Flower of sustainability8 December 2020
With customers increasingly demanding responsible sourcing from food suppliers, companies must decide whether to take meaningful action to meet the needs of their stakeholders, as well as their environmental and social ecosystems. Some, as Prova’s chief sustainability officer Alessandra Ognibene-Lerouvillois explains to Jim Banks, are leading the way.
Vanilla is a valuable commodity that takes time and considerable effort to produce. Like any agricultural product, its production has an impact on the environment and on the lives of the producers that grow and harvest it. The well-being of those farmers, and the environment in which vanilla grows, has a direct impact on the quality of the end product. Prova, a leading manufacturer of vanilla, cocoa, coffee, sweet brown extracts and flavours for the sweet food industry, understands this and is proving that fact with more than just words. Producers of agricultural products all too often pay lip service to improving the environmental and social impact of their work, but Prova is determined to take meaningful action.
“Human beings have always been at the centre of our actions at Prova,” says Alessandra Ognibene- Lerouvillois, Prova’s chief sustainability officer and general manager of the gourmet division.
“Our expertise is the taste, and what is hidden behind this taste? First, there are the raw materials. We care about raw materials, but not only that.
“We care about men and women who produce it, and we act in order to contribute in a positive way to the improvement of the living conditions of these planters,” she adds. “We can also contribute to the sustainability of natural resources by creating programmes that will preserve, for example, local biodiversity.”
The Care & Act initiative is Prova’s way of putting ideas into action. It involves instilling a culture of responsible behaviour throughout the organisation, and, by extension, into its relationships with partners in the supply chain. “The essential things are the way we extract the commodity,” effuses Ognibene- Lerouvillois, “so the techniques that we use in our factories, how we reduce the environmental impacts, how we always use premium ingredients, and also all the talented people that our Prova family integrates, and how we can engage them, empower them and make them grow and give their best each time – so they are always proud of their contribution to the company.” Ognibene-Lerouvillois continues by saying that the process involves thinking about the well-being of the entire Prova family – which includes the whole Prova team and its commodity growers. “It is also in the attention we give them. It is about how we care about our clients’ and partners’ success, because that is something that is important to us. The whole of our organisation is dedicated to our clients’ success, and how we, by the improvement of our services, can be their key to success.”
In essence, Prova is simply extending its own corporate ethos throughout the supply chain.
“I would say that, at Prova, we have this wonderful chance to be a part of a family business in which values like listening, goodwill, generosity and the freedom of action really are advocated in our daily [working] life,” says Ognibene-Lerouvillois.
“Hence, when we wanted to translate our reason for existing as an organisation, we found it totally normal to express it through these very strong and simple words. ‘Care’ means feeling concern while looking after something, and ‘Act’ means how we act to make these projects that are important to us a reality, instead of just being concepts. In this way, the actions are real, with concrete results in the field. And so, they can be the reflection of our strategy in a natural way.”
For Prova, involving its stakeholders, employees, partners and farmers in a concerted effort to improve working conditions, benefit the environment and create a better end product, is much more than just a regulatory compliance issue or a requirement of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. It is not about simply putting the company in a position to make claims about how sustainable its business is, or greenwashing it to please investors or customers.
Care & Act goes much deeper. It is, in fact, the foundation stone of the company’s strategic planning. “Today, when we talk about Care & Act, when we talk about our CSR policy,” Ognibene-Lerouvillois explains, “it has become obvious that we don’t think any more about what we have to do or not do; it is the continuity of all the projects we set up.
“Everywhere there is this kind of common consensus that says that we have to integrate – at the beginning of our projects – environmental considerations, societal questions and everything that finally animates us in the way we manage our business. Care & Act is our very singular way of expressing and formalising our engagements with and around what we do, which we care about and that are important to us as a society.”
Crucially, Care & Act is an initiative that is led from the very top of the organisation.
“What is wonderful is that our biggest ambassador is our CEO,” Ognibene-Lerouvillois adds. “All these values are shared by each one of the employees, whether they are high-ranking or among the operators.
In practical terms, Care & Act is partly about giving everyone involved in the ecosystem a voice within the organisation. It is about communication and transparency in all aspects of the business – economic, ecological and social. In order to sustainably improve the living conditions of its farmers, for example, the company recognises that it must listen closely to those who understand their needs best – the farmers themselves. This concept of collaboration and cooperation extends throughout the supply chain, from Prova’s head office in Paris to the vanilla farms of Madagascar and all points in between.
In doing so, Prova can act as a beacon to others in the industry – and, indeed, to companies in other business sectors that can make a real difference to the environment and to the well-being of its employees. It wants to lead the corporate way in thinking about its environmental and social impact, and to encourage its industry – and others – to use its resources to make a real difference to the lives of workers, customers and the world at large.
“Care & Act is our way of expressing ourselves on a larger scale, since, as a family business, we cannot pretend to save the world [on our own],” believes Ognibene-Lerouvillois. “But we can act to improve it through every single action in various ways.
“Whether it is in Madagascar when we are in touch with our vanilla producers, in our factories, in our offices, in our subsidiaries, in our interactions with our clients and our partners, with our chefs, with our bakers, glaciers, pastry cooks and all of our other artisans, or with this wonderful ecosystem that lives around the flavour profession, we can have a voice, we can care, we can act and we can ensure that it changes in a positive way for all of us.”