Becoming a truly regenerative business might mean changing the shape of your portfolio — but this is not something to fear! Consumers want products and services that reflect their values and demands for greater sustainability, positive environmental impact, and both social and individual well-being. A portfolio that reflects this will be successful in the long run.
The business world can often become enamored with buzzwords that end up as little more than corporate jargon and filler text. But one of the latest terms beginning to make its way through our offices and ears, “regeneration,” is far more than just buzz. It describes a philosophy, an approach, a way to “bring back to a place of health” corporate cultures and ways of doing business that have contributed to the dual climate and biodiversity crises confronting us.
As a food company, Danone has energetically embraced the food revolution we unveiled in 2017, with strategy based on regenerative agriculture — a set of practices centered around keeping organic material in the soil through less tilling; fewer synthetic inputs; and the use of cover crops and animal grazing as a way to restore soil health, with healthy soils acting as a carbon sink for atmospheric CO2. For Danone, helping farmers transition to these regenerative practices is the biggest area in which we can have positive environmental and social impact. I recently spoke with Juan José Freijo, Global Head of Sustainability at Brambles, about how regeneration can structure the decade of action and how we as companies should team up to mainstream it — you can listen to our conversation here.
Both of us agreed that regeneration is not limited to agriculture alone. At a broader level — one that can engage all businesses, regardless of their area of operation — regeneration is about identifying one’s footprint and then moving away from linear systems towards circular ones. It’s about managing natural assets in a way that allows and enables them to restore themselves sustainably. We all must become stewards of these natural assets that we will bequeath to future generations.
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In order to keep “regeneration” from becoming merely the latest buzzword, we have to take and accelerate concrete action. The foundation of action is deep understanding — in this case, a business’s understanding of its value chain. One way to build this kind of understanding is to undertake a rigorous lifecycle assessment in order to identify how different components of a supply chain interact with each other, and identify what points of intervention might have the most impact — like looking at yourself in the mirror, without a filter. Then, pilot projects can be launched, lessons can be learned, and effective action can be scaled across a business’s brands and geographies.
For example, in Mexico, Danone is working with more than 500 smallholder dairy farmers to help them implement regenerative-ag techniques — from better water management to biodigesters to produce natural fertilizer — on their farms, in order to reduce emissions while also increasing productivity. Danone has launched similar pilot projects with farmers in places such as Algeria, Romania and France.
Brands can build on successful pilot projects by implementing their approaches into their very DNA. In the US, Danone’s Horizon Milk brand will be carbon positive (drawing down more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits) by 2025. And Danone France has an ambitious goal of sourcing 100 percent of its ingredients produced in France from regenerative agriculture, also by 2025.
I'm glad to see Brambles joining the regenerative movement and to hear about their own journey to eliminate deforestation and protect biodiversity. In the end, we are talking about systemic change; and we'll all need to join forces — suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, consumers — if we're going to make a real difference.
Finally, it’s also necessary to measure impact by analyzing and studying activities in order to continue to learn, refine and improve what we’re doing. Impact related to one planetary boundary will inevitably affect the status of other planetary boundaries.
Nature and the host of ecosystem services that we depend are rarely seen as actual, tangible “assets” with a valuation. This must change. We have to start considering both the costs that unsustainable environmental impact imposes on our societies, our health and our economies; and the benefits that healthy ecosystems provide — including remunerating actors, such as farmers and indigenous communities, for maintaining valuable ecosystem services — such as watersheds that provide clean water to surrounding communities, and forests and soils that draw down and store atmospheric CO2.
Becoming truly regenerative at a business’s core might mean changing the shape of its portfolio — but this is not something to fear! Consumers want products and services that reflect their values and demands for greater sustainability, positive environmental impact, and both social and individual wellbeing. A portfolio that reflects this will be successful in the long run.