Danone takes sustainability to the next level
Perhaps appropriately, Paul Kennedy –Global Sustainability Manager at Danone Specialised Nutrition – names ‘Roll With It’ as his all-time favorite track. The Oasis hit suggests that whatever challenges you are facing and whatever goals you are striving for, you should trust yourself, be yourself and you will get there.
In a way, that perfectly crystallises the climate change situation. It is an examination of our ability to overcome the obstacles in front of us.
Indeed, Danone has become a proud trailblazer for rapid change, influential innovation and cultural shifts within the food production industry. Danone’s powerful frame of action ‘One Planet One Health’ has established very clear aims and commitments around key aspects of its dependence on nature.
Paul explains: “It's all about how we fight the climate crisis, how we protect water resources, how we accelerate the circular economy towards packaging and how we fight food waste. Most importantly for Danone, as a globally recognised food company, is the ability to transition to regenerative agriculture practices. This is our guiding star, when it comes to preserving and protecting the planet’s resources.”
Paul’s role is based within global operations and he works on implementing the company’s ambitious action plans, such as decarbonising local operations through energy efficiency, switching to renewable energy and finding solutions with local partners, while also working on preserving and protecting precious water resources.
Our goal is to engender sustainability into the minutiae of its expansive network. “It is imperative that we connect effectively with our procurement teams, farmers, suppliers and partners because, ultimately, it all impacts on our carbon footprint numbers. Additionally, working with our local markets establishes a really tangible connection with our brands and helps to yield a culture of sustainability,” says Paul.
In the food industry reputation is everything and, while many companies have gradually brought green credentials to the top of their agenda, Danone has had sustainability on its radar since the 1970s, when it recognised that economic progress could not happen without societal progress.
That belief system has been the driving force for many of Danone’s modern initiatives and also forms its overarching approach to the climate change challenge.
Paul believes this notion of honesty and responsibility is vital: “This is not just something we feel we have to do – it's been part of our DNA and has been for years. It goes beyond our factories and offices; it defines how we interact with society and the planet. It provides the solid foundation stone upon which everything at the company is built.”
At Danone these commitments serve as the critical infrastructure, but Paul is also passionate about seeing action on the ground. “When the values of the company are aligned with the individuals that represent it, you already have a huge advantage,” he enthuses. “But we also need to walk the talk on the ground. It’s been really empowering to witness employees getting immersed in initiatives, ensuring that they are part of this journey and have a compelling role in the transformation.”
Carbon reduction focus
As stated in its 2015 Climate Policy, Danone has committed to become a carbon neutral company by 2050, across its full scope of responsibility, including agriculture, through solutions co-created with its partners.
To reduce its carbon footprint, Danone measures its impact including its full scope of emissions throughout the value chain. “We've been measuring the carbon footprint of Danone products since 2008, when we made our initial commitments,” says Paul. “We measure it rigorously and frequently. That helps us engage in parts of our supply chain that are of greatest importance and enable us to prioritise areas which require attention.”
This vast knowledge and expertise – built over years of measuring – is equipping the company to have positive conversations with businesses, partners and farmers about projects which focus on collective reduction goals.
The impressive focus on detail has even allowed Danone to accompany its farmers and calculate the carbon footprint of the milk they're producing, whether it be in the US, France or New Zealand. That level of knowledge is crucial as it allows Danone to apply the maximum resources and effort into the areas where the greatest impact can be achieved.
In order to produce such dynamic data Danone has embraced the digital era and the possibilities it presents. Paul has been a convert and believes that progressive sustainability and digital have become inseparable: “Digital technologies are massively contributing towards accelerating actions that are needed to build a more sustainable future.”
“We see it right across the value chain – whether it's simple, practical or profound – digital technologies support smarter agriculture and better agricultural practices. They also provide a greater knowledge of the ground beneath our feet and how crops are growing,” he adds.
Within Danone’s own sophisticated digital platforms, smarter tools and monitoring of production processes have boosted efficiency throughout its resources – including the decreasing of energy and reducing water usage.
In addition, the digital era is bringing unprecedented transparency and traceability right across the value chain. “This enables us to know the entire path of our raw materials, from the farm, right through to the marketplace. Being able to connect that information is essential because what consumers are really asking for is the truth behind the products. Knowing about the producers is also becoming much more important and digitalisation gives us the tools and the infrastructure to deliver transparency.”
In the last few years Danone has developed a new plant for specialised nutrition in Brazil which has achieved landmark certification in three key environmental areas (carbon neutrality, water reduction and zero-waste to landfill) and has created a new template for its plants around the world. It is also a project that has been particularly close to Paul’s heart as it represents a working operation that, from the beginning, has been motivated by a planet-saving ethos.
Paul reflects: “I'm very proud of this, because back in 2018, together with the local leadership team in Brazil, we planted the seed about the possibility of a beautiful new plant which was not just about reducing our carbon footprint, but having a positive impact in Poços de Caldas.
“We set ourselves an ambition around three pillars – for the production site to achieve carbon neutrality and, as quickly as we could, protect the water resources and become zero-waste to landfill”
A fundamental milestone for Danone’s Specialised Nutrition plant in Brazil has been authenticity. It's not about offsetting, but making sure that the plant itself runs on 100% renewable electricity. With that bold level of commitment in mind, the company has even installed over 1,500 solar panels, covering the entire car park infrastructure, enabling it to self-generate electricity as well as running the plant.
While the trailblazing operation in Brazil has created a blueprint for newly designed sites, Danone is also ensuring that existing operations are constantly changing the game and reimagining what is possible. “We have some great examples already out there,” Paul notes. “Our production site in New Zealand is well on its way, successfully implementing a renewable energy project in the form of a biomass plant which allows the system to run on renewable steam. There is also a similarly inspiring project unfolding in Indonesia.”
Meanwhile, in Europe two of Danone’s plants are already carbon neutral – Wexford, in Ireland, and the Evian water plant in France. These examples provide impetus for the wider Danone network, its partners and, of course, its customers throughout the world.
Its guiding principles also means that the company is committed to cut carbon intensity by 50% by 2030, use 100% renewable electricity across the world by 2030 and produce 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.
Evidently, Danone is a company energised about the future and, above all, completely at home with its place in the present – excited by its role in making the company, the industry and the world a better place.