Last month, Danish bioscience company Chr. Hansen was ranked the most sustainable company in the world by media and research firm Corporate Knights.
The ingredients supplier leverages the natural properties of good bacteria for use across a number of industries, including food, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture, which can help limit food waste, reduce the need for pesticides in farming, and increase yield.
“I think that we have been ranked number one in the world because we are standing on a very strong, innovative platform – which is the good bacteria – and using that to help address global challenges,” according to Chr. Hansen’s head of sustainability Annemarie Meisling.
Beyond encouraging sustainable practices in other industries, the ingredients supplier has integrated a sustainability message across its entire organisation. Meisling spoke to FoodNavigator about the pivotal moments in Chr. Hansen’s journey to becoming the most sustainable company in the world.
According to Meisling, the ingredients group not only measures its practices against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but is ahead of other firms in terms of how it documents this impact.
“A lot of companies are talking about the SDGs, but two years ago one of our investors asked us whether we could document the impact that our revenue had on sustainable development,” explained Meisling.
The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals
The SGDs (available here) are an intergovernmental of 17 goals with 169 targets, which are a core part of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Targets in the food sector’s remit include ending hunger, promoting health and education, climate action, responsible production and consumption, and economic growth.
“The UN SDGs have been an excellent platform to engage in partnerships. If we are to succeed in meeting the goals by 2030, we cannot do it alone. No private company, no public sector or country, or one civil society organisation can do this alone.
“That is a recommendation to industry. Make the effort of really understanding the subgoals and where you can contribute, then go out and look for partners that have the same agenda – for example in food waste or in sustainable agriculture” – Annemarie Meisling, head of sustainability, Chr. Hansen
Chr. Hansen therefore developed a system with accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) to map its products against the SDGs and document the impact that each of its products would have on the sub-goals. “Initially, we weren’t sure how we would [document] it. It was a big task that took one year.”
However, after that year, Chr. Hansen could say with certainty that 82% of its revenue supported certain UN goals.
“If [our investors] had not been so vocal about it, and required a data based approach, I’m not sure we would have been able to document the impact that we have on the SDGs. That was an [important] moment for us, a moment of change,” Meisling continued.
This established, solid methodology – reviewed by PWC – to measure Chr. Hansen’s impact against the UN goals cannot be discounted, we were told.
Behind the scenes: Water, energy and plastic
Beyond encouraging sustainable practices in clients’ industries, Chr. Hansen has set specific targets for its own energy and water use. “It is our ambition to increase energy efficiency by 20% by 2022, compared to our energy and water use in 2013/4 – which is the fiscal year we are calculated against,” said Meisling.
“We are on a sustainability journey and have many more things we want to do – this is not the end destination” – Annemarie Meisling, head of sustainability, Chr. Hansen
To that end, the firm has established a global organisation that works with all sites to increase water recycling and water reduction.
Similarly with energy reduction, the organisation is working to employ renewable energy where possible. “We do a lot internally. It’s important to ensure that you have order in your own house.
“It’s not an easy task, and we’re still not done,” she told this publication. “It’s a continuous journey and we continue to put in effort to improve, so we’re not there yet.”
In addition, to ensure sustainable practices across the entire supply chain, Chr. Hansen must scrutinise its material suppliers. “In order for suppliers to work with Chr. Hansen, they must go through a risk assessment that covers quality, social, environmental, and business integrity,” Meisling continued.
With regards to plastics, the firm is working to reduce its use while investigating alternative materials. “Plastics is a very big issue,” said Meisling.
“We are working on a ‘Ways to Resource Programme’ where we try to reduce the use of plastics in our production and packaging, as well as in our facility canteens – to replace plastic cutlery with recyclable or biodegradable alternatives,” she said.
“We are very excited about this nomination and we really see it as a ‘new beginning’ – an opportunity to go out and talk about the power of good bacteria” – Annemarie Meisling, head of sustainability, Chr. Hansen
The firm is pushing the sustainability message across the entire organisation to encourage employee ‘ownership’ of its agenda.
“Our aim is to create a kind of mobilisation among employees. It’s about having sustainability integrated in everything we do. Sustainability is integrated into our purpose, which is to address global challenges with our core products. It’s also integrated into our corporate strategy and into our culture.”
Encouraging ownership of corporate targets is essential, from reducing the use of plastic cutlery, to limiting plastic packaging and increasing water recycling at facilities worldwide, she said.
“One of the most crucial things [to do] is to set targets, because what you measure gets done. [It also ensures] that changes happen in the smaller sites, far away from the corporate headquarters. They simply have to have ownership of that target; otherwise [change] isn’t going to happen.”