In 2016 a company called Novozymes ended up on the list of 9 company giants that is going to change the world. Novozymes employees 6500 people and turns over $2billion per annum but not many people know it exists. It’s one of those companies that is part of thousands of consumer products you buy that are household names but it plays behind the scenes.
Novozymes is a nature-inspired company that looks for solutions to problems we face inside nature itself. Inspired by the principles of biomimicry, it finds enzymes and microbes that exist in nature that can have a relevant use in business. By bringing these enzymes and microbes into laboratories, they shape ways in which they can be mass produced so that their customers – like Unilever, Levi Strauss and P&G – can optimise their production and design process for the benefit of consumers and the environment.
Their enzymes are found in almost all products you use every day – household detergents, textile design, even in agriculture. Wherever water is used in product design, the use of Novozymes enzymes and microbes can help reduce the need for more toxic chemicals with the goal of improving the health of the product, reducing toxic waste and also water usage.
Inside the textile value chain for example, the challenge of being ‘kind’ to the environment is huge: through the toxicity of cotton production, actual textile production, consumer care products, the retail impact, garment production, and then recycling. Manufacturing plants need technologies which can reduce energy, water, and pollution. Novozymes is working with companies like Nike, M&S, Walmart – anywhere there is opportunity to optimise and reduce vulnerability for reputation, drive costs down and optimise environmental benefits.
Novozymes helps these companies select product components with a better environmental profile. They’re helping to redefine how people wash their clothing. Life cycle assessment on textiles show that the highest impact comes from washing.
Being an Activist Entrepreneur
Former Greenpeace activist Claus Stig Pedersen is Head of Corporate Sustainability at Novozymes. “Inside I’m still an activist,” he explains. “Today I use a different tool which is more powerful and that is business. In particular sustainability within business to make a difference to the future of the environment.”
Novozymes has also made collaboration and partnership a core part of its business strategy to remain future-fit and relevant, which it drew alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Claus has seen sustainability move through different phases during his working life. Firstly in the early part of the 21st century it was about keeping the back yard under control; managing major risks, keeping costs down and protecting the reputation of the company in key areas like water, energy and waste. From around 2009-2013 sustainability started to move into all corners of the business from sourcing, production, investor relations, communications, public affairs, stakeholder relations to find value that could support business objectives. In 2015 Novozymes took a third step – to lead, look into the future, find whatever needs would arise to which they could deliver solutions that are fit for the future.
“In stage 2 we learned how to integrate sustainability into all corners of the business. We learned to do something in each part of the business that could be valuable for customers. We found ways to optimise the supply chain. We found ways to work with investors. We found ways to work with NGOs. We transformed our findings into value for our customers. We did life cycle assessments to help redesign their products to be better for people and planet. A lot more companies out there started to see business as a solution to many of the global challenge. Stakeholders like NGOs, UN organisations, and policy makers started to embrace business. They wanted to be part of the journey that business is on to help make the world a better place and help solve problems in society. They could see a way to change the understanding of it from being all about the customer to being all about the whole ecosystem.”
“Connecting, listening, learning, collaborating offered a lot of opportunities for our business, for our value chain which is more like business to business engagement. Something very different.”
Impact is a key word for Novozymes so a project to measure the impact of their work was essential. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, which had been under development from Rio 2012 was the template the company chose in early 2014 as the way in which they could understand and measure the impact the company was having through its actions.
“I had been part of the process since Rio 2012, so I new what was coming,” Claus explains. “We knew the Global Goals could be important for business, for Novozymes and for the world They could be used as inspiration for a better way forward. So very early on we started to develop tools to translate what we do into impact in the context of the goals. 193 countries worldwide are developing implementation plans to turn the Global Goals into activities that will influence public opinion, support investment, and will hit the market in years to come. It’s creating a wave of opportunities.”
The assessment and management tool we’ve designed is installed into our processes internally, helps us to understand the innovation pipeline and the impact of different partnership on the goals. It’s a tool that’s designed to help us make informed decisions about where we want to go in the future.”
As Claus explains, what matters is the choices that will be made by consumers. Getting more consumers on board the journey towards a regenerative planet hasn’t been easy but research from companies like Nielsen show that when economics are favourable, people are increasingly making a choice to opt for the more environmentally driven option.
“We are at a unique time where the world has a plan in the form of the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Claus concludes. All you have to do is get onboard.
KEY UN SDGS FOR NOVOZYMES
I was lucky enough to meet Novozymes through being part of the Sustainable Brands community. You can see more presentations and video content from Novozymes SDG journey on the SB website.