Essential oils have gained popularity as a natural alternative for wellness, cleaning, and helping one’s home smell terrific. In order to produce a small amount of essential oil, much larger volumes of their source plant are often required. For example, 3 pounds of lavender flowers will only yield about 15mL of oil. This leads to an important question:
Are they sustainable?
The answer to this question varies by distributor. Both small and large essential oil distributors have been known to cut corners, the growing and harvesting methods should be researched before buying. Because the term "sustainability" has not been clearly defined in the marketing world, there are not strict regulations placed on use of the term. For the purposes of this article, we will use SustainableTable.org’s definition of sustainable agriculture as “the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare.”
The best sources for essential oils sell a pure, organic product, with no additives. In order to do this they must use a great deal of resources, often hundreds of pounds of raw material for one gallon of oils. There is no escaping the fact that essential oils are resource intensive products.
Where do these resources come from?
Many believe that the benefits of using oils outweigh the downsides to resource consumption, as long as the companies producing them behave ethically. Look for distributors that find their resources in the places they grow most easily. This often means that a company will harvest the ingredients needed to produce essential oils from farms all over the world.
Look for companies that are transparent and fair in their trade dealings. Many reputable distributors have their crop information readily available. Ideally, essential oils companies can work with farmers in other parts of the world, obtaining their product while helping communities thrive.
How are they extracted?
There is more to the sustainability of essential oils than crops. The other resources used to manufacture them also need to be considered. If oils are produced by heavy machinery or chemical solvents they can damage the environment via pollution. Oils processed by steam distillation or cold pressing have a very low carbon footprint and preserve the natural chemistry of their source.
The bottom line is that essential oils can be sustainably sourced, harvested and extracted properly. Look for a company that receives their resources from their indigenous locations as opposed to spending resources forcing them to grow elsewhere. We cannot recommend Zayat Aroma enough. They consistently have provided us with the highest quality oils possible!
Consider the economic impact on the farmers and look for companies that have a positive impact on the communities surrounding these farms. Lastly, make sure the oils are extracted through cold pressing or steam distillation.