Closing the Loop: Circular economics support sustainability profiles – article

Striving toward a circular economy design is core to Indena’s implementation of a new sustainability strategy.

April 12, 2023

6 Min Read
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Time is running out. Scientists now believe we have less than a decade to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change.1 But progress is being made. Nearly every country on Earth has pledged to protect 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030.2 The United Nations has released 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) to help guide global action on everything from poverty and social justice to climate change and biodiversity.3

Indena is not just deeply committed to these goals of environmental sustainability and social responsibility, but has been leading the way for more than a century. Since its founding in 1921, the family-owned company has worked collaboratively and respectfully with the natural world to create products that benefit human health and well-being.

The Old World company headquartered in Milan, Italy, has also embraced the newest technologies to develop its portfolio of sustainable, plant-based ingredients. Its 21st century quality control program involves more than 30 quality checks that span the entire production process, from seed to finished product, helping ensure long-term viability of its supply chain. This includes continuous supplier assessments of some 120 botanical species from more than 60 countries, leading to innovative social and environmental projects to benefit local communities.

The company believes it can do even more to help the planet and its people respond to our shared climate emergency and sustainability challenges. That’s why Indena recently updated and overhauled its corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies, with a new sustainability strategy to drive its future business practices. At the core of this strategy is implementing a circular economy around each ingredient that emphasizes recycling and upcycling throughout the production process. This unique approach to quality reduces environmental impacts, increases transparency, benefits local communities, and encourages good agricultural and wild-harvesting practices.

Two of Indena’s flagship-level branded ingredients embody its reimagined CSR initiatives—Mirtoselect® bilberry and Enovita® grape seed extracts.

Bilberry—a wild sustainability story

A small edible berry found in forests across Northern and Eastern Europe, bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) has been used in traditional medicine since at least the Middle Ages. From that humble fruit comes Mirtoselect®, a standardized extract containing more than 36% anthocyanins, powerful flavonoids with impressive antioxidant properties. More than 60 studies, including at least 30 controlled or double-blind studies, report positive effects on vascular health and eye health, among other potential benefits.

Wild bilberry harvestings offer a unique opportunity to encourage biodiversity by discouraging over-exploitation through logging, for example, while supporting cultural practices and income for rural communities. Indena is leading a Biodiversity Action Plan with Pharmeko, a Danish raw material supplier that complies with the Union for Ethical Biotrade standard, to help regenerate biodiversity on nearly 720,000 hectares in Latvia where 2,000 tons of fruit are collected.

The Latvian State Forest Research Institute estimates just 10% of the total berry crop is collected in the country’s forests, putting no pressure on local fauna and biodiversity. The entire supply chain is under Pharmeko’s control to minimize any other potential impacts. Its contracted collectors are registered and trained on organic farming, food safety and biodiversity standards. For the pickers, these jobs almost double the average monthly salary for a typical Latvian family.

Nothing goes to waste in the processing of the bilberry fruit, including 400 tons of spent vegetable material every year. Part of the sugar is reused to standardize the extract, while the rest is sold to the food industry. Seeds and fiber can be upcycled to produce omega-3 oil for the cosmetics or food industries. The remainder also gets reused as a component of animal feed. The extraction process, which uses water and ethanol, is designed so that both can be recycled and reused indefinitely, with the only loss due to physiological processes such as evaporation.

Indena customers can track the lifecycle of this high-quality bilberry extract, which uses DNA analysis to ensure authenticity, using a QR code platform.

Squeezing sustainability out of wine grape seeds

Red wine is well-known for its heart health benefits. But it’s possible to enjoy the cardio protection of proanthocyanidins, a powerful flavonoid found in grape seeds, without the deleterious alcohol effects. Enovita® is a proprietary proanthocyanidins-rich extract made exclusively with grape seeds from white wine production. Studies have suggested that not only can Enovita® support healthy blood pressure, but it can help modulate stress and mood.

The closed-loop sourcing and production of this grape seed extract in Indena’s portfolio is also stress-free on the environment. Half of the Vitis vinifera L. seeds used to make Enovita® come from the Champagne region, where Indena’s key supplier sources the biomass less than 250 miles from the company’s French production site for Enovita® in Tours. The Sustainable Viticulture in Champagne (VDC) initiative encourages a circular economy in the famous grape-growing region by managing agricultural inputs, protecting biodiversity, and reducing waste and energy dependency. Since 2014, more than 60% of vineyards in the appellation have secured VDC certification.

Indeed, Enovita® embodies the circular economy ethos by using only grape seed waste biomass and permanently recycled water to create the standardized extract. The liquid wastes from the purification process are disposed of in a methanizer before being released. Indena is investing in a new methanizer able to manage liquid waste from the whole production facility, not just grape seed extract, that can also produce biogas. The biogas will help power internal energy requirements around heating and production, with any surplus potentially sold off. In addition, a new biomass boiler will produce steam and energy from the grape seed waste.

The grape seed supply chain for Enovita® addresses nearly a dozen of the 17 SDGs put forth by the UN. In addition to those outlined above, suppliers have committed to a 90% reduction in water withdrawal in 15 years (SDG 6) and 95% use of biomass for steam production (SDG 7). They have also agreed to recruit young workers and ensure gender equality (SDGs 4 and 5). So many benefits growing from an upcycled grape seed.

Integrating green power operations

Clean energy is vital to avoid emitting more global-warming gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Indena has invested heavily in greening how it powers the company’s European plants.

For instance, 75% of the energy for its main plant in Settala, Italy, where Mirtoselect® is produced, comes from a natural gas cogeneration plant, steam turbines and solar panels. The cogeneration plant alone reduces CO2 emissions by 2,500 tons per year, while the new steam boiler and turbine save nearly 300 tons of CO2. The company is currently adding solar capacity at Settala and its other production facilities, eventually producing more than 5,013,000 kw/hours per year, which is the CO2 equivalent of 2,340 tons.

By the end of 2023, Indena will produce 67% of its own energy, with nearly a quarter coming from renewable sources—offsetting more than 5,177 tons of CO2 per year.  What’s more, all of Indena’s European factories are certified ISO 14001 Environmental Management System and ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System.

Ultimately, Indena believes that implementing SDGs, including protecting biodiversity, reducing waste and greening manufacturing are mission critical for sustaining business, planet, and human health. All the actions taken in favor of sustainability also enable Indena to be fully reliable in terms of business continuity, and therefore to be a solid partner for all its clients.


1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. AR6 Synthesis Report, 2023.

2. Einhorn C. “Nearly Every Country Signs On to a Sweeping Deal to Protect Nature.” New York Times. Dec 19, 2022.

3. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Sustainable Development.

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