Friday, March 20, 2009

Definitions, Co-operation and Disruption

Nothing complex can be acheived without co-operation between parties. Nothing moves forward without a foundation of co-operation. The Sustainable Fragrances for Cleaners 2009 Convention in June will be a prime opportunity to put the debate and dialogue of the past few years into action.

The time for action is now. The great strides in the sciences behind this dialogue and thinking have been amplified by recent events. Even while governments around the world are intervening, civilization's footprint is being detected in places more far reaching then ever.  The Fragrance industry, their supply chain and their customers must make a stand.

There will be a host of convention presenters who will be proposing their unique visions and notions of progress, representing avant-guarde thinking and traditional roles.  

One of the most important convention sessions will try to define "sustainability" and "green fragrance" with industry peers: toxicologists, chemists, perfumers, product formulators, suppliers, regulators, marketers, and NGO's. 

This is a very bold step, but I caution the session not to linger too much on the actual wordings of these definitions. Why? Strong definition disagreements are about bias and delay. The session's objective deserves an excellent result. Any compromises read more like a mission statement which only defines a self-igniting purpose or concept for existing. Whereas a definition of standards creates strong guidance and enforceable attributes and criteria.  There is no time to get bogged down in bureaucratic self-regulating politics and filibustering.

Why would definition setting get purposely bogged down? Classically, any innovation improves a product for a larger set of consumers in ways the market did not expect. A disruptive innovation  is particularly threatening to market leaders and suppliers because early adopters are competition from an unexpected direction. Lets examine the concepts of Sustainability and Green Chemistry as a disruptive innovation.

Disruptive innovations are not always recognized by consumers and often take a long time before they are significantly disruptive to established companies and the supply chain. Often it is entirely rational for incumbent companies to ignore these effects. Early green cleaner products compared badly in performance to brand leaders and the current improved green cleaner market share is so small, that established products can still afford not to notice. 

Even as a disruptive innovation like DfE is recognized , businesses are often reluctant to take action since it would involve competing with existing and profitable products. And no one can afford risking profits in this economy.

But in a fragrance product sustaining disruptive innovation is incremental and subtle. To prevent any further bioaccumulation of unnecessary fragrance ingredients lets take the subtlety to a degree of obviousness and continuous improvement.  Let us all embrace the fragrance DfE program, gain from its environmental benefits and quickly move them into the established products before it is too late.

Disruption can be a cause for the moral good and with careful technical guidance, cooperation between suppliers, producers and government, we can all be winners.

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