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Members' Reviews of Dr. Kelly Ablard's Introduction to the Sustainability and the Ethical use of Essential Oils

Saturday, September 24, 2022 9:18 AM | Shannon Bachorick (Administrator)

By Margo Fletcher, RA®, EOT®, and Anita Kalnay, RA®, EOT®

Margo's review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this recording of Dr. Ablard’s webinar, as she begins by sharing the concept of sustainability and how its true meaning is defined in the intentions of the first peoples to safeguard the future of their people for at least seven generations, and she shines a light on how our lack of sustainability is impacting the world right now as we experience global warming and climate change.

Dr. Ablard is intent on having us see where our own responsibilities lie within this concept of sustainability, and she highlights the steps we can take toward the thoughtful and ethical use of the essential oils we are using. We as aromatherapists need to not only be aware and informed of the essential oil bearing plants that we are using, but also of the impacts of sustainably harvesting of these plants, and the importance of holding the people we buy our products from accountable for the part they play in bringing them to us.

She outlines guidelines to demonstrate sustainable practices, which are revealing and concise for someone new to this important idea and she breaks them down into five easy-to-understand sections of environmental, social, cultural, economic, and distribution and labeling. 

Then she covers the topic of biodiversity, a term used to describe the enormous variety of life on earth, and explains how one species, our species is impacting the world. 

She shares with us that although we are in a biodiversity crisis there is still hope. There are organizations such as the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that are working to identify the different species that need help and The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international agreement to which governments voluntarily adhere and which seeks to ensure that the trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

These organizations identify and protect biodiversity on a global level, and Dr. Ablard has founded her own organization, the Airmid Institute, which provides education for us on the importance of sustainability and ethical harvesting and use of essential oil bearing plants. She has kindly provided us with her biannual list of Threatened, Near Threatened, and CITES-Protected Plants, Mammals, Fungi, and Seaweed Species Used in Aromatherapy, Perfumery, and Aromatic Herbalism.

We can become informed about a specific plant’s conservation status by using the above list and by connecting with the IUCN and CITES organizations to see if we are using any of these threatened species in our own aromatherapy practices and thus change how we purchase and utilize these plants as well as inform others within our circles on the importance of sustainability and what this means for us all.

As a side note, I have tried numerous times for information on the essential oils that I was purchasing from my suppliers and what I received was a batch number of authenticity, not the chemical break down that I was looking for, so I will be reaching out to Dr. Albard for her guidance on how to phrase my request for the necessary information I am seeking.

I found the webinar informative as well as empowering and I am grateful to Dr. Ablard for her groundbreaking work and the CAOA for showcasing her presentation.


 Anita's review:

The CAOA recently hosted an online seminar with Dr. Kelly Ablard. Many of you might recognize her name as a faculty member at Essence of Thyme. 

She is also the founder of Airmid Institute. The name Airmid refers to the Irish goddess Airmid, whose healing tears (in the story her father killed her brother) gave life to all the healing herbs in the world, which she then collected and wore. 

Kelly’s mission became one of giving back life to dying plant species, and to celebrate and share the many traditional secrets of plant medicine kept by Indigenous healers worldwide. 

Her knowledge is key to assisting us all as aromatherapists, who use distilled plants in our practices, to meet our needs and those of our clients, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

Kelly and her team, which comprises directors, global ambassadors, members and interns from all over the world, work together as a well-connected group to help preserve plant species and their use. As I looked through their website, these folks are passionate, well-educated individuals who truly care about sustainability. 

Kelly outlined five areas of sustainability in her introductory workshop. The CAOA board has decided that our spring event will also be on this topic as it was extremely well received! 

The five areas of sustainability include: 

  1. Environmental sustainability: The management of a physical environment including biodiversity and the preservation of natural resources. Balances the need of communities to benefit future generations. Including water and waste management and plant species preservation. 
  2. Social sustainability: Social engagement, community investment and education, including safe, ethical working conditions and gender equality.
  3. Cultural sustainability: Respect for and preservation of customs, beliefs, living systems and lifestyles, including working closely with indigenous communities and their knowledge of natural medicines. 
  4. Economic sustainability: Encouraging practices that support long term economic growth without sacrificing local cultural customs, including decent salaries for growers and distillers. 
  5. Distribution and labelling sustainability: Truth in advertising, minimal packaging and avoiding plastic materials. 

Ethically: “We don’t have a right to drive other species to extinction.” 

2010 was the year that the sixth extinction was revealed. Earth has undergone five extinctions in human history, and the sixth was revealed in 2010. Rapid climate change is the biggest challenge. 

Plants, humans and animals cannot adapt fast enough to accommodate the changes and the result is habitat loss. The main driver of climate change is carbon dioxide and plants are the “carbon fixers” of our Earth!

As humans dealing with this, Kelly suggests that “we are so misguided, we don’t even know where to start.” Education and awareness being two of the biggest issues. 

As aromatherapists who use the tools of nature, we ask ourselves “where do WE start”, and what does that mean for our industry and the essential oils that we use as the tools of our profession? 

I was surprised to learn that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was already UICN at the helm, and that they had already developed a five-level criteria as part of their focus on building nature-positive economies and societies.

Five-level criteria to evaluate endangered species:

A. Population reduction of species 
B. Restricted geographic range
C. Small population size and decline
D. Very small or restricted population 
E. Extinction: probability analysis 

Examples included: 

Agarwood: Critically endangered, fewer than 250 species in the wild, expected to decline in one generation or three years by 25% 

Vanilla: Globally endangered, fewer than 2,500 species, five years or two generations expected to decline 

Sandalwood: Facing extinction but being reseeded in project areas such as Australia 

Elemi: Near threatened;there is excessive mutilation of the tree in order to strip bark and resin 

Lavender, eucalyptus and virginia cedarwood: Species of least concern 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of a the species. 

CITES lists all the species protected by international trade. It also has a regularly updated database and dashboard of species at risk. 

Kelly offers key information and education on threatened species and ethical sourcing as well as tips to empower all of us as consumers and users of essential oils. Airmid Institute also has a list of threatened plants that is updated annually. You can request this list at

As an aromatherapist, this was fascinating to find out and inspiring to know that essential to the future of our industry itself is the work that these groups do on our behalf at a global level. 

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