Climate change is no longer a theoretical possibility, but an existential threat. It’s happening today. Hot off the press, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 report describes a world already suffering from record floods, droughts and heat waves – a situation set to worsen as global temperatures continue to rise. Combined with anthropogenic habitat loss and overexploitation, climate change also threatens to accelerate the extinction of many medicinal plants.
Between 70% and 95% of people in developing countries rely on plants as part of their primary health care. In addition, the harvest and trade of medicinal plants is an important source of income for both rural and urban dwellers, with the global export trade value of herbal ingredients estimated at more than US$32 billion per year.
Profit doesn’t have to come at the expense of people or the planet. It is possible to build a sustainable supply chain that balances inputs and outputs – a circular economy that is regenerative and restorative. Meet a company that for more than a century has applied science and technology in its ever-evolving quest to bring out the best in nature while protecting its precious resources for future generations.
Cultivation of sustainable sources of medicinal plants
Indena was founded in 1921 and is based in Milan, Italy. It is a family business and a leading supplier of herbal raw materials to the nutraceutical industry. The company sustainably sources 20 million kilograms of raw medicinal plant material from 120 botanical species from almost 60 different countries. This supply chain supports more than 300 products.
Approximately 62% of Indena’s raw material is grown on approximately 3,000 hectares of plantations that comply with Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACPs), a set of guidelines designed to ensure the sustainability, quality, traceability and reliability of herbal medicines. The other 38% comes from wild plants, with nearly two-thirds of the collection area being limited to regrowing parts such as leaves and fruit. Indena also works with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) on sustainable management projects.
Indena uses its network of nearly 270 suppliers to not only source sustainable ingredients, but also plants that are grown organically and regeneratively whenever possible. For example, in 2021 the company partnered with Alvinesa Natural Ingredients to develop a 100% organic extract derived from it Vitis vinifera Seeds that support stress resistance and cardiovascular well-being. The grape seeds are by-products of a certified organic farm, so no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are allowed. The farm also recycles all waste products from the winemaking process. The extraction process itself uses water instead of harsh solvents.
Empowering local communities for global change
Almost a decade ago, Indena launched its Sustainable Sourcing Program, which develops partnerships in local communities from which the company sources its medicinal plants. These projects support education and training programs and advance conservation efforts around the world.
Madagascar is the main source for the world supply of Centella asiatica, an important medicinal plant for wound healing and skin care. Indena has had a presence on the island nation for decades. In collaboration with its local supplier and a non-governmental organization, Indena works to improve living conditions and reduce poverty in the local communities involved in gotu kola collection. The company has distributed educational materials to school children and supported teacher training, as well as renovations to buildings and water systems.
In a region of Tanzania where deforestation has killed an important medicinal plant, the African silver tree (Terminalia sericea) Indena has supported a conservation project to help manage the Miombo forest land and promote forestry education in biodiversity. It is believed to be the first such project to promote sustainability in this region through the establishment of the Tanzanian National Association, which will train members not only in forest ecology and basic soil science, but also in GACPs and best business practices. The project even developed sustainable honey production in some communities through beekeeper training.
A number of Boswellia tree species produce the culturally and economically important gum resin known as frankincense, but harvests are declining due to a variety of factors, from arable land expansion and overexploitation to pest infestations and fire. Indena sources Indian incense (Boswellia Serrata) from the state of Madya Pradesh, India, where the company again worked with its local supplier and had the mission to build two warehouses to better conserve raw materials. The project also improved working conditions, simplified the supply chain, and provided additional common space for storing other goods and training on sustainable harvesting.
With green technologies for a bright future
Indena also invests in its own people (with an average tenure of 17 years) and facilities, including renewable energy and green manufacturing.
In 2018, for example, the company installed a 2,100 square meter photovoltaic system at its production site in Tours in the Loire Valley. The new solar system has an annual production capacity of 250 megawatt hours, which it supplies directly to the factory. In addition to solar energy, Indena Tours has built its own wastewater treatment plant and uses new clean technologies to treat gases released into the atmosphere.
Indena has been committed to Responsible Care for more than 15 years® Program, a voluntary initiative by the global chemical industry to improve the health, safety and environmental performance of companies involved in this field. For example, at Indena’s phytochemical research center in Settala, Italy, the company installed natural gas in its cogeneration plant, resulting in a corresponding 10% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
The company is particularly committed to circular economy goals by finding ways to recover value from waste biomass. Almost 9,000 tons per year are processed into compost, which helps regenerate depleted soils while reducing fertilizer use. Another 4,000 tons annually contain enough nutrients to be converted into animal feed and another 900 tons are converted into biofuel.
Indena is a company that acts locally to conserve nature worldwide.
 IPCC. “2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” [Pörtner HO et al. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In print.
 Applequist WL et al. “Scientists warn of climate change and medicinal plants.” Planta Med. 2020 Jan;86(1):10-18.