In nature, everything is linked. No activity is environmentally neutral. Marc Lemaire (EcoRes, Groupe One) talks to us about regulation, the circular economy, 'spruce-style' companies and the laws of nature
The fates of humankind, the earth and the economy are closely linked. Nothing we do is without impact on our planet. "However, we have built our world upon the paradigm of separation, which has led to our current environmental situation: an abused planet, biodiversity under threat, excessive carbon emissions and toxic conventional agriculture" deplores Marc Lemaire, commercial engineer and agro-economist and social entrepreneur.
He refers to the limits of planetary resources within which humankind can successfully work and live: "This is a historic moment, but three have already passed, and we are heading for the cliff edge. We have never lost so many species, nor emitted so much CO2 as we do now! Nevertheless, it is not too late to act, as long as we do so with the right attitude. Marc Lemaire: "We either remain indecisive, or we take responsibility for the state in which we leave the earth for our children, taking into account events such as forest fires in Portugal. Today's climate-related catastrophes are the product of our CO2 emission rates in 1968!"
According to this logic of separation, it's as if we decided that it was OK for our activities to harm 'the other' with impunity, in this case the environment, resources, fauna, flora, and the earth that is our home.
Collective, rapid change expected
For William De Vijlder, head economist at the BNP Paribas Group, it is clear that policy can reinstate unity and a connection to the market. The aim should be to encourage economic stakeholders to increase positive externalities through fiscal incentives such as subsidies, taxation or emissions trading, but also to impose standards and sanctions to reduce negative externalities.
Marc Lemaire, a pioneer of the green transition, would like things to move faster: "The Paris Agreement requires every stakeholder to make substantial efforts, but these are hard to monitor." That is only possible for big manufacturers, through agreements at sectoral level which require them to compensate for excess carbon emissions by purchasing green certificates intended to finance renewable energy development projects in the southern hemisphere."
Awareness is growing
Twenty years ago, were many of us truly aware of the consequences of our actions on the planet we will leave to our children? Many were still sceptical about the causes and extent of the damage. Today we have become more clear-sighted. This is an important breakthrough. The link to health is also becoming more and more significant. For example, endocrine disruptors (some can be found in bottles, plastics and inside cans) have been declared a health risk by the WHO. In addition, we have seen an increase in the number of patients suffering from asthma and cases of early puberty. Studies have been published on this topic for the past 15 to 20 years. Today, we have a better understanding of what is at stake.
What is expected of businesses?
These self-same opinionated citizens are also employees who are becoming ever more sensitive to the approach their companies are taking to the fight against climate change; an approach that should be long-term and to the benefit of all, from employees to shareholders and customers. Organisations are now expected to include CO2 emissions, fine particles and social impact in their accounting and their financial balance sheet. A company's positive contribution to society is becoming a piece of data as significant as its figures and revenue.
Values such as those promoted by pioneers such as Exki have become a model for inspiration. However, according to Marc Lemaire, a law would ensure that the collective interest takes priority: "We need to take a sector-based approach. Coca Cola won't measure itself against an IT company on this issue, and a bank won't compare itself to Unilever. The leaders in each sector should be identified to determine the criteria they work to. Bionade is a lemonade that is manufactured in a fully organic manner, using 100% organic raw materials, and which contains no alcohol. Can their criteria be applied to the whole sector? If so, wouldn't it be a good idea to impose their best practices as the standard for all fizzy drink brands?" proposes Marc Lemaire.
Rubbish is transformed into a new product
Green transition shouldn't be a catch-all that encompasses CSR, a bit of green development and social responsibility. A growing number of company executives understand the importance of taking a sustainable approach, but the steps taken are still insufficient and unconnected. We now need to move onto the next stage and ensure a company's approach is structured around the core of its activities. The concept of a circular economy is gaining traction, and it's not just hype. Marc Lemaire: "We have successfully integrated the need to recycle. It's a nice step, but we are still on a linear path; an economic model that extracts minerals from the earth to meet its needs and then simply throws them away. We do the same with consumables."
We should therefore look to nature and draw inspiration from the laws dictated by common sense. Nothing is wasted in nature. Everything is recreated to be transformed. A living organism that dies will be recovered as nutrients to give life to something else. The cycles of life and death are closely entwined. Only humankind has created the idea of waste.
The circular economy, which is the opposite to a linear one, creates loops and strives to use industrial waste as part of another economic cycle. An example of this is the oil used for deep frying chips, which is no longer thrown away, but used for biodiesel production instead.
The separate management of biological and technical cycles is another basic principle of the circular economy. The inert components, such as the screws and bolts, can be extracted from a wooden chair and then separated from the living parts. The wood can be reintroduced to the biological circuit and live for another cycle. The aim is to give it as many lives as possible. The same can be envisaged for the bolts. Their life span can be extended by recovering them and multiplying their uses in order, in short, to produce less.
How can their lives and use spans be managed? By becoming the owner of the material and ensuring it is traceable as Unicore does. The company buys cobalt from the mines in Katanga and retains responsibility for it.
The service economy also has a role to play in this desire to share resources in a smart way. "I am not going to buy a car that my family and I only use occasionally, instead I am going to use a car rental service. Rental services are expanding into a growing number of sectors, but this has hardly been studied yet," adds Marc Lemaire.
What is the role of a bank?
A bank has an impact on everything, and its effects are mainly indirect as it supports all of its clients' activities. This confers upon it another responsibility. How does Marc Lemaire envisage the role of the bank in the future? "A financial operator has the capacity to make an enormous difference. Like a tree, a bank must be sustainable and a have a desire to live. But if it transcends this role and assumes responsibility as a guardian of the forest, it can promote biodiversity by favouring the birth of new species.
What if, in my forest, there were trees working to deplete the soil, which is degrading significantly? Marc Lemaire: "Imagine if, as a good manager, I decided to sort them by providing less financing to spruce-style companies that deplete the soil and by providing easier access to money for young shoots that want to grow. They are tomorrow's sustainable champions. This isn't something that can be achieved overnight, but in time it should optimise the structure of the bank's portfolio." In other words, banks also have a responsibility to choose how they distribute their energy, either to companies that power the sustainable economy or to spruces that harm the ecosystem.
Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation
Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.
Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.
Reconciling ecology and economy
The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.
1,000 sustainable solutions
Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.
The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.
Expertise from our bank
To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.
One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.”
Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”
Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition
“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.
At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.
The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.
The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”
Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.
What is the future for mobility post-coronavirus?
The health and economic crisis has affected all aspects of every sector. Among them, mobility, for both private individuals and for companies.
Mobility is evolving every day. And it has been driven further as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Many people have been locked down and working from home has been widespread in many parts of the world.
The coronavirus crisis has changed concerns about transport
We are no longer moving around in the same way. And concerns are no longer the same. According to a BCG Consulting report, social distancing and vehicle cleanliness are the most important aspects for 41% and 39% of respondents, respectively, when choosing a mode of transport. There is also pre- and post-Covid mobility, with respondents being more likely to choose walking, their own bicycle or scooter, or their car than before the crisis.
Sustainable and alternative mobility in the years to come
Mobility has not necessarily waited for the coronavirus crisis in order to evolve. And, according to the same report, the share of more environmentally-friendly vehicles will continue to increase. By 2035, more than 35% of new vehicles will be electric cars, becoming the predominant form of motorised transport worldwide. Autonomous cars will also become more common, with 10% of vehicles being level 4 vehicles (able to travel without a driver, for example), and 65% level 2 or higher.
Customised mobility for employees, right now
The future of mobility is also relevant now, especially for businesses and the self-employed. The need for alternative modes of transport does not only concern private individuals, but also employees. There is no longer a single mode of transport for all situations, but a range of means depending on the need at a given moment. Electric cars, hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, a public transport season ticket, car sharing, leasing, etc. These modes can take different forms and be combined in a mobility card, for example. There are benefits for the employees and managers of a company but also for the company itself through cost reduction, optimisation and fleet management.
Find out more about our tailor-made mobility solutions
The road to alternative mobility
Nowadays, responsible fleet management is built around sustainability. We're here to help you identify and realise your Corporate Social Responsibility ambitions.
Together we can cut your company's carbon footprint, improve employee mobility, and make sure these steps become a central pillar of your company's added value. In short, our aim is to have an alternative mobility policy.
We can help you make the switch to alternative mobility and new technologies to reduce your carbon footprint. Our SMaRT approach ensures your fleet has the best energy mix to match your strategy and driver profiles.
Alternative mobility needs new technologies to go hand in hand with new infrastructure. That's why we offer not only electric cars, but also the right charging solutions, too. As part of our integrated service provision we can determine how many charging points you need, install them, and manage how they are used both at the workplace and at the driver's home.
Modern mobility management is about more than just cars or vans. You need a 360-degree approach. We'll work with you to determine your mobility strategy and needs. Greener cars are just one of the options available. We have a number of mobility management solutions (such as the Mobility Card) and alternative mobility solutions (such as bicycle leasing) to inspire your organisation to offer a more flexible range.
Focus on employees
When you put your employees at the heart of your organisation, you're in a better position to find skilled employees, satisfy them, and retain them. Go a step further than just an alternative mobility solution: focus on their safety and let them play an active role in achieving your sustainability goals. Trust us to improve their safety and integrate new technologies.