Panel 2 Highlights: Sustainability & Innovation Forum




At the FACC Sustainability & Innovation Forum, panel Food, Beverage & Hospitality – Innovation From the Ground Up discussed one of the most complex topics in sustainability. With a world population at 7.5 billion and growing, as well as becoming increasingly mobile, determining how we feed, give access to clean drinking water and travel responsibly are what the professionals on this panel are passionate about. 

Noémie Bauer, Head of Sustainable Business at Pernod Ricard addressed one of the primary questions businesses face: “It is making business sense to fight climate change”. Noemie went on to explain that the quality of the grapes are impacted by climate change (N.B.- view Pernod Ricard's wine portfolio). “We don't know what's the future of brands like cognac or champagne […] so it is making business sense to actually fight climate change. We're working on a research program in cognac to actually develop new breeds of vines, they're going to be climate change adapted, and also disease resistant to not to use pesticides. We think that to run and sustain a sustainable business, we need to change our practices”. 

In terms of raw material production, Hans Theyer- Executive Director of Fairtrade America emphasized that “sustainability starts and ends with the families that produce those goods”. Theyer mentioned that 50% of their decision making is the farmers their NGO works with. At least 65% of the younger generation is concerned about the where the products they consume come from, where does their food comes from? how and where does their clothing come from?".

Producer of locally-grown New York City salads and greens, Gotham Green Co-Founder and CEO Viraj Puri believes that “sustainability is really going to be less of a choice but more of a necessity”. Gotham Green's strategy revolves around producing more with less resources. Puri stated: “products of this nature are primarily grown in a few counties in California and Arizona, essentially in deserts. So deserts are irrigated to basically grow leafy greens, which are 98% water content, and then products are shipped cross country, cross continent to reach urban consumers across the United States. So there's a lot of water, there's a lot of fossil fuels in the transportation, and ultimately, we're dealing with a highly perishable commodity which spoils very easily and leads to food waste." Speaking about the food industry in general, Puri added: "this supply chain is complicated but quite inefficient and has a lack of transparency and traceability […] Gotham Green’s solution is to grow this, these commodities using fewer resources in closer proximity to large marketplaces […] It's a decentralized production approach, we have greenhouses in the nation's largest cities, New York, Chicago, among others. Fresh product has grown using 98% less water 70% less land, less chemical inputs, and then it's delivered to a supermarket or a restaurant within a few short hours, so there's less food waste.”

Fellow panelist Philippe Caradec, VP Public Affairs and Sustainable Development, Danone North America PBA spoke about an important factor indicator of a company's sustainability inititatives: “Danone North America has achieved a B Corp Certification administered by B lab […] We have made a public commitment to be basically carbon neutral around 2050 […] we have made in October last year 2018 a commitment to 100% recyclable, reusable compostable packaging and going fully circular circular in terms of our packaging now that's a big tall order”. While many consumers sight plastic as the main culprit in unsustainable food production, he offered a different view: “the biggest contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions of a couple yogurts or a gallon or half gallon of milk is the cow” said Philippe.

Danone has decided to engage with farmers an have a direct and long term relationship with them. With their program called cost plus, Danone commits to paying farmers’ costs and guarantee them a margin. “it allows the farmer to not be worried about putting food on the table. They know exactly what the margin they will get. It's not related to the price of milk, whether the world price or whether China buys milk or not etc” explained Philippe.

Farmers are still the owner of their farm and cows but Danone can implement measures with regard to animal welfare, the use of pesticides herbicides, energy and with regard to use a specific feed that may actually reduce the carbon footprint of the cow – “like this we shift the the risk to the farmer, from them to us.” explained Philippe.

Hervé Houdré is among Europe’s and America’s most respected hoteliers. He spoke on behalf of the hospitality industry: “the hotel industry is a people's industry with customers and, and employees. And it does make sense for us as well to really implement a very serious, very genuine sustainability strategy. You can increase your revenue while being sustainable. Actually, you should know that 80% of our corporate clients do ask for our sustainability strategies and they require it ithe RFP so it's very important, otherwise you may not get the client."

Houdre continued: "I used to manage the Barclay intercontinental for 10 years, in five years’ time we were able to reduce the bill by $400,000 just by focusing on the waste of electricity and consumption that we had in the hotel. Risk management is as important as a good sustainability strategy can help reduce your insurance costs. Finally, implementing sustainability initiatives keep you to retain your staff, and the staff is usually very, very impressed with what you do. I'm talking again about the hotel, but as well in big companies. you can reduce up to from 25 to 50% of your hiring costs and increase your employee engagement by seven to 10%."

We thank all of our panelists for their contribution to this lively discussion.