In the industrial world, social and environmental impacts occur throughout the creation chain; upstream and downstream, from the production of raw materials to the products’ end-of-life. In 1972, Antoine Riboud said that “corporate responsibility does not stop at the office door or the factory gate”. But it is certainly an issue within these places too, which is why corporate companies work on improving their social and environmental footprint right where they create their products.
Ireland is home to two joint initiatives aimed at reducing the environmental impact of Danone’s plants, while creating social and economical value. In Macroom, in the south-west of the country, spray driers operate for the Baby Nutrition department: these machines dry the milk that is later used in baby formula. In Wexford, on the south-eastern shore of the island, a similar kind of machine operates to create products in the Nutricia range (these products are intended for the nutritional management of diseases and medical conditions). Over the past couple of years, Danone’s business unit in Ireland has decided to address the environmental impact of these driers – i.e. to reduce it by creating a greener energy mix for its plants.
A local and sustainable supply chain
The first step, in March 2012, was to start changing over the boiler operating Macroom’s biggest spray drier from heavy fuel oil to natural gas, and to allocate it some of the tasks of more polluting driers. Step two was to engineer the replacement of heavy fuel oil boilers by woodchip biomass boilers in Wexford. And this project, which started in March 2011, has resulted in a very positive, local and comprehensive approach.
Firstly, the new woodchip biomass boiler (with a capacity of 6 metric tons per hour) was approved, ordered and installed. This recently started operating in January 2013. It will help save thousands of metric tons of CO2 a year (-50%), and cut the energy bill of the factory in half. Then, to provide the new boiler with woodchips, the Danone Ecosystem Fund and the Irish business unit decided to build up a sustainable local supply chain.
To achieve this, they partnered up with two local entities: Kilkenny Leader Partnership, a public organisation in charge of supporting local development strategies, and Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority. The supply chain was given both an environmental goal – to be sustainable – and a social goal – to help preserve local farming activity weakened by the imminent end of the government’s tree planting subsidy plan.
All in all, the installation of the new woodchip biomass boiler and the introduction of sustainable local sourcing have already enabled various positive impacts: on health (air pollution has decreased), in social terms (400 farming families have seen a 10% increase in revenue, and 65 new jobs have been created), on the environment (expected savings of 23,500 metric tons of CO2 between 2008 and 2013) and in terms of savings (the energy bill of the plant has already dramatically decreased). Danone’s Wexford factory has also become an effective and integral part of its local ecosystem by establishing strong, high- quality relationships upstream.
The initiative designed and developed by the Central, Macroom and Wexford teams helps the group tackle its environmental and social responsibility while supporting its own productivity. This is why the project took part to 2012 Dan Awards challenge (which rewards the best bottom-up initiatives everywhere in the group each year), and made it to the top of the “Nature” competition.
(Photo from: www.cklp.ie)