Vietnam, Mekong river delta. Boat on traditional floating market
September 22, 2017
Food is not a commodity. Food is not a business. Food is not a consumer good. Food is a human right.
We know the global industrial food system did miracles to broaden food access and reduce hunger, but not without consequences. Our food system is currently causing considerable harm to the environment. It generates up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. Agriculture alone accounts for 70% of global water use and 75% of deforestation.
It is also impacting our health. More than one in three adults were overweight in 2014, and 13% were obese. Meanwhile, one in nine people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment. Hunger and obesity know no geographical boundaries; North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have almost the same percentage of overweight or obese people as Europe. And in the United States, an estimated 13 million households are "food-insecure.”
Today’s system has disconnected people from their food. A recent survey found that over one-third of young adults in the United Kingdom did not know that bacon came from pigs or butter from cows. In California, more than one-half of school children interviewed did not know that onions and lettuce were plants. By treating food as a commodity, we have made it lose its meaning as health’s most essential partner. Food nourishes body and soul. It allows us to form social bonds and express our cultures and traditions. Food is a right. And people are reclaiming it.
From community gardens to food sharing startups, people around the world are turning away from the current system and reinventing new ones - some going back to basics, others disrupting the world as we know it. They want to know the story behind their food—where it comes from, how it is produced, and what impact it has on their health—and they are making their decisions accordingly.
Danone is determined to be part of this movement, which we refer to as the Alimentation Revolution. We want to make it a reality for as many people as possible, all across the world. Why? Because we believe in a food and water ecosystem that works in harmony with people, communities and the environment. Where our relationship with the 900 million people who chose our brands can be a force for good. Of course, we know we are not perfect, and far from it. But our intention is unequivocal and we strive to address these challenges.
How? First of all, by embedding shared value into our core business model. This year, Danone announced its intention to become a B-Corp. The B-Corp movement is based on a simple but powerful premise: by certifying companies that meet rigorous social and environmental standards, this can create a race to the top that redefines the very purpose of private enterprise, while offering consumers and stakeholders at large more transparency about companies’ business practices and products.
As part of this journey, we registered DanoneWave, our newly created U.S. subsidiary as a Public Benefit Corporation, so that financial interests of shareholders are balanced with broader social and environmental considerations. With $6bn sales, I am proud to say that DanoneWave is the largest Public Benefit Corporation in the world. The second way we are transforming our company is by reinforcing its purpose. In 1972, Danone founder Antoine Riboud made a landmark speech in which he declared that “corporate responsibility doesn’t end at the factory gate or the company door.” He is the same man who said “There is only one Earth. We only live once”. His words led Danone to make a dual commitment to business success and social progress. He kick-started a vision that lives on today: our mission, as set by Franck Riboud in 1996, is to bring health through food to as many people as possible. And we work to make these words a reality every day. We believe our ultimate goal should be the empowerment of consumers, all citizens actually, to reclaim their food sovereignty, starting with our own people as they are the best positioned to drive this revolution and be a real change force.
To make this vision a reality, we started by having Danone people write a Manifesto for the Alimentation Revolution in more than 20 languages, which inspired our company signature: “One Planet, One Health”, a rallying call for our employees, consumers and partners along the food chain, to protect and nourish both. We will intensify our efforts to protect the environment and promote the health and well-being of people, as part of a larger movement, working hand-in-hand with all kinds of stakeholders. In line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which are at the foundation of our strategic framework, we will be scaling up our efforts to co-drive meaningful solutions by 2030.
Food starts with our planet. So, our own commitment starts with fundamentally transforming business practices so that we can play our part in the fight against climate change. We’ve already achieved carbon neutrality with our Provamel brand, with a next milestone target for Evian water by 2020. Our ambition is to become a zero-net carbon company by 2050 on what we call our full scope—the emissions we have direct control over, as well as the emissions from our entire food chain, including agriculture. Between 2008 and 2016, we succeeded in cutting the intensity of our direct carbon emissions in half. Now, we are working with suppliers, distributors and other partners to go further in our reduction efforts. And through the Livelihoods Funds, we take collective action with nine other companies to develop carbon positive projects with local partners across the world.
We are also working to promote sustainable agriculture within our supply chain. In the US, our pledge to use more natural and non-GMO ingredients, and to promote sustainable agricultural practices, has direct positive impacts, including greater independence for farmers, crop biodiversity protection and animal welfare. Danone is also supporting organic farming through brands like Horizon Organic and supports farmers in Europe for research projects on biodiversity techniques.
Healthy food depends on quality water and so do people. That's why we are committed to doing all we can to protect this precious resource. We build better, more responsible practices within our own water value chain. But we also go beyond our own operations, co-creating new approaches to tackle this global challenge with local communities and governments, for example to protect watersheds in high risk areas. Our goal is to reduce water consumption in our production facilities by 60% by 2020, compared to 2000.
Finally, we are determined to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, starting with packaging. We are working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop circular economy roadmaps on plastics in ten priority countries. We have also joined forces with Nestlé and the US-based startup Origin Materials to develop the world’s first PET bottle made 100% from bio-based materials. With recycling and bioplastics, our perspective is that we should become a plastic-neutral company.
Food is a human right and our health's daily partner. Which is why our focus is on fostering healthy lives, starting with our products. Through a combination of investment, divestment, and innovation, we expanded the share of “healthy categories” in our portfolio from below 40% in 1996 to nearly 90% in 2016. Danone’s recent acquisition of WhiteWave, which specializes in plant-based products and organic produce, will further this commitment.
But we also recognize we have a broader role to play in educating people about health and nutrition. We created a tool, NutriPlanet, which gives us insight into health challenges in over fifty countries and helps us determine where we can make a difference. In the United Kingdom, for instance, we launched the “Eat Like a Champ” educational program in primary schools to help combat children poor nutrition and obesity.
One Planet. One Health.
Inequalities are at an all-time high and our mission would miss its point without us, as a business, caring for a better social inclusiveness in the way we operate. It starts with the way we treat our employees. Danone developed over the past 20 years a tight strategic relationship with the International Union of Food Workers and signed a new chapter last year that will help strengthen job security and working conditions for all our employees and subsidiaries around the world. In the same vein, we also launched Dan’Cares to ensure our employees have access to quality healthcare wherever they live, and adopted a worldwide gender-neutral parental leave policy that was applauded by United Nations Women’s HeForShe campaign.
We are working to promote social inclusiveness through our three social innovation platforms. Our Danone Communities fund supports social businesses that combat malnutrition and expand access to safe water. The Danone Ecosystem Fund empowers small economic actors along Danone’s value chain, from farmers to micro-entrepreneurs to waste pickers, by developing innovative business models with business, social and environmental value in more than fifty countries now. And the Livelihoods Funds raises living standards for rural communities while promoting sustainable sourcing and generating carbon credits.
Despite these efforts, we know that we are a long way from fulfilling our commitment to “One Planet, One Health.” And we also know that we can’t do it alone. This is why we have embraced the principle of co-creation for many years, joining diverse stakeholders to work together and find hybrid solutions to concrete problems.
Co-creation isn’t easy. But it is the only way forward. We launched our first global partnership with a development bank last June: an alliance with the Inter-American Bank of Development to scale our sustainability and social innovation programs in Latin America in areas such as sustainable agriculture, watershed protection or inclusive recycling. We will look to create and expand similar alliances going forward.
But the most important alliance we can make is with consumers. They expect transparency; they reclaim their food sovereignty. In many countries consumers are shifting away from conventional food and retail and are exploring alternative ways. We have to reconnect with people. And reconnect people with their food. Reminding all of us that each time we eat and drink, we can vote for the world we want. We need to work with our consumers, listen and learn from them as they are driving the Alimentation Revolution, determining its future and ours. Including those who’s right to food is deprived today. "One planet. One health."
By joining forces—all together with consumers, the food industry and civil society, we can be collectively remembered as the generation that harnessed its accumulated experience, access to disruptive technology and collective intelligence to create true, lasting food sovereignty for our world. We can be the Food Generation.
About the author:Emmanuel Faber is CEO and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Danone, one of the leading food companies in the world. Strongly committed to promoting innovative business models that fight poverty and malnutrition, he supervised in 2005 the creation of Danone Communities, in collaboration with Muhammad Yunus. Upon the request of the French Government, in 2013 he co-wrote with Jay Naidoo a report titled “Innovating by mobilizing stakeholders: 10 proposals for a new approach to development assistance".
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”—George Washington