AVRIL’S SECTORAL APPROACH
TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE
By Jean-Philippe PUIG, CEO, Avril Group
The acknowledged urgency which is the context for the 21st Conference of the Parties provides a timely reminder that the climate is everyone's affair – governments, citizens and also industry. There are numerous companies that have developed virtuous initiatives that are driving progress and change. These initiatives have highlighted their key role in society, and the close links that exist between their growth and performance and the account taken of their environmental, societal and economic footprints. Focus on the Avril Group…
Because of its emblematic profile in the agribusiness landscape, Avril provides an excellent illustration of a sectoral development approach that is conducive to this shared dimension of company growth. Set up at the initiative of farmers to assure the future of the French vegetable oils and proteins sector, within a little more than thirty years Avril has become an industrial and finance group that is active in France and around the world in sectors as diverse as foods and feeds, and renewable energies and chemistry.
In the field of renewable energies, the Diester brand, European leader in the production of biodiesel from rapeseed, is an example of shared growth of which we at Avril are particularly proud. It federates actors from the farming, agribusiness and agrifood industries, and is based on an approach which is entirely transposable to other sectors and activities. At the crossroads between agriculture, industry, energy and research, the production model for this biodiesel, its development and the numerous innovative projects devoted to it, respond to a good number of the environmental, economic or societal challenges that society has now been facing for many years.
France at the vanguard of controlling vehicle emissions
As a country that benefits from few fossil energy resources and which places considerable emphasis on the fight against global warning, France has fully understood this issue. As from the 1990s, it was at the vanguard of addressing these challenges, proving that French biodiesel from sustainably certified sources could replace imported diesel in the future. Use of this biodiesel has thus prevented CO2 emissions equivalent to those of a million vehicles while also efficiently reducing particulate emissions, and thanks to the development of rapeseed cultivation, has increased French self-sufficiency in vegetable proteins.
As well as being one of the only sources of liquid fuel that can easily replace fossil fuels, its active contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by vehicles is undeniable. This was confirmed in 2010 by an ADEME life cycle analysis on French biofuels, which showed that they enabled reductions in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by between 50% and more than 70%, depending on the raw materials used. This is far from negligible when compared with the performance of diesel: Diester biodiesel emits 60% less greenhouse gases than the ordinary diesel in which it is incorporated (PwC).
A unique illustration of a sector's commitment to the environment
Since 2007, all actors in the French biodiesel sector, from farmers upstream to industry downstream, have been organised around a unique initiative called the Rapeseed Diester Démarche de Progrès (progress initiative). Alongside Avril, its subsidiary Saipol and Terres Inovia, the technical institute for the vegetable oils and proteins sector, this initiative now involves more than 10,000 farmers, as well as the technicians, collection agencies, processors and industrial firms who intervene at different stages in the value chain.
Their efforts to ensure continuous improvement of the environmental and energy performance of the sector has led to major industrial investments worth €80 million during the past three years, and notably the construction of biomass boilers at our sites in Bassens (Gironde), Sète (Hérault) and Grand Couronne (Seine-Maritime). These investments helped reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, as 42% of the energy used for the production of Diester biodiesel now comes from renewable resources.
The virtuous circle of the vegetable oils and proteins sector
Without the use of biodiesel and more generally without sustainable biofuels, Europe should not be able to achieve the goal of a 10% use of biofuels by vehicles between now and 2020. Even so, the European political agenda no longer seems to be as favourable towards them. This shift has been triggered by a number of misconceptions that call into question the environmental, territorial and socioeconomic performance of biofuels, which have nevertheless generated more than 20,000 direct jobs in France.
It should not be forgotten that these biofuels were developed on land that represents a tiny proportion of agricultural land in France (less than 3%) and that was initially part of the fallow land policy introduced by the CAP in the 1990s. Biofuels have thus contributed to reducing the amount of fallow land without affecting other crops.
And it should not be forgotten that the development of biofuels has contributed actively to restoring France's self-sufficiency in proteins. Faced with the US embargo on soybean exports in 1973, the producers of oilseeds and protein crops realised the need to assemble their forces in order to ensure that France could increase its self-sufficiency in vegetable proteins for animal feeds, and the levels thus rose from 25% in the 1980s to 65% today. Thanks to them, rapeseed and sunflower oilseed meals cultivated in our different regions are now the principal sources of protein used by our livestock farmers.
Nor should it be forgotten that the rapeseed used by Avril to produce Diester biodiesel is particularly favourable to crop rotations and biodiversity. Rapeseed stimulates the yield of subsequent cereal crops, reduces significantly the quantities of plant health products used and is able to efficiently exploit the mineral nitrogen that results from organic effluents and break the cycles of certain diseases.
Finally, we should not forget the environmental solutions that are possible now and promised for the future through the valorisation of vegetable oils in the field of renewable chemistry. These demonstrate every day, to all of us, that in the oilseeds and proteins sector, nothing is wasted and everything can be transformed, sustainably.
About the author
Jean-Philippe Puig joined the Avril Group in 2012, after working in the aluminium industry for 28 years. He thus worked both in France and abroad (notably in Greece, Australia or Venezuela) for Pechiney, Alcan and Rio Tinto, for which he was President for Europe, Middle East and Africa until 2011, before taking up his post as CEO of the Avril Group, which was previously known as the Sofiprotéol Group.
About the Avril Group:
Avril is the industrial and financial actor of the French vegetable oils and proteins sectors. Its mission is to create sustainable value in these sectors and thus contribute to better food for humans and preservation of the planet.
Founded at the initiative of the farming world, the Group owns a portfolio of strong brands that are leaders in their respective markets, such as Lesieur, Puget, Matines, Sanders, Diester, Bunica, Taous, El Kef…
It has been developing for more than 30 years in France and internationally, according to a unique model under which profits are always reinvested in its target sectors.
In 2014, the Avril Group achieved turnover of €6.5 billion. As at 31 March 2015, it counted 7200 employees working in 22 countries.