biodiversity. Coty’s Fan did not comment on whether the goal was to achieve carbon neutrality or carbon negativity.
The inclusion of carbon-captured alcohol had a minimal impact on the performance of other ingredients, and no special adjustments to Coty’s fragrance creation process had to be made, according to Fan. “We are really pleased to see in all our tests that Lanzatech’s carbon-captured alcohol meets all quality standards applicable to fine fragrances,” she says. “Our analysis shows that the new alcohol has very low impurities—it meets and exceeds our strict specifications used in perfumery and is in line with other high-quality alcohols found on the market.”
The innovation follows other sustainability-focused launches such as Coty’s first refillable fragrance—Chloé’s Rose Naturelle Intense—introduced in November 2022. In the same month, the beauty giant set new near-term climate targets, approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
The decision to launch with Gucci aligns with the Italian house’s commitment to lowering its environmental impact. In June 2021, the brand released the first Gucci Equilibrium Impact report, revealing it had managed to achieve its 2025 target—to reduce its environmental footprint by 40 per cent compared to 2015—four years early, achieving a 44 per cent reduction relative to growth.
Gucci’s latest sustainability initiatives include an innovation platform with parent company Kering, aimed at helping to make the Italian fashion industry more circular; and Gucci Continuum and Gucci Preloved with Vestiaire Collective, which puts new weight behind deadstock-made products and resale. Speaking with Vogue Business in February, Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer, said the fashion industry needs to accelerate its pace of change, “rethinking the way we produce and use resources as well”.
Coty plans to integrate carbon-captured ethanol into the majority of its fragrance portfolio, which includes Burberry, Hugo Boss, Chloé, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein, among others. Coty’s Fan declined to comment on a timeline or which brand would be next, but says Coty will continue to explore opportunities to scale its use. “We are proving it is possible to recycle waste carbon emissions for use in prestige fragrances. It is a great first for Gucci and Coty.”
This story first appeared in Vogue Business.