How your company can act for the regeneration of biodiversity

At Printemps de la Biodiversité, in workshops open to citizens and companies, discover how you can act to regenerate biodiversity. It’s every Tuesday night until the end of June in Paris.

Jérôme Cohen is one of those who think that the ecological transition will happen with companies, or not. In 2015, he founded ENGAGE, a framework that works with businesses and citizens to make the transition happen. On the occasion of the Printemps de la Biodiversité that he organizes, he returns to DNA (of which he is a partner) on how he helps companies to put living beings at the center of their governance.

What is Biodiversity Spring?

Jerome Cohen : It is a cycle of conferences, meetings and training that began on the 12th of May and continues until the end of June. Every Tuesday night, we offer workshops dedicated to biodiversity, open to everyone, citizens and companies. This spring extends the Biodiversity Challenge we launched two years ago with four pioneering companies to transform them around biodiversity. The idea is to provide knowledge via conferences, then provoke a phase of collective intelligence to decide what we want to happen and, finally, create impact projects within companies.

We chose the topic of biodiversity because it is an issue in which companies are far behind. You’ve heard a lot more about climate issues, greenhouse gas emissions… Biodiversity is the main absentee, because it’s a complex issue. However, I am convinced that companies have a key role to play in protecting and regenerating biodiversity.

The link between biodiversity and business is not obvious. At what level(s) do companies have a role to play?

JC : Let’s give concrete examples. Alenia, which does IT consultancy, did not initially understand how its activity could be linked to biodiversity. We helped her understand that her computer servers had a direct impact on the water cycle, among other things, and created digital pollution. Today, Alenia opened a branch dedicated to the creation of IT activities compatible with the protection of biodiversity.

BioBleud, which makes pie crust, has decided to reduce its reliance on monoculture using seeds other than wheat, train its customers on biodiversity issues, change the practices of the farmers it works with…business model transformation.

What is the most important stage of change in companies?

JC : This is the phase of reconnecting with the living. The ecological transition requires a change in cultural, even spiritual, model. We reified nature, made it something external, misunderstood, even dangerous. We end up forgetting that nature is inside us… That’s what we have to change. We can find practical and technological solutions, but we will not solve the fundamental problem if we do not change our relationship with living beings. We must understand the rupture between us and the living and rebuild this missing link.

I realized this when I founded ENGAGE. I trained about fifteen entrepreneurs aged between 20 and 30 in a very beautiful place, in the middle of a forest. One day, while bringing in some mushrooms I found, I realized that a third of the contractors had never seen a mushroom in their lives. I was trying to bring biodiversity into their projects three days ago, when they didn’t have a concrete idea of ​​what living things are! Moral of the story : if you don’t go through a first phase of reconnecting with nature, how do you expect people to change their practices? Since then, in our training sessions, there is always a phase where we put our hands on the floor. We bring in landscapers, we plant a garden on the premises of ENGAGE City…

This reconnection with the living requires a major step backwards. How to reconcile this broad vision with short-term business objectives?

JC : It’s complicated, but some good arguments for change are beginning to emerge. Companies are understanding that adapting to the ecological transition is a necessity to survive. Business resilience goes hand in hand with living resilience. It’s the convergence of struggles!

The collapse of biodiversity will confront companies with increasing risks, linked to the supply of raw materials, to regulations… Financial risks too: investment fund criteria will be stricter, and if companies want funding, they will have to move! Not to mention reputational risks: companies that don’t include transition in their strategy will find it increasingly difficult to recruit.

All these risks, companies are starting to understand. It is in your own best interest to radically transform your business model. If companies don’t make a strong change within a few years, they are doomed. And that’s excellent news.

What blockages remain?

JC : It is very difficult to make a strong systemic transition in a very short time. We don’t have a hundred years, not even fifty years to get things going. However, getting big companies to change in a limited time is very complicated. There are managerial brakes: some managers are fed up with very different processes and they are difficult to move. But we can’t wait for the next generation of decision makers to take over.

Then there’s the difficulty of tapping into the cashier business model. This compromises your profitability. Companies are caught in contradictory short-term and long-term injunctions, with on the one hand a demand for change, and on the other hand shareholders asking them to continue to be profitable…

And then there is the case of SMEs, which do not have the time, money, or skills necessary for this transition. Large companies are starting to have real CSR teams, training… In SMEs there is none of that. However, if they cannot fund new transition-compatible tools, they will no longer have the right to practice because of increasingly stringent regulations. Here again there are contradictory injunctions. SMEs will be the ones that will suffer the most from the transition. Priority should be given to helping actors who do not have the means to do so on their own.

Since creating ENGAGE, have you noticed progress, in companies and elsewhere?

JC: Yes, it’s obvious. Ten years ago, and even five years ago, we were taken to Khmer Verts, Amish… We were entitled to every denomination possible! For three years, there was an acceleration of awareness.

I also think we are breaking free from a fragmented view of our lives. We worked a lot on this at ENGAGE: how can I be a citizen in my responsibility as an employee? The pandemic, among other things, has allowed people to see themselves as one and the same at every moment of their lives, at work or not. I’m sure this will get things moving.

Any final advice for companies?

JC : The key is collective intelligence. It is necessary to be able to make the transformation emanate from the people themselves, thanks to a work of awakening. We make all the company’s departments work – purchasing, marketing, distribution… but also all the company’s stakeholders – its territory, local associations, its suppliers, the public authorities… transition cannot be carried out with the necessary intensity. It is the business ecosystem itself that must decide to change.

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