Valrhona: leading the way in sustainable chocolate production
By Lea Tropeano, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) Alliance Ambassador for Valrhona and EHL student and Clara Tabet, Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) Alliance Ambassador for Valrhona and EHL student
Nowadays, sustainability values are to be found in many company websites and reports. However, do companies really keep their sustainability promises? EHL explores the working infrastructure of this premium French chocolate manufacturer and its commitment to the four pillars of sustainability.
The recipe for sustainability: profound engagement
While chocolate brings most of us sweet-toothed enthusiasts happiness, the cocoa industry is one of the most challenging in the world in terms of fair trade and sustainability. Starting from the production in the tropical climates of western Africa, Asia and Latin America between the tropic of cancer and Capricorn, it is a very murky industry regarding its environmental and ethical impact.
When we decided to apply as an EHL Alliance Ambassador for Valrhona Chocolate, the first words that popped up in our minds were "chocolate, France, pastry, and luxury". Yet, we could have never imagined how much more there was to Valrhona.
Valrhona has built its sustainability program "Live Long" on four pillars (cocoa, environment, gastronomy and togetherness). The profound engagement of the company highlights a simple fact: companies need to engage and responsively adjust their behavior to guarantee a sustainable and long-term environment. Valrhona did it from the start and is now the first international chocolate company certified as "B Corp". Let's see what all this really means.
Together, good becomes better
Firstly, Valrhona starts by investing in people. As their mission states, "Together, good becomes better". Valrhona wants to ensure wellbeing for all the people involved in the company, from the very beginning of the supply chain, the producers, till the very end, the employees and every stakeholder involved. Having to produce in tropical climates where the minimum wage has fallen drastically, Valrhona have decided to keep the highest minimum wage since 2012, paying therefore 47% more than the guaranteed minimum price, ensuring that 100% of the pay goes directly in the producers' pockets.
Further projects were developed to continue improving the producers' lives. Our favourite one? The project in Madagascar! In 2019, many Valrhona stakeholders contributed to the project to rebuild the village of Andzavibe, ensuring 45 families' safety and allowing them to improve their living standards. All the contributors of the project went on the spot for the inauguration. They ensured the project's durability by setting up an association to open a bank account and creating a management committee to oversee the village.
These strong, considerate values are also ensured among the employees of Valrhona. Many workshops and assessments are organised continuously to guarantee a safe and comfortable environment and prevent complicated situations. Any time specific problems arise, Valrhona makes sure to find rapid and appropriate solutions. An example is when after an assessment organised during international health and safety week, it was shown that some employees were subjected to sexist behaviours. Training sessions were immediately implemented between managers to raise awareness and control this issue.
Sustainability equals identity
What really impressed us about Valrhona is how is it gives equal importance to profit and social and environmental causes. Its sustainable approach is part of the company's identity. This is why we realized, after some discussions, how important the B Corp certification that Valrhona possesses is, because it proves that a company makes considerable efforts to respect the planet.
Valrhona constantly makes progress in its approaches because it is always setting new objectives for carbon neutrality, energy, transport, water, eco design and waste. One of the most important is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 in order to minimize the harmful environmental consequences of each part of the process chain. Another one that seems incredible to us is that 100% of the waste will be recycled.
Statistics and actions
Here are the 2019 numbers and actions that have most made an impression on us:
- 90% waste recycled.
- 51% less water used compared to 2013.
- 79% of packaging are recyclables.
- 69% of their energy mix comes from renewables.
- 57% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2013.
- Staff cycled 5,200KM —> 580KG of CO2 not being released into the atmosphere.
All this is possible thanks to several initiatives such as the FRET21 approach, which consists of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transport, and also the ComeBac project, where the chocolate is delivered to customers in containers that are then recovered, washed, and reused. Concerning the packaging, their goal is to ensure that 85% of it will be recyclable by 2025. In addition, the company purchased two compressors to be able to isolate plastics by type, reduce their volume and recover materials.
Harnessing available resources
Resources are rare these days, and Valrhona has managed to find ingenious solutions at different levels, such as Centralized refrigeration, which has enabled them to reduce their energy consumption by 26% or the regeneration of the crop gardens in order to sustain traditional cocoa-based agroforestry systems. Finally, to fight against waste, Valrhona reuses cocoa shells for fertilizer, flavouring and fuel, and gives the unsold stock to charities such as the Restos du Coeur or to employees at Christmas and New Year.
Finally, nothing would be possible without the involvement of all the stakeholders. This is what impresses us at Valrhona: Besides educating employers and producers on responsible farming, the company also teaches customers to consume more responsibly.
We look forward to learning more and meeting the people who uphold these values, indispensable to our planet's future!