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.
Sunglasses that can help save the oceans
Yuma Labs makes sunglasses from recycled PET bottles. The Belgian firm has grown from a one-man startup into a company that manufactures items for other brands as well. But can the firm combine growth with sustainability? At BNP Paribas Fortis we certainly think so.
Yuma Labs (originally named YR Yuma) is the brainchild of Sebastiaan de Neubourg, explains his business partner Lenja Doms. She tells us: "Sebastiaan was working as a consultant, but he was itching to set up his own business. His idea was to use a 3D printer to make sunglasses from recycled plastic. He then found out at first hand why no-one had tried this before. Because it proved to be quite a bit harder than expected,” laughs Lenja.
By 2017 Sebastiaan had a workable prototype and he started a crowdfunding campaign for his sustainable sunglasses. It was an immediate hit. However, the project wasn’t first and foremost about achieving successful sales, reveals Lenja. “Sebastiaan saw the sunglasses primarily as a tool for making people aware of the basic principles of the circular economy. There’s no such thing as waste. A used Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle provides the raw material for a new product, such as a pair of sunglasses.” And to complete the circle, the customer is encouraged to trade the sunglasses back in at the end of their life, in exchange for a new pair at an attractive discount.
Sustainable manufacturing, as Yuma Labs does it, inevitably means that the final product is more expensive. “Fully twice as expensive,” Lenja points out, explaining: “We certainly don’t want to see the circular economy pigeon-holed as the province of the elite. We already take account of the entire life-cycle of a product, and we take responsibility for the recycling and re-use of the materials. And let’s be quite clear about this: that’s more costly than just putting a product on the market without worrying about what happens to it later.”
Aiming for growth
In summer 2019, Lenja Doms and Ronald Duchateau came on board the Yuma team. This provided an opportunity to broaden the focus and look further than the consumer market. This month, Yuma Labs announced a collaborative project with a major fashion company. This upscaling will enable Yuma Labs to reach out to a much larger audience.
A good mix
In order to grow, a business needs financial resources. Yuma Labs has looked into quite a number of possible solutions, says Lenja. “These days there are a lot of initiatives designed to support sustainable businesses – from banks, the government and private investors. We’ve always tried to find the right balance between our own capital and external finance, and to achieve a good mix of different forms of finance between capital, grants and loans.”
Lenja has a golden tip for other businesspeople in the circular economy: "All too often I observe that the economic side of the story is neglected because companies keep on trying to find the perfect solution or the perfect product. There’s no sense in that. You shouldn’t try to be whiter than white.”
Creating added value
At BNP Paribas Fortis, Maxime Prové is the Account Manager for Yuma Labs. He endorses Lenja Doms’ view on this. “Entrepreneurs who set out to do sustainable or social business must also have a desire to create added value, otherwise the business won’t last,” Maxime points out, underlining: “You can’t pursue a sustainable, environmental or social business model unless it’s underpinned by a profit-making scenario. That’s the only way you’ll be able to grow, hire more people and make a greater impact.”
Photo: Karel Hemerijckx
In the future, will we use CO² to build?
It sounds somewhat futuristic, but today building with CO² is possible. Thanks to accelerates carbonation, CO² is used to produce building material. A sustainable footpath in Ghent illustrates how promising this new technology is.
In mid-December, CO2 Value Europe, a think- and do- tank representing the carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) community in Europe, held a webinar about the use of CO2 to create building material. Concrete examples of this sustainable technology were given to illustrate the potential they can offers, especially in the hard-to-abate construction sector. BNP Paribas Fortis and CO2 Value Europe are partners in issues related to financing innovative and sustainable technologies. As an institution, we work hard to promote corporate sustainability.
The second-most polluting industrial sector
As well as being one of the largest in the world, the cement industry's high levels of flue gas emissions also make it one of the most polluting. Cement is a crucial component in concrete, which is vital for the building sector. A sustainable alternative to cement could make a huge difference. One option here is carbonation, also known as CO2 mineralization. While this CCU technology is not yet well known, it has the potential to play a crucial role in mitigating climate change.
Giving nature a helping hand
Carbonation is a natural process, where minerals react with CO2 to create e.g. limestone and dolomite. In nature, this process takes thousands of years, but today, thanks to innovative methods, this time can be cut down to some minutes. This process requires relatively small amounts of energy and can be used to create several different products, including bricks where CO2 is sequestered permanently.
CO2 all the way
The development of CCU technology has accelerated sharply in recent years. We now have cement alternatives that meet the building sector’s technical requirements. There are various ways to store CO2 into construction materials. For example, CO2 can be injected as an alternative to water for hardening cement. What’s more, CO2 can be used to convert mineral waste from steel and mining industries into new products such as aggregates, which can be used as a basis for paving or building blocks.
Good for the planet
Mineralization of CO2 has a significant impact on the environment, because it has an effect at different levels. The annual global reduction in CO2 emissions is estimated to be 250 - 500 million tonnes by 2030 (source CO2 Value Europe).
- CO2 can be captured from flue gas emitted by industrial processes used to create steel, cement, and chemicals, with no need for concentration or treatment.
- CO2 can be captured directly from the atmosphere to create negative carbon emissions, i.e. carbon removal.
- In both cases, the CO2 will be stored permanently in building materials.
- Mineral waste and even construction waste are used together with CO2 to make new building materials, so it reduces landfills and the associated costs.
- Recycling carbon and construction wastes means fewer new natural resources are exploited.
What’s the catch?
New developments are never without their challenges, and this is no exception. Offering a competitive, quality alternative to concrete in a circular economy requires investment and adaptation.
- Factories will have to adapt their plants. Locating them close to significant sources of CO2, like a steel factory, is recommended so the CO2 and the waste fractions do not have to be transported.
- Manufacturing new products takes energy and creates CO2 emissions, even if the products are made using carbon dioxide and waste. It is why renewable energy should be used as much as possible to increase the sustainability of the processes.
- The commercialization of accelerated carbonation technologies is quite recent, and some processes are not optimally equipped for this yet.
- The lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks is also a drawdown to allow for a fast deployment of CCU technologies. This is an area CO2 Value Europe is especially working on.
Despite these challenges, Andre Bardow (Professor of Energy & Process Systems Engineering, ETH Zurich) told us during the webinar that he is convinced CO2 mineralization reduces the CO2 footprint from a life cycle perspective, even more than carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Zero domestic waste
There are already companies producing low-CO2 construction materials around the world. One of them is in Limburg. Orbix, in Genk, has successfully extracted minerals from steel production waste (known as slag) which are used as a basis for eco-friendly concrete stone. Not only is liquid CO2 used to produce concrete stone rather than polluting cement, but residual waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfill is also recycled.
There is a great example of this in Ghent, where Orbix worked with the Flemish research institute VITO to create the Stapsteen project for the city. Visitors can walk on Belgium’s first-ever circular economy footpath in the Leewstraat: 100m2 made entirely from sustainable bricks, saving a full 2 tonnes of CO2.
Do you have sustainability plans for 2021? Our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre can provide advice about innovations like CO2 mineralisation and support your sustainable transition.
First green hedge in Belgium becomes a reality
BNP Paribas Fortis has become the first bank in Belgium to launch a green hedge. With this product, the bank gives clients the opportunity to integrate their sustainable objectives deep into their business operations.
Sustainability is now embedded in almost every company's mission. Companies undertake numerous ecological initiatives and finance sustainable investments with green loans. BNP Paribas Fortis is going one step further and is also offering its clients the opportunity to cover the financing risk with a sustainable hedge.
A Belgian first
The first green interest rate hedge in Belgium has become a reality. "We are delighted and proud to be able to achieve this first with Katoen Natie as true partners", explains Filip Moens, Head of Corporate Solutions in the trading room at BNP Paribas Fortis. "Katoen Natie already had a green loan with us and wanted to hedge the interest rate risk by switching from a variable to a fixed interest rate using an interest rate swap. Instead of opting for an ordinary interest rate hedge, we have attached additional green terms and conditions that mean Katoen Natie is strengthening its sustainable commitment."
Katoen Natie carried out an interest rate swap, but a green hedge can also be applied to exchange rate or inflation risks. Moreover, having an existing green loan is not a requirement.
Sustainable safety net
The green hedge stimulates sustainability, but goes even further and provides a green safety net, with the client paying a sustainability premium if the proposed terms and conditions are not met. BNP Paribas Fortis does not receive this premium itself, but instead invests it in an environmental project chosen in advance. "At Katoen Natie, for example, we chose a project that plants trees. The effect of this product is therefore twofold. On the one hand, it is an incentive for the client to actually fulfil their ecological commitment. However, if they fail to do so for any reason, the additional premium they pay will be spent on a green project. So it's a win-win situation for the environment", says Filip Moens.
Tailored to your business
"The strength of this product lies in its broad application", emphasises Filip Moens.
"Companies who do not have a green loan but want to integrate more sustainability into their corporate culture, can really make this ambition a reality thanks to the green hedge. The green terms and conditions linked to it are determined by mutual consultation. A lot is possible as long as these are sufficiently ambitious, achievable and measurable. These include switching to 80% renewable energy, making the fleet 100% electric in five years' time, and collecting litter as an annual team-building exercise. Companies can define conditions that are perfectly in line with their corporate culture. The same applies to the back-up project that we finance if the conditions are not met. Here, too, they can opt for a local project close to their heart."
No empty promises
A green hedge reinforces existing green projects and firmly underlines an active green commitment. This therefore concerns more than image. "This product integrates sustainability deeply into business operations and requires a serious and firm commitment from clients", says Filip Moens. "They have to be really motivated to do something about the environment. There is quite a lot of administration involved, such as an annual evaluation report and external audits. However, clients really do make a difference with this green choice."
As a true partner, BNP Paribas Fortis wants to make a positive contribution to companies' projects and growth. The green hedge is in line with companies' current sustainable mindset and fits perfectly with the bank's strategy: to build a positive, sustainable and clean future together with clients.
ESG becomes law: what you need to know
Experts from 16 cities around the world shared their insights at the Sustainable Future Forum. In Brussels, we heard from Virginie Frémat, Senior Partner at law firm CMS, who specialises in ESG and corporate responsibility.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors have moved from being a niche concern to a strategic board-level priority across all sectors and jurisdictions in a short space of time.
ESG implementation and reporting are no longer things companies do to be socially responsible: they have a legal obligation to embrace them.
From financial institutions to energy companies to tech start-ups, from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to publicly listed companies, all businesses need to focus urgently on ESG.
While the impact of ESG regulation is indisputable, the business and investment environment is opening up new opportunities and will continue to do so in future. Existing and future ESG regulation is about making people and the planet an integral part of a company's long-term strategy. This development creates opportunities for companies to do better for people and the planet, while creating greater value for investors.
A changing playing field
Not only are governments becoming more demanding on ESG issues, shareholders and civil society movements are also making their voices heard. Consider the Urgenda Foundation, which took the Dutch state to court: it demanded that the government do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and was successful. Whether the Belgian climate case can force the government to take action on climate change is currently being decided in the Court of Appeal.
The push for companies to adopt more concrete, measurable and enforceable ESG initiatives is coming from three directions:
- Stakeholder activism
- European directives
- National legislation
Sustainable finance action plan
In March 2018, the European Commission launched its Action Plan on Sustainable Finance, which aims to:
- Direct capital flows towards sustainable investments for inclusive growth
- Manage financial risks related to climate change and social issues
- Promote transparency and long-term thinking in finance
Key features include a single EU classification system (taxonomy), investor responsibilities, low-carbon benchmarks and improved sustainability guidance, all aimed at promoting a more sustainable financial future.
Non-financial reporting directive
To support the transition to a more sustainable economy, the European Parliament adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) in late 2022. This is an extension of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD), both in terms of the number of companies that have to comply with the standards and the number of topics they need to report on.
The NFRD came into force on 5 January 2023 and will eventually apply to around 50,000 companies. In the same way that companies are now required to carry out financial reporting, they will also have to report on sustainability. The largest companies will be the first to report, with smaller companies following later. On 3 September 2017, the Belgian legal system incorporated these requirements, which are now part of the Belgian Code on Companies and Associations.
The EU Taxonomy Regulation introduces a classification system for environmentally sustainable economic activities. Article 8 of this regulation imposes disclosure requirements on companies subject to the NFRD. These include the obligation to disclose the extent of a company’s engagement in environmentally sustainable activities and certain key performance indicators.
Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive
Companies subject to the CSRD must include non-financial information in their annual management reports, covering environmental, social, human rights, anti-corruption, bribery and diversity issues. The CSRD also requires a brief description of the company's business model, policies, performance, key risks and non-financial performance indicators.
Sustainability reporting will follow mandatory EU standards: the first set of standards was published on 30 June 2023 and a second set with additional and sector-specific information will be published by 30 June 2024. Reporting must take into account the principle of double materiality, covering both how a company’s business is impacted by sustainability issues and how its business impacts society and the environment.
The CSRD emphasises the value chain, strategy, stakeholder interests, implementation of sustainability policies and progress towards sustainability goals.
It requires disclosure of due diligence processes, adverse impacts throughout the value chain, actions taken to mitigate such impacts, material sustainability risks and relevant indicators.
The CSRD has introduced comprehensive sustainability reporting requirements for large public-interest companies, so that they provide detailed and transparent information on their sustainability practices and impacts.
Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive
This directive applies to large EU and non-EU companies. It requires them to carry out due diligence and to act on any findings. There are sanctions for non-compliance. The new civil liability regime allows direct claims by individuals who are harmed by a company's non-compliance.
For companies incorporated under the law of an EU member state, the CSDDD applies to companies with an average of more than 500 employees and a global turnover of more than €150 million in the last financial year. Alternatively, it applies if a company has an average of more than 250 employees and a global turnover of more than €40 million in the last financial year, with at least 50% of that turnover generated in sectors deemed to be high-risk. High-risk sectors include those involved in the manufacture of textiles, leather, agriculture, food, minerals and related trade.
In addition, the CSDDD introduces measures applicable to SMEs involved in the value chains of companies covered by the Directive, recognising the indirect impact on them.
I run an SME: what should I do?
Unlisted SMEs fall outside the scope of the CSDDD, so they are not directly subject to its provisions. However, SMEs with securities listed on an EU regulated market (excluding micro-enterprises) fall within the scope of the CSDDD, although they can opt out until 2012
. In addition, a specific set of EU sustainability reporting standards tailored to SMEs is being developed, which non-listed SMEs can adopt on a voluntary basis.
It is important to note that even if SMEs are not directly covered by the CSDDD, they may still be affected by it through their involvement in the value chains of larger companies. Both EU member states and companies within the scope of the CSDDD have an obligation to support SMEs in these value chains.
I’m a director: what does this mean for me?
The CSDDD has wider implications for directors of companies that fall within its scope. Directors have a fiduciary duty to promote the success of their companies, but they also face risks such as criminal and civil liability and sanctions, particularly if they are directors of listed companies. In addition, the focus on ESG and sustainability issues can lead to reputational damage. The CSDDD increases the regulatory burden on companies, both in terms of time and cost. There may also be a negative impact on share prices and the cost of directors and officers insurance premiums. Articles 25 and 26 of the CSDDD, which relate to the duties of directors of EU companies, remain subject to ongoing discussion and refinement.