The behaviour, consumption and lifestyles of all human beings strongly influence the natural, social and economic balance of the planet. The way people produce, process, distribute, consume and waste has significant implications for the environment.
According to Gianfranco Bologna, scientific director for the World Wildlife Fund Italy, the world has changed dramatically in the past 50-60 years, and we are increasingly aware that many changes have been occurring at an unprecedented rate. In just two generations, human activities have put extraordinary pressure on the planet's natural systems. As Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre put it: "We have gone from being a small world on a large planet to a big world on a small planet."
Over the years, working with various businesses and multiple stakeholders within the B2B and B2C industry - finance, sales, marketing and all along the supply chain - it became clear to the staff at Prova that success is centred on a human to human, or H2H, approach. This concept, coined by social business strategist Bryan Kramer, is the real foundation for every single business relationship cultivated at Prova, internally or externally.
Today, many corporations are wisely taking advantage of what many feel is the most appropriate behaviour for a beneficial common future: collaboration. It integrates people, technology and business, creating the potential for extraordinary outcomes and new opportunities for businesses to increase profits.
By adopting a collaborative and outward mindset, and by connecting people with different perspectives within a cooperative environment to create a shared vision of what is possible, individuals and companies can change the shape of business, and even the world. That is why companies are embracing a third path to high performance: working with the competition to address joint challenges, thereby securing access to the complete value chain - a win-win situation. Products need to be designed with future use in mind and all players in the value chain need to work with different business models.
Consider the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). Companies - from Unilever to Walmart to Coca-Cola, which earn more than $3.3 trillion in annual revenue combined - are committed to driving positive change globally while acting together to position the industry as a leader in protecting against climate change, reducing waste and promoting compliance with good working and environmental practices. For example, new data from CGF shows that more than 180,000 consumer goods products have been reformulated in 2016, while more than 30,000 communities worldwide have been involved in industryled programmes that promote healthier diets and lifestyles.
Prova fosters a collaborative approach throughout its business ventures. From the farmers, suppliers and partners to the extraction technicians, flavourists and sales team, and finally reaching its customers, Prova believes that it is people, not processes, that drive impact. Sustainability does not apply simply to the extracts and flavourings it designs but also to the broader environmental, economic, individual, technical and social contexts of that system, and the relationships between them.
There is a clear sense of urgency from international food manufacturers and the vanilla industry to tackle sustainability and quality issues in vanilla production and processing, and to improve sector transparency. For Prova, this starts in Madagascar, where local stakeholders, including exporters and the government, are also willing to engage in required sector professionalisation. Thus, the company joined the Sustainable Vanilla Initiative (SVI), through which it has worked with more than 25 international companies, including major international food brands and flavour houses.
The initiative is based on a plan to double the supply of traceable, sustainably produced vanilla; better the livelihoods and income of at least 20,000 vanilla farmers; improve the quality of vanilla by significantly reducing early harvesting of green vanilla and addressing improper vacuum packing; and contribute to better sector governance and transparency.
Collaboration underpins the joint project by cocoa producer Barry Callebaut and Prova in Madagascar. The aim is to diversify and stabilise revenues of vanilla farmers through the introduction of cocoa farming. With additional services, the project will also increase levels of vanilla curing at the farm level and support the adoption of good agricultural practices.
The joint project activities will improve the livelihoods of vanilla farmers in the district of Bemanevika. In return, the activities play an important role in Barry Callebaut and Prova's efforts to extend the sourcing of sustainable vanilla and cocoa.
Barry Callebaut's long-standing cocoa expertise, in association with Prova's local vanilla know-how, creates synergies on the ground for the benefit of local vanilla farmers. Barry Callebaut and Prova will fund and support local communities with social, health and education programmes. IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, will support this project with professional consulting services, as well as financing.
On 7 March 2017, a Category 4 cyclone struck Madagascar; Cyclone Enawo was one of the strongest to hit the island in the past 13 years, and the storm had a noticeable impact on the people and infrastructure of Madagascar.
In the aftermath of the event, Barry Callebaut and Prova decided to concentrate their efforts on assisting farmers in the seven villages where their programme is based. Because it is clear that the whole vanilla industry depends on those who dedicate their lives to this spice, the help provided had to integrate all the problems currently faced and address challenges that could arise in the long term. On a larger scale, Prova and its main partners are continuously working with other local organisations to support communities.
Beyond solidarity, Prova's aid programme had to exhibit a logical and systematic approach in order to assure all players in the supply chain that the company was doing its utmost to guarantee minimal disruption. With the H2H approach to business, companies recognise the needs of the people working for them and reach out to them - not out of selflessness, but as part of a coherent mindset and strategy for long-term gain.
As pointed out by Bologna, today, first and foremost, people need to kick-start a three-pronged green revolution: increasing soil productivity without expanding the cultivated surface, in order to avoid further land, air and water pollution; reducing overall environmental impact; and sustainably managing water resources. This challenge encourages everyone to work with nature and study its extraordinary evolution instead of going against it and creating an uninhabitable world.
Businesses should recognise the differences between quick fixes and lasting habitual changes that truly promote sustainability, which requires long-term thinking. They need to evaluate benefits and impacts on multiple timescales, and include longer-term indicators in assessment and decision-making. Businesses must be aware that they can - and must - move within a safe operating space set by planetary boundaries that cannot be exceeded. As Johan Rockström reminds us, this space must be the central component of people's lives and the way of doing business. Once this is achieved, it will be much easier to lay the foundations for future generations to thrive.
It is Prova's mission to focus on solutions, and make sustainability accessible and relevant for its business, as well as for every human being in the world. Visit the company at FiE in Frankfurt on 28-30 November at stand 08.0L66.