Climate Resilient Economy: from utopia to mainstream

Summary

For the opening of the Solutions COP21 exhibition at the Grand Palais on December 4, Danone organized a conference dedicated to the different levers for creating a carbon-neutral economy in the long run. The conference’s speakers highlighted the need for new alliances in order to build the solutions of tomorrow. On that occasion, Veolia and Danone finalized a completely new form of alliance.

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“Behind the necessary commitment by public institutions to fight climate change, there is a responsibility that falls on economic players,” declared Stéphane Le Foll, the French Minister of Agriculture, at the opening ceremony of the conference organized by Danone on December 4. “And so it is together that we need to find solutions. Working with farmers, too, given that 2.5 billion tons of carbon are retained in the soil today, an amount that could be even larger if we guide them in adapting their practices.”

To build a climate-resistant economy and overtake utopian dreams, common goals need to be set, rather than just following individual interests. Based on this observation, the Minister also emphasized the need to take all of our future issues into account, meaning climate change, of course, but also the food challenge and the preservation of the agricultural industry. “To devise sustainable solutions, we need to look at everything, at the same time. Because, although COP 21 marks a step forward and a new awareness, we will be judged on what happens next,” he recalled.

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From the lab to shared innovations

The first innovative solutions implemented by Veolia and Danone largely reflected the French Minister’s words. The two major companies have taken the measure of their responsibility in the fight against global warming and in the invention of an alternate economic model. And have already innovated along those lines. “In Arras, in Northern France, we collect food waste as fuel for a methanizer to produce heat and electricity. In Germany, we recycle PET plastic bottles to reduce the CO2 impact of container manufacturing,” pointed out Laurent Auguste, Director, Innovation and Markets, and Executive Committee Member at Veolia. “We believe that we need to start thinking more of the economic chain as a loop and extricate ourselves from a silo-based logic,” he added.

To roll these projects out, we will need to find partners who share our vision so that we can move forward with technological innovations and make our entire value chain more resilient. Pascal de Petrini

Danone shares this clear orientation toward a circular economy. The Brazilian project Novo Ciclo, which the company supports through a public-interest fund, is symbolic of that aim. To that end, a short film about the initiative was shown on the big screen in the conference hall. The Danone Ecosystem Fund’s objective for Brazil is to create a sustainable recycling model that enables ragmen, on the one hand, to legitimize their business activities and increase their revenue, and the country, on the other, to organize its waste industry. “This desire to build a resilient economy is present in all 60 of the projects now under way thanks to the Danone Ecosystem Fund. As we notice, climate change isn’t the only challenge and so, more generally speaking, we want to make our activities sustainable,” explained Pascal de Petrini, Executive Vice-President Strategic Resource Cycles and Executive Committee Member at Danone.

He also cited other initiatives like Terragr’eau in France, a project through which a methanization unit is now under construction and will eventually recycle 14,000 tons of livestock effluents into biogas or natural fertilizer and also protect water resources. “For now, they are just laboratories, and what we want to do is increase their numbers around the world,” further explained Pascal de Petrini, recalling Danone’s aim of making the shift from experimentation to widespread application.

“And to roll these projects out, we will need to find partners who share our vision so that we can move forward with technological innovations and make our entire value chain more resilient,” he continued.

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Alliances to co-build and innovate

In addition to the work done jointly in the field with local farmers, populations, authorities and NGOs, there is an urgent need for innovation-based alliances. This observation was also stressed by Bernard Giraud, President of Livelihoods Venture, a unique carbon investment fund created by Danone in 2011. “The Fund was able to come to fruition through the creation of teams for each action area, like in Senegal, where 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of mangroves were replanted in the largest global project in this field! But a few months ago, we decided to take it a step further by creating the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming, so that we can have a real, positive impact on farmers’ income and yields,” he explained. “We started with a corporate partner, Mars, and today I am happy to announce that Firmenich and Veolia are joining the project,” he rejoiced.

Because alliances make it possible to expand the number of projects and innovations, they can strengthen companies’ capacities to reinvent a sustainable business model. And so, in order to achieve carbon neutrality, Danone will be relying on the skills and determination of its partners. “For today, we have separated our economic growth from growth in our emissions within our area of direct responsibility. For tomorrow, we are committed to reducing our emissions throughout an extended perimeter, including agriculture, and to striving for carbon neutrality. By 2020, Evian will be carbon-neutral. But in order for our entire supply chain to achieve this – as a reminder, 90% of the farmers with whom we work have fewer than 10 cows, are spread all around the planet and operate outside our control – we are partnering with Veolia to co-invent solutions that will help us to fulfill our goal,” announced Emmanuel Faber, Danone’s CEO.

We are committed to reducing our emissions throughout an extended perimeter, including agriculture, and to striving for carbon neutrality.  Emmanuel Faber, PDG de Danone.

“This is a collaborative approach that differs greatly from mere customer relations. We want to co-build solutions that will enable Danone to achieve its objective, but also so that we can become a reference for industrialists wishing to reduce their impacts on resources and the climate,” explained Antoine Frérot, Chairman & CEO of Veolia. “While waiting for carbon prices that would, among other operations, make it possible to finance the clean-up of many industrial sites worldwide, we are already taking action within our companies,” he continued.

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These commitments by the business world are the second pillar of the Paris climate agreement. Pascal Canfin.

The construction of a sustainable economy will not be possible without companies creating value on a daily basis. And this collaboration, added to other companies’ and municipalities’ projects, is part of the “next generation of commitments. Before, we saw different players working on one end of the value chain, but we have now realized that we need to look at the entire length of that chain,” emphasized former minister and Senior Advisor for International Climate Affairs at the World Resources Institute, Pascal Canfin, before concluding that “these commitments by the business world are the second pillar of the Paris climate agreement. The last parties to act must not be the heads of State failing to sign an ambitious universal agreement!”

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