An in-depth look into Danone’s trailblazing sustainability transformation

An in-depth look into Danone’s trailblazing sustainability transformation

From evian water to Activia yoghurts, Danone’s products are now a mainstay of any household fridge or supermarket shelf. Under its banner, the food and beverage giant hasn’t just invented iconic flavours, it’s also made a name for itself as a sustainability powerhouse. In 2017, Danone unveiled a refreshed logo and its very first company signature: ‘One Planet. One Health’. This slogan underlines the French multinational’s belief that the health of people and the planet are inherently interconnected. It also marked a call to action, urging consumers to join the ‘food revolution’ and adopt healthier, more sustainable eating and drinking habits.

It’s an impressive mantra, but Danone’s commitment to health and sustainability stretches back much further. In fact, it’s almost as old as the company itself. In 1919, Danone’s founder, Isaac Carasso, noticed that many Spanish children suffered from intestinal infections. Echoing the previous work by Nobel laureate and Pasteur Institute director, Ilya Mechnikov, he launched a yoghurt which marked the birth of the Danone brand. Fast forward to today and the Paris-headquartered firm is present in over 130 markets with a slew of beloved and trusted products including essential dairy and plant based products, early life nutrition, waters and medical nutrition.

Keen to stay laser focused on its sustainable vision, Danone has pinpointed nine ambitious goals that it hopes to achieve by 2030. Aligning with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, these objectives include: offering superior food experiences and innovation; delivering stronger sustainable profitable growth; becoming a certified B Corp; impacting people’s health locally; and growing Manifesto brands as well as preserving and renewing the planet’s resources. On top of this, the firm has also pledged to foster inclusion and growth, serve the food revolution with partners, and entrust its people to create new futures. Revealing these ambitious goals, Emmanuel Faber, Chairman and CEO of Danone, said that he believes “each time we eat and drink, we can vote for the world we want”. He added: “This has inspired the definition of our long term goals which flow directly from our 'One Planet. One Health' vision. As we strengthen our business model and nourish our dual economic and social project, we have every confidence we will deliver our business and financial agenda, as well as create and share sustainable value for all."

Danone has already made significant strides towards these objectives. Last year, Danone North America became the world’s largest B Corp, a key social and environmental milestone for the firm which shows it has met the “highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability”. In 2017, the firm also reported that 86% of its total packaging (and 77% of its plastic packaging) was reusable, recyclable or compostable. This is just the beginning: by 2025, the firm aims to ensure that every piece of packaging, from bottle caps to yoghurt cups, is recyclable, reusable or compostable. At the same time, Danone has also made consistent efforts to reduce its waste and optimise material use, for instance, the firm plans to introduce alternatives to plastic straws, launching a pilot under its Indonesian brand AQUA. Additionally, it’s also trying to eliminate non-recyclable shrink film by using specially designed adhesive for its evian water brand.

Danone has also forged meaningful partnerships to make its plastic-free vision a reality: for instance, evian is taking part in a research mission with The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit startup that has created advanced technologies to help rid the oceans of plastic, whilst elsewhere Danone AQUA has pledged to recover more plastic than it uses in Indonesia. On top of this, the French business is also a proactive member of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance alongside industry peers such as Mars, Nestlé and Unilever. Aiming to advance public policies that improve transparency for consumers, support farm communities, and tackle climate change, the alliance is set to be a game changer for policy action, shaping the wider food and beverage industry at large.

This sustainable ethos also extends to Danone’s top and bottom lines. Indeed, the food and beverage firm has recently launched an efficiency programme called Protein that is designed to help Danone build “a balanced, profitable and sustainable growth model”, according to the firm. Through this initiative, Danone aims to generate cost savings of €1bn by 2020 by making efficiency an ingrained part of day-to-day business.

In order to include its employees on this sustainability roadmap, Danone’s workers are also set to receive one Danone share to deepen their ownership mindset. The firm has also developed an internal platform with extensive sharing and learning resources to help employees support the firm’s vision and goals. But it’s not just employees who are an important catalyst of this sustainability drive. Indeed, Faber highlights how consumers are an integral part of this transformation journey and how they’ve pushed the firm to better itself. “Consumers are craving change,” he says. “They expect large organisations like Danone to bring our scale of impact to change the world for the better.”

With this in mind, it seems sustainability is set to remain a core tenet of Danone’s strategy in the years to come, just as it has been since the business was founded almost a century ago. Indeed, Antoine Riboud, the first Danone Chairman and CEO, said in 1972 that “there is only one earth, we only live once.'' Those words kick-started a vision that lives on today. Now, sustainability is an intrinsic part of Danone’s DNA, just as much as its beloved brands and flavours. With its 2030 goals, the French food and beverage giant has an ambitious roadmap underway, which is about actions as well as words. Now, with the help of its employees, consumers and partnerships, Danone’s sustainability vision is almost in grasp.