Climate Action

Beth Bannerman on the biggest challenges in driving consumer adoption of sustainable products

Ahead of the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2021, Climate Action caught up with Beth Bannerman, Chief Engagement and Sustainability Officer at Amyris, to discuss the biggest challenges in driving consumer adoption of sustainable products.

  • 15 October 2021
  • Rachel Cooper

Ahead of the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2021, Climate Action caught up with Beth Bannerman, Chief Engagement and Sustainability Officer at Amyris, to discuss the biggest challenges in driving consumer adoption of sustainable products.

Can you tell us a bit more about what Amyris does, and how are you shaping your approach to climate goals?

For the last 20 years, Amyris has led the synthetic biology industry with the largest number of sustainable ingredients engineered, manufactured, and sold at commercial scale. Our mission to transition the world to responsible production and consumption has driven us to innovate a new method for producing virtually any molecule that exists in the natural world, using synthetic biology. Rather than depleting the earth’s resources, we make natural ingredients in a lab that are pure, high-performing, cost less and are made more sustainably than outdated, energy- and resource-intensive manufacturing processes. We make what is scarce, abundant for all.

We’ve achieved several milestones toward a more sustainable future since our founding in 2003: making artemisinin-based malaria treatments accessible to developing nations, commercializing 13 sustainable ingredients for cleaner formulation and production, and earning the distinction as the first synthetic biology company to receive Bonsucro certification for our sugarcane feedstock. Bonsucro was founded by the WWF and is the leading organization for ensuring a sustainable and responsible sugarcane production, processing, and trade.

Our climate goals are informed by the intersection of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and where we know our business can make a measurable impact. Our synthetic biology platform enables us to further human health, well-being, and responsible consumption, all while protecting critical ecosystems on land and ocean.

What is the role of synthetic biology in developing environmentally-friendly products?

Synthetic biology is essential to building a more sustainable future for generations to come. Using synthetic biology to transform manufacturing and put safer, healthier, and more sustainable products in the hands of consumers is critical to realizing responsible production and consumption.

Our R&D pipeline is driven by economic opportunity, consumer demand, scientific viability, and potential for positive impact on the environment. Consumers are asking for sustainable and natural products and are holding businesses accountable for their environmental footprint. Amyris has commercialized 13 sustainable ingredients, which are formulated in over 20,000 products and reach 200 million consumers globally. Our ingredients are also formulated in our own family of 9 trusted consumer brands in Clean Beauty and Health & Wellness.

Nature is the world’s best chemist and the Amyris technical team has developed a Lab-to-MarketTM operating model, using natural biological processes to produce pure, bioidentical ingredients to what already exists in nature. Amyris has brought innovative, sustainable products to market with synthetic biology, a technology with huge potential to disrupt legacy, unsustainable practices across almost any industry and application.

What projects/products that you’re currently working on are you most excited about?

Here are two examples of the innovative products we’ve brought to market:

1) Squalane is a natural moisturizer found in the skin at birth but dissipates with age. For more than a century, skincare companies have known about its dual powers to moisturize and act as a carrier for Vitamin C and other nutrients to penetrate the skin, and so they sought out squalane from another source: deep-sea shark livers. Unfortunately, this has come at the expense of shark populations and marine ecosystems.

As many as 3 sharks are killed to produce 1kg of squalane. That’s why it is so important that people know that a better option exists. Today, Amyris uses its own synthetic biology platform and fermentation-based approach to produce squalane on a commercial scale without a single shark. Even our land use is low – the amount of sugarcane we use for the equivalent of 1 kg of squalane is 0.1% of a hectare – (the size of an 8 ft X 10 ft. area rug)

Biossance, our global clean skincare brand, features our sugarcane squalane as the hero ingredient of its product line and has seen triple digit growth in sales year over year. Biossance drives adoption of clean skincare through customer education, engagement, partnerships with industry leaders like Sephora, and activations with ocean conservation organizations like Oceana.

2) Hemisqualane, a derivative of squalane, provides weightless nourishment to all hair types while reducing frizz and preserving color. It’s a highly effective, sustainable, and superior alternative to silicones. Unlike silicone that coats hair and ultimately dries it out, hemisqualane nourishes the hair shaft from the inside out and is more environmentally friendly. Hemisqualane is the hero ingredient in JVN Hair, our new clean haircare brand launched in partnership with Jonathan Van Ness, celebrity hair stylist, USA television personality, New York Times best-selling author and podcaster.

How is Amyris working to drive consumer adoption of sustainable products? What are the biggest challenges here and how can we overcome them?

Sustainable products must perform for the consumer. Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between a product’s performance and whether it has a negative impact on the environment. Further, if the product doesn’t work well, the consumer can’t and won’t choose the sustainable option.

Our Make Good. No Compromise.® pledge speaks exactly to this. We believe that the consumer shouldn’t have to make compromises between sustainability, cost, and performance, so we ensure our ingredients and products are not only sustainable but highly effective and accessible.

To further accelerate adoption of sustainable products, we partner with formulators at the leading consumer product goods corporations, broaden our own retail distribution network both online and in-store, educate and engage directly with our customers, and partner with influencers and celebrities, including Reese Witherspoon and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in addition to Jonathan Van Ness, to introduce more people to the better performing and more sustainable alternatives available.

COP26 is going to be a key moment to take climate action, not just make more commitments. How can we speed up action against climate change? What is the positive impact your business can attribute?

Synthetic biology offers science-backed hope in the fight against climate change and can transform how we manufacture the most essential products of our daily lives, from food to medicines to consumer goods and so much more. Through this technology, we are able to produce bioidentical molecules to those found in nature that traditionally come from endangered plants and animals, or finite petrochemical sources. Doing so supports biodiversity and makes rare and costly ingredients available and affordable for everyone.

The more we can embrace this technology from both the private and public sector, the greater impact we’ll see across industries. There are endless possibilities for how Amyris’ platform can be leveraged and with deeper collaboration with industry and government leaders, we can build a future where sustainability is an inherent part of everything we bring to market.

Beth Bannerman is speaking at SIF in Glasgow on the importance of marine conservation for human and planetary health. Register here and join her panel on November 8 at 10am GMT.