One billion people consume their products each day. Every second cheese and yogurt in the world contains at least one of their natural ingredients. It’s impossible not to come across this company, even if you’ve never heard of them.
We are, of course, talking about Chr. Hansen, the 150-year-old Danish bioscience company that develops and produces cultures, enzymes, probiotics and natural colors.
The company’s 40,000 microbial strains – ‘boiled down’ into 3,000 products – go into foods, confectionery, beverages, dietary supplements and animal feed.
Their ‘good bacteria’, as they call it, contribute to plant protection as well.
Such a variety of products means that Chr. Hansen is indispensable in a host of industries, such as food, pharmaceuticals and agriculture.
Much like bacteria that are invisible to the naked eye, Chr. Hansen is practically everywhere.
This global foothold puts them in a unique position too: they can help reduce humanity’s carbon footprint. And luckily for us, Chr. Hansen dares to care about sustainability.
The company established itself as a true pioneer by publishing their first sustainability commitment in 1949. To put that in perspective, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which marks the beginning of the modern environmental movement, came out in 1962.
But being a pioneer doesn’t mean you can stop innovating. We all know that.
So, just as global sustainability frameworks become more sophisticated over time, so do the demands that investors make.
This is how company’s CEO Mauricio Graber explains this phenomenon:
“Five years ago, [investors] did not ask about sustainability, and three years ago they focused on the ESG elements related to risk mitigation. Now they are asking us how much of our revenue supports the UN Global Goals.”
This shift in mindset has led Chr. Hansen to develop a revolutionary take on sustainability.
First, in 2009, they became signatories to the UN’s Global Compact.
Under this initiative, CEOs voluntarily commit to implementing ten sustainability principles that support the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG).
Today, Global Compact rates Chr. Hansen’s commitment as ‘advanced’ – the highest level available.
Second, Chr. Hansen carried out a groundbreaking assessment in 2017 by mapping their entire product portfolio against the UN’s sustainable goals.
They concluded that 81% of the company’s revenues were supporting the UN’s SDGs!
The accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) validated these results. And, in the last three years, Chr. Hansen pushed that figure up to 82%.
Of course, it can feel like an abstract exercise to appreciate how food cultures and enzymes make the world a greener place.
A glance at the company’s annual sustainability report quickly sheds light on what’s really behind their success.
Take, for instance, Chr. Hansen’s natural solutions that treat a whopping 10.4 million hectares of land today (the area of Iceland), thus replacing many of the toxic pesticides that Rachel Carson warned against.
The company’s products also increase agricultural yields and decrease salt, sugar and fat content in consumer food products.
Thanks to cultures that provide a longer shelf life, the company also eliminated 580,000 metric tons of yogurt waste in 2018-19. If you hate waste, this should make you cheer.
At this point, you’d be forgiven to think that the company’s efforts exclusively focus on their product range.
Or, perhaps, that they don’t need to take additional measures to reduce their own footprint when they’re headquartered in the world’s most sustainable country.
But Chr. Hansen will prove you wrong.
Last year, the company signed a monster of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Better Energy. (PPAs let you buy energy directly from the source.)
The deal says that, for the next ten years, the bioscience company will purchase two-thirds of the electricity generated by Better Energy’s two new solar parks.
As planned, the energy company connected the solar parks to Denmark’s electricity grid this May, allowing Chr. Hansen to switch 100% of its Danish operations to clean energy.
(Their Danish energy use makes up 40% of their global consumption.)
This and other efforts have meant that the company outperformed its 2022 CO2 efficiency reduction target two years ahead of time.
After all this, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Chr. Hansen was named the world’s 2nd most sustainable company in 2020 by the Canadian media and research company Corporate Knights.
The number one company on that list is… also Danish. Perhaps there’s something in the air in Denmark making businesses so successfully sustainable.
Who knows, maybe it’s the good bacteria.