Sustainability Report: Virgin Marula Oil
SEPTEMBER 26, 2023
It’s intensely nourishing. It is a powerhouse of antioxidants. And it makes the skin glow like it’s plugged in. It’s the magic ingredient known as virgin marula oil, the one oil founder Tiffany Masterson fell in love with as she was researching ingredients back before Drunk Elephant was even a thing. But where does it come from? How is it harvested? And how sustainable can it really be? Pull up a bottle and get comfortable.
Where do we get our marula from?
Our marula is harvested from Namibia, in Southern Africa.
Is our marula fair trade?
Well, that’s a trick question, because fair trade is a process that is managed by private business/industry, not government, which means it is up to individual industries to create this process. Farming communities in Southern African countries are still in the very early stages of developing fair trade, and there isn’t a universal fair trade certification option for marula oil, but there are conservation and trade agreement programs with farming communities that ensure fair, equitable price negotiation and prevent worker exploitation.
Our marula oil is purchased from one of the few suppliers that is a member of the globally recognized UN Convention on Biodiversity: Nagoya Protocol, an agreement that has three primary goals:
1. Protection of biological diversity of genetic resources (i.e., plants)
2. Sustainable use of those biological resources
3. Ensuring fair, equitable profit and payment for the use of those resources (i.e., fair and sustainable trade practices)
This allows the farming communities that supply our marula to establish protections for their crop and those who harvest it (eliminating the potential for worker exploitation or child labor) and to negotiate and establish their own prices.
Marula fruit can be harvested only by hand, not machine, and only ripe fruit that has fallen from the tree can be touched.
How is it harvested?
Marula fruit is a protected resource in Southern Africa. It can be harvested only by hand, not machine, and only ripe fruit that has fallen from the tree can be touched.
Once harvested, the marula kernels are extracted and ground by hand at facilities wholly owned by the communities that harvest the fruit. Our supplier uses a proprietary raw, cold-pressed extraction and filtration process, resulting in the purest and most concentrated form of the oil, with its delicate antioxidant and fatty acid compounds preserved.
What is the impact of our marula harvest? What steps do we take to mitigate that impact (if applicable)?
Marula use is heavily restricted and is protected by law in Namibia, where its harvest is limited to farming communities and to ripe, tree-fallen fruit. The trees themselves cannot be cut down, nor can marula be wild harvested outside of protected farming communities.
This is done to ensure the sustainability of the marula crop and also to guarantee that the profit to the local community is not undercut.
Is all this expensive?
These programs to ensure equitable pricing, profit, sustainability, and ethical treatment cannot happen without passing the expense to the supplier and brand. In other words, sustainability is not cheap. You can certainly harvest and sell marula oil for pennies, but that can’t happen without cutting corners in terms of both extraction methods (raw, cold pressed vs. chemical extraction) and ethical compromises affecting the harvesting communities. At Drunk Elephant, we think a sustainable, ethical product is worth the extra cost.