Last night, I had the privilege to sit down at a dinner with the leaders of Danone Water. Rarely have I met business people with such a passion for their work. The reason is very simple. As Danone employees, they are not just in the business of selling yogurt or mineral water. More importantly, they are in a social enterprise, involved in the global mission of sharing life-sustaining knowledge and resources with people in less fortunate countries. Specifically, I want to highlight the Danone Communities initiative, how it works, and why it is such a great sustainability model for other companies. Here, is a description, from the company’s website:
Produced in the first Grameen Danone Foods plant in Bogra, Shoktidoi is sold at a price of 5 BDT for each portion of 80g (ie 6 euro cents) and can be bought regularly by even the poorest families. At the same time, its composition has been specially designed to make up for the nutritional deficiencies that many Bangladeshi children suffer from. Reduced from cow’s milk produced locally and date molasses, Shoktidoi contains the natural calcium proteins needed for growth and bone solidity. Also enriched in micronutrients, an 80 gram pot is enough to cover 30% of daily needs for a child in vitamin A , iron, zinc and iodine.
In the Bogra plant, use of machinery is kept to a minimum in order to promote the use of labour which should mean that the plant will be able to employ 50 full-time workers within four years. Grameen Danone foods also relies on developing micro-farms which supply the raw materials (milk, sugar, date molasses) used to produce Shoktidoi. Local farmers also benefit from micro-credits offered by the Grameen Bank to start up or expand their businesses, while DANONE provides its expertise to help farmers improve the quality of their production. Lastly, Grameen Danone Foods has created an original distribution system based on the so-called “Grameen Ladies” who, supplied by small wholesalers, make sales door-to-door. This activity should provide income to more than 1,600 persons within a radius of 30 km around the plant.
Protection of the environment for local communities and use of renewable energy are part of the community business model developed by Grameen Danone Foods. The Bogra plant for example has a solar water heater which supplies hot water used in cleaning the installation and preheating water for the main boilers.
To reduce the risk of depleting groundwater levels, the site has also been equipped with a rainwater recovery system. Both of these measures help mitigate the environmental impact of the project but also the energy bill for the company! In terms of recycling and packaging, Grameen Danone has also made firm commitments: Shoktidoi pots are produced with PLA (Poly Lactic Acid), a material made of cornstarch and entirely biodegradable.
I was also told by the Danone people that all Danone employees get a chance to participate in the company’s funding of the Grameen initiative. No wonder the Danone people feel so good about working there. Can you think of examples of other companies whose stories you find inspiring?