An expert in green transition on the sustainable challenge

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.



Icelandic power plant will sequester more CO2 than it emits

GreenTech is touted as the key to braking climate change. One power plant in Iceland is showing the way by becoming carbon negative.

Many countries, including France, have ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, thus committing to reducing the output of greenhouse gases. A number of cities, including Copenhagen and Barcelona are going even further, aiming to become ‘carbon neutral’ within a few years. One example from Iceland shows how GreenTech companies can help them achieve their emissions reduction targets. 

On this small island, Swiss CO2 capture technology specialist Climeworks has just installed the world’s first carbon removal solution based on direct air carbon capture (DAC) and geological storage. This carbon capture & storage system, running at the geothermal power plant at Hellisheidi, is part of the EU-funded CarbFix2 project. It is designed to demonstrate that the method – capturing CO2 direct from ambient air and pumping it, together with water, into the basaltic rock formation on which Iceland rests – actually works. The aim is to turn the gas rapidly into solid carbonate minerals, thus ensuring that it will not escape into the atmosphere for millions of years. 

The process is currently very costly, but such technical progress sustains the hope of the international community of keeping global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and thus helping to avert the worst effects of climate change. The Hellisheidi power plant is the first-ever installation equipped to achieve ‘carbon negative’ status.

Source : l’Atelier


A GreenTech start-up is recycling pollution by turning it into ink

What if pollution became a raw material? The start-up Graviky, singled out at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit, is offering a rather original eco solution.

While some start-ups are working to protect people from pollution, others are seeking to exploit its potential. This is why Graviky Labs, a spinoff of the MIT Media Lab selected as one of the six best start-ups in the environment category at the Hello Tomorrow Summit 2017, has developed Air-Ink, the first ink produced using pollution.

Thanks to Kaalink, a technological process installed in the exhaust pipe extension of a motor vehicle, fine particles are captured from the soot emitted. This collected material passes through several processes in order to extract the heavy and carcinogenic metals. This is how the final product, a carbon-based purified pigment, is obtained.

Next, this pigment passes through other chemical processes in order to produce different types of inks and paints. But why not simply eradicate the pollution rather that create ink from it? In order to eliminate its propensity to float in the air, explains Graviky. The patent is currently pending for this technology, which is designed for artistic use. The process has already captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particles, which is the equivalent of cleaning 1.6 billion litres of outside air. In the words of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, designer, inventor and futurist, "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value."

Source: L’Atelier


The greenest companies are seducing millennials

Millennials are concerned about global warming but are counting on companies to take the necessary measures, according to a recent study. Does this mean that the future of retail will involve GreenTech?

There are many stakeholders who are committed to the planet; 145 States have ratified the Paris Climate Agreement. On a smaller scale, cities sometimes set more ambitious aims for themselves. Twelve cities around the world have just announced their aim to be carbon neutral by 2030 in order to tackle global warming.

What about companies? The younger generations are counting on companies to act in turn. According to a recent study published by the PR group Shelton, 76% of millennials are worried about the consequences of climate imbalance on their quality of life, and 82% worry for their children's quality of life. Rather than acting themselves (only 34% recycle, compared with 52% of Americans of all ages), 59% of generation Y are turning to companies to resolve this issue that is bigger than them. 70% of millennials say that a firm's good environmental practices influence their purchasing decisions.

And in response to the question "what kinds of environmental or social practices are you most aware of?", environmental issues come in second place behind wellbeing at work. These concerns are in line with a previous study carried out by Nielsen, according to which 55% of consumers would be happy to pay more for brands that are committed to having a positive impact on the environment. In the same vein, a UCLA report has also established that employees of a green company are more productive than those employed by a company that isn't environmentally friendly. This leads us to believe that firms have everything to gain by going green. We would venture that GreenTech could facilitate this transition.

Source: L’Atelier


Ils ont pris l'Innovation Plane jusqu'à Berlin

Forts du succès de l’Innovation Train parisien en juin dernier, Co.Station, BECI et Brussels Creative ont organisé – avec le soutien de BNP Paribas Fortis - un vol de 100 places pour Berlin le 23 novembre dernier. Dans l'avion, pas moins de 54 clients, collaborateurs et experts invités par la banque se préparaient à plonger au cœur de l'économie circulaire berlinoise durant deux jours.

L'économie circulaire, 'Scaling-up' et 'Intelligence artificielle et support pour réinventer la ville' étaient les trois trajets prévus lors de ce séjour à Berlin. Au programme: visites d'entreprises, workshops et networking. La banque a résolument opté pour le premier trajet; c'est celui qu'elle a proposé à tous ses invités.

"L'économie circulaire est en effet l'un grands thèmes* de développement stratégique de Corporate Banking", explique Aymeric Olibet, responsable du groupe de travail mis sur pied sur le sujet depuis juillet dernier.

"Nous sommes convaincus que, compte tenu des immenses enjeux environnementaux, en particulier le réchauffement climatique et la raréfaction des ressources, la plupart des entreprises devront tôt ou tard changer de business model. Nous voulons les sensibiliser à cette nécessité, et ce voyage à Berlin est l'une de nos premières initiatives à cet égard. Les entreprises, mais aussi leurs chargés de relation, doivent savoir que la banque veut et peut les accompagner dans cette transition."

La surprise des clients

 Frédéric Tourné, Head of Environmental Management chez Befimmo, était du voyage. "J'ai été tout autant surpris qu'enchanté par cette invitation. A priori, ce n'est pas là qu'on attend son banquier. J'ai pu découvrir des projets inspirants, comme 'Block-6', qui récupère et traite les eaux usées d'un ensemble de logements pour les réinjecter dans ces habitations mais aussi dans la culture de légumes (hydroponie) et l'élevage de poissons (aquaponie). La rencontre avec un des fondateurs d'Ecosia, le moteur de recherche qui plante des arbres, a également été très intéressante."

"Mais ce qui m'a surtout frappé, c'est l'attention et la disponibilité que nous ont témoignées les gens de la banque; ils voulaient vraiment comprendre nos attentes et nos besoins, savoir où nous en sommes dans notre réflexion pour un monde plus durable. Réaliser que sa banque partage cette préoccupation donne envie de développer de nouveaux projets. La durabilité est certes une valeur importante chez Befimmo, mais nous pouvons encore aller plus loin, j'en suis plus que jamais convaincu. C'est aussi très précieux de rencontrer d'autres entreprises, de sortir du quotidien où nous avons tous le nez dans le guidon. Bref, je suis revenu avec plein de cartes de visites et une très très grande envie de faire bouger les choses dans mon entreprise. "

S'inspirer de la nature

L'économie circulaire s’inspire des principes du vivant, lesquels reposent sur les cycles (et le recyclage), l'interdépendance, la coopération, l'optimisation (plutôt que la maximisation).

Aymeric Olibet: "Cette économie vise à limiter les externalités négatives, comme la consommation de matières premières et d’énergie, au profit d’externalités positives, telles que la régénérescence de la biosphère ou la création d’emplois locaux. Notre ambition est de soutenir les projets visant à passer de processus de production industriels linéaires à des processus circulaires. Soutenir, c'est non seulement offrir des solutions financières adaptées, mais aussi et surtout aider le client à se remettre en question et à franchir le pas. Ce voyage à Berlin n'est, je l'espère, que le premier événement d'une longue série."

Plus d'infos sur ce voyage ici.

*Les autres thèmes de développement stratégique de Corporate Banking sont: la décarbornisation, la capital humain et les smart cities.

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