Working in harmony with nature: successful sustainability
Jacqueline Watson, Managing Director, Citrefine International Ltd
Over 25 years ago, our founder, Dr Paul Clarke, a tropical disease specialist, travelled to Southeast Asia and, during his trip, learnt about the use of Eucalyptus citriodora oil as a naturally derived insect repellent.
Dr Clarke partnered with his friend and future co-founder, Ian Hughes-Guy, to determine if the oil’s insect repellence efficacy could be verified through the rigour of scientific testing. After extensive research, they confirmed that the locally sourced remedy was equal to the most effective synthetic alternatives and it was this discovery that inspired them to found Citrefine and manufacture Citriodiol®, a plant based active substance for insect repellents.
Today, there are three effective synthetic insect repellents for consumers to choose from, but only one effective naturally sourced repellent, which is the active substance derived from the Eucalyptus citriodora trees.
Essential oil production is an inherently green business and, with the rising demand for ‘natural’ personal care products, such as insect repellent, comes a growing responsibility to recognise the impact of energy and resource intensive activities, such as manufacturing and production, on the environment and to implement a robust series of measures to minimise the consequences.
Since Dr Clarke’s first trip to Southeast Asia over a quarter of a century ago, we have continued to refine how we manufacture and distribute Citriodiol® and, by using renewable sources, with a net beneficial carbon footprint, we are able to provide a sustainable and naturally derived active substance to our global customers, in a way that is as environmentally friendly as possible.
Sustainable and environmentally friendly production
From seedling to Citriodiol®, we have worked to ensure that rearing and harvesting oil of lemon eucalyptus is as a sustainable process as possible.
The Eucalyptus citriodora tree is well-known for its ability to capture a large amount of carbon dioxide. By using the established practice of coppicing, so that only the younger leaves and small branches are cut back for production, while the trunk and larger branches continue to grow for many years, the trees continue to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide and produce oxygen for many years. When the trees do reach the end of their lives, they are cut down and a new line of trees is planted.
Another benefit of working with the Eucalyptus citriodora tree is that it thrives in a variety of geographical areas and can be widely planted. Once established, it is a hardy tree and harvesting can take place whatever the weather conditions, with harvesting numbers adjustable to ensure the continued health of the trees.
While it’s common knowledge that with production comes fuel consumption, the only fuel source used in our distillation process is excess waste leaf (also known as bagasse). We also use the leaf to improve soil quality, ensuring the entire plant is used and both waste and resource depletion are minimised.
As the demand for Citriodiol® increases, so do the number of trees planted and grown for its production, consolidating the circle of sustainable supply. In addition, we transport all raw materials and the vast majority of Citriodiol® by sea, rather than by air, to further reduce the environmental impact of our operations.
Citriodiol® is made by a simple, two-step chemical process with low energy use and virtually no waste, aligning with the 12 principles of Green Chemistry identified by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the American Chemical Society.
To improve our manufacturing process, we have taken multiple steps to reduce waste and minimise resource depletion. For example, a closed water system condenses steam from the distillation process and recirculates it for the production run. Other than water and a neutralising agent, a catalyst is used to lower the activation energy of the reaction required to process the raw ingredient and improve the efficiency of the procedure. No solvents or separation agents are used to produce the oil, all waste is treated and condensers capture any potentially volatile material to ensure there is no impact on the surrounding environment.
Dr Paul Clarke established The Kawandama Hills Plantation in 2009, in the beautiful Mzuzu district of Malawi. The plantation’s values are closely aligned with ours as a business; living and working in harmony with nature.
The plantation is 6,500 hectares and, in 12 years, we have planted over five million Eucalyptus citriodora trees. The team conserves the indigenous forest that occupies half of the plantation and plants the Eucalyptus citriodora trees around the forest, so that they are actively working with the environment. The plantation is a sanctuary for a wide range of animals and birds including hyenas, civets, servals, giant eagle owls, honey badgers and wild pigs, a strong indication that nature is thriving.
During the year, the plantation has between 140 and 160 people working in the business, from security management and field workers, to the distillation plant team. Giving back to the local community at the Kawandama Hills Plantation is of upmost importance to us at Citrefine. We have placed a strong emphasis on the welfare of the community and expansion of the Mkoko primary school, donating funds towards new classroom blocks, building housing for local teachers and supporting with every day community needs.
With the rise in demand for products that are both environmentally friendly and sustainable, comes a corresponding recognition that it takes much more than a ‘natural’ end product to satisfy these criteria. At Citrefine, we are proud that our core natural, sustainable and ethical principles underpin our business operations; from sourcing our raw materials, to manufacturing our active substance and distributing it globally.
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