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Bacteria may be the most successful life forms on earth, comprising more biomass than all other living things put together, but they seem an unlikely foundation for a sustainable business.

Yet a company whose products are all based on microbes has been named the most sustainable company in the world in Corporate Knights’ Global 100 ranking. Chr. Hansen is a Danish bioscience company that dates back 140 years and “develops natural solutions for the food, nutritional, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries,” the company says.

“We develop and produce cultures, enzymes, probiotics and natural colors for a rich variety of foods, confectionery, beverages, dietary supplements and even animal feed,” adds CEO Mauricio Graber. “Our product innovation is based on more than 30,000 microbial strains that we call ‘good bacteria.’”
Chr. Hansen’s approach to sustainability is based around how it can contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with 82% of the company’s revenue contributing to the targets.

“We believe the SDGs are a really good framework to translate our business into sustainability impact. We analysed our entire product portfolio to see which of the SDGs we had the most impact on and we decided to focus on three ‘strategic lighthouses,’” Graber says. “These are business areas we see as developing and growingaboth because of the commercial opportunities and the positive impact on the planet and sustainability.”

The first pillar of this strategy is food cultures, with the principal focus on bacteria that reduce food waste by prolonging the shelf life of food products, mainly yogurt and cheese. The company has a target of reducing yogurt waste by 1.2 million tonnes by 2022 from 2015 levels.

The second pillar is plant protection, which links to the SDG of sustainable agriculture. “We provide natural microbial solutions that can be used as an alternative to conventional pesticides while also increasing yields,” the CEO says. “It is much closer to the way that nature intended things and removes the risks and negative impacts of pesticides.”

Chr. Hansen is focusing on the megacrops – corn, sugarcane and soy – because they occupy the most land, but says its products are “crop-agnostic.” It is also working with the Danish Development Agency and Care Danmark on a project in Kenya to see if small-scale farmers can benefit from the same protection.

The third pillar is linked to the SDG of health and wellbeing. Central to this is to promote natural ingredients as a way to help gradually reduce the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming and the impact of antibiotic resistance through the use of probiotic bacteria.

Chr. Hansen’s probiotics products help infants to develop good gut health, others can shorten the duration of the common cold and influenza-like illnesses. Chr. Hansen is researching how probiotics can help alleviate side effects from regular drugs.

One of the areas in the Global 100 ranking where Chr. Hansen performed particularly well was in the clean revenue category and in the representation of women on the board and in executive positions. It has recently appointed Dominique Reiniche as chairman of the board, making it the first large listed Danish company to have a female chairman. “We are in a growing battle for talent, and we need to improve diversity of all types,” Graber says.

Starting this year, the executive management board’s remuneration is also linked to the company’s targets on diversity, another area where it scored strongly.

Chr. Hansen’s success is based on a strategy of using natural solutions to address some of the key global megatrends, such as increasing food yields, reducing food waste and phasing out antibiotics in animal production, Graber says. “We are just at the start of the era of natural solutions using good bacteria,” he concludes.

Click here to return to the 2019 Global 100 landing page.

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