Reforestation and biodiversity in practice

Some causes are more important than the pursuit of EBITDA. Without trees there can be no biodiversity, and flora, fauna, soil, water and air are all affected. That is why WeForest is mobilising companies to plant forests.

Reforestation is neither a luxury nor a question for hippies. It is indispensable for the climate and biodiversity, the quality of our soil and water, as well as for food; it is thus vital for the future of all species.

The solutions, which remain under-recognised, are simply waiting to emerge. They are not technical, do not adhere to the logic of extraction and do not call on limited natural resources. They are tremendously effective, draw their inspiration from natural ecosystems and entail integrating trees into fields. See also the article The full potential of reforestation.

We have pinpointed two relevant non-governmental initiatives: Ecosia, a search engine launched by a start-up in Berlin, has attracted 7 billion users and plants one tree for every 45 searches made – the equivalent of some 27 million trees planted to this day; secondly, the non-profit organisation WeForest is utilising its expertise in this area, its basis in science and its business network to engage in sustainable reforestation. We went to meet Marie-Noëlle Keijzer, the founder of WeForest, to hear her story.

From carbon offsetting to corporate 'water footprints'

In the early days, WeForest was not convinced by carbon offsetting, which it regarded as too reductive. Yet it was a means to connect with its target audience: companies anxious to measure, reduce and then offset the carbon emissions that they are not able to avoid. Today, the objective of 'net positive emissions' has been set, which also aims to offset past emissions.

It is obvious that environmental concerns now extend beyond carbon alone. Many are beginning to examine their water footprint. A new vision is taking hold, which entails development aid via the promotion of reforestation. "Moving countries out of poverty and doing more than simply planting trees and leaving: this is how companies now wish to act in a socially responsible way", explains Marie-Noëlle Keijzer, CEO of WeForest.

Intervening on vegetation, carbon, water, air and employment

With the 270 corporate clients that have joined it since 2011, WeForest planted almost 17 million new trees and restored 13,000 hectares of land by the end of 2017, and aims to double these figures by 2020. It offers high-impact marketing materials to customer companies with messages such as 'one sale = one tree planted'. 

In 2014, Brabantia decided to 'do something different'. It wanted to sell products, of course, but also give thought to global issues. Working alongside WeForest, the company entered into a joint financing project supporting reforestation. "Since Brabantia began to state on its website, on YouTube and on its packaging that one tree would be planted for every rotary dryer sold, it has seen a 25% increase in sales every year", explains the head of WeForest, citing well-substantiated case studies with certified benchmarks: "We go beyond the theoretical", she continues. "There is total transparency, with every customer receiving a GPS map of the hectares they have funded. We then ensure the forest is protected, approve our customers' projects and help develop the socio-economic activity of the entire region by initiating alternative revenue sources which create employment."

A tree is more valuable in the ground than on it

WeForest is not engaged in helping Zambia in order to maintain its reliance on international aid, but to educate the hundreds of farmers who chopped down all of their trees in order to sell them for firewood. By bringing them together, the association demonstrates that they do not have to clear trees to sell forestry chips, and that by selectively collecting biomass, they can provide heat without cutting a tree down. WeForest trains women to work as nursery growers, giving them a job, an income and an identity. It also supplies beehives to farmers who have begun to produce honey as a new source of income. Bees have other positive effects too, since they pollinate flowers, plants and fruit crops, for example. "It's really simple", affirms Marie-Noëlle Keijzer. "If we kill bees and birds by using pesticides and insecticides, we are preventing nature from doing its work."

Trees provide a habitat for animals and natural fertiliser for plants

In regions of Brazil where tree coverage is 3%, leopards have completely died out. Agriculture has supplanted forests wherever the ground is level. WeForest cannot operate across the entirety of the country, which is much too large. But they have created green corridors, and life has begun again. Trees and plants have been restored, attracting birds and animals that use them to move around, eat and reproduce.

Trees are also a natural source of fertiliser: corn grows more quickly when it is close to trees. They provide shade and retain water in the soil.

There are trees and trees

Not all reforestation projects are equal. Some trees boost the food supply or increase soil nitrogen levels (such as the lucerne), whereas others are detrimental to diversity. For example, no animals will live in palm tree plantations where the soil is also full of chemicals. "We won't solve the problem if we do nothing to change the causes of deforestation: intensive agriculture for the purposes of producing meat, for example", says Marie-Noëlle Keijzer, firmly convinced. Solutions exist, but everyone needs to accept their share of responsibility.

Sources: BNP Paribas Fortis, WeForest


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.


Green IT Barometer: best practices from 2017

The 2017 barometer with tips for an ecologically responsible IT policy is back. This deals you a whole fistful of winning cards for greener IT in your company. We summarise the highlights for you.

The barometer is published by Alliance Green IT (AGIT), a French organisation that actively brings together IT actors in the area of Green IT. AGIT wants to reduce the ecological footprint of information and communication technology, develop "green" IT competencies in organisations and provide training and assistance in the battle against greenwashing (companies who pretend to be more environmentally conscious than they actually are).

For the 2017 edition, the scope of the survey was expanded. For instance, it now also covers the ecodesign of software packages, processing of electronic waste, and energy savings in data and print centres.

Plenty of work still to be done

On reading the study, the main thing we learn is that there is still plenty of work to be done. The figures speak for themselves. A total of 550 companies or organisations took part in the survey, representing their sector of activity or turnover. Forty per cent of them make use of waste collection centres that are actually intended for private individuals. In addition, more than half the companies and organisations are unaware whether or not they use equipment with an ecolabel.

Despite the fact that a company's social responsibility is now an important aspect of its economic activity, the criterion of sustainability is not yet truly taken into account, for example, during IT procurement. The profession of buyer therefore needs to undergo a sea change, making them more likely to be responsible for a company project that is unique to the company.

IT: a new paradigm

One of the best practices that is mentioned in the study is the re-use of computers. Instead of just recycling the basic materials, they are given an upgrade so that they can continue to be used. In this way, hundreds of jobs are created, that also can very well stay in the home country and don't have to be exported. Other direct consequences are lower emissions of greenhouse gases (810,000 tonnes) and less water consumption (6 billion litres), the equivalent of the annual ecological footprint of 100,000 people. This is just in France (the main area studied by the organisation).

Talking about the end of the useful life of IT equipment... Around eight out of ten companies do not know what happens to electronic waste, also known as e-waste. This is despite the fact that putting it to good use has been mandatory since the implementation of a European directive in 2005, and it has grown since then into an extremely lucrative business. E-waste is now regarded as a source of secondary raw materials.



The benefits of reusing waste water should be crystal clear

Yet while easy to say, the practice is still not a matter of course. Because our blue planet is not as blue as it seems, and recycling waste water is an ethical way of treating a resource that is scarcer than we realise. We went to Block 6 in Berlin's Kreuzberg district to find out more.

The challenge

Did you know that fresh water accounts for less than 4% of the planet's water resources, and that most of this is unusable, buried deep below ground or packed away as ice? Contrary to appearances, fresh water is not a boundless resource that simply needs to be directed through our taps. Whether intended for domestic or industrial purposes, water must be collected, treated, distributed and decontaminated after use. It generates a considerable financial cost, and its price will continue to rise into the future.

Armed with these facts, a pilot project is under way in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin at the heart of a complex of buildings called "Block 6", as well as on some neighbouring sites. It is here that 30 years ago, a waste water treatment plant was created and has continued to be perfected over the years. The system functions effectively and supplies water that is clean and less expensive than mains water. It is making people think, which is precisely the objective.

A model to emulate

Block 6 contains around 180 flats housed in a quadrangle of properties positioned around a green space that combines areas for recreation and water treatment. Strong environmental concerns were part of the original concept for the block, which was built in 1987. One of these is the treatment of waste water known as "grey water" (water from baths, showers, sinks and washing machines, which is not heavily contaminated). This is why the block was constructed to include a dual network of pipes, enabling water to be collected according to its source and then reused in different ways. 


They say practice makes perfect, and this also applies to water systems: over time, the facility has been significantly improved. The technology is now mature, and the results obtained are more than convincing. In short, “grey water” is directed into a series of tanks where it undergoes a gradual biological treatment process involving the addition of selected bacteria. At the end of its journey, the water is restored to a quality close to that of mains water, and can be reused without the slightest risk. Since current legislation does not allow treated water to be regarded as drinking water, it is only used to supply toilets and gardens. However, this is a legal restriction that has no relation to the water's inherent quality, and the law could be amended to allow reasonable use of this new resource.

Waste water or a raw material?

Over time, the experiment was widened to include so-called "black water" – the dirtiest water flowing from kitchens and toilets. This water, which is full of nutrients and different chemical compounds, is collected via a separate network of pipes and must be treated in a specific manner. Treating “black water” locally is advantageous for two reasons: Firstly, it allows pollutants to be captured "at source" and much more effectively than when they are diluted in the large quantities of water that make their way to more remote treatment plants. With this system, harmful compounds are prevented from being released into the oceans, where they can no longer be removed. Secondly, nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium present in waste water can be salvaged and reconverted into fertilisers which are no different to those sold on a commercial basis. Considering that more than one litre of oil is used for the industrial production of one kilogram of fertiliser, it is not difficult to see how beneficial it would be to envisage waste water as a new raw material. However, this is experimental research yet to evolve into a commercially available product. But it certainly works!

Source of energy

Reusing water collected nearby offers further benefits still, not least the robustness of the process: this is tightly controlled, and the risk of service interruptions is very low. Should problems arise, a temporary service interruption can be resolved by simply switching to the public mains supply. And since the price of reused water is lower than that of mains water, this becomes a supplement to locally-produced water and the cost to the final user can be reduced.

Another significant aspect of supplying water is the energy required. The urban water cycle uses a huge amount of electricity. For example, supplying water to Berlin and it 3.5 million inhabitants uses the same amount of electricity as the entire consumption of a town with 280,000 people. Recycling water in the same place allows energy to be saved. It is entirely possible to convert the residual heat from grey water (for the most part produced in bathrooms) to electricity, which is then in turn used to pre-heat the water directed to these same bathrooms. Proximity is the key to success since the greater the distance, the more heat is lost. And by maximising the energy recovered on site, the additional energy used to supply water can be minimised: a gain on two counts.

A technique of the future

This model works – the results are there to prove it. Since 2013, the site has also served to demonstrate the efficiency of local recycling techniques. Studies are under way here with a view to improving methods further still, and to take them in new directions. We have already touched on the production of liquid nutrients for agriculture, but we can add to this plant cultivation (hydroponics), fish farming (aquaponics) and the production of liquid fertiliser extracted from so-called "black water". Not to forget the original objective of the plant, which is to convert waste water into clean water that can be reintroduced into consumption channels. Drinking recycled water is certainly not yet on current menus, but the idea will gain ground because a time will quickly come when there will simply be no other alternative. Is this not already the case on space stations? 

To find out more, go to:



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.

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