Erevena has recently been certified as a B Corp and our Environment & CSR committees are actively supporting reforestation this year with educational, fundraising and tree planting initiatives. It was fitting therefore for Lilian Poilpot to talk to Erevena client and reforesting pioneer Stéphane Hallaire,  Founder and CEO at Reforest’Action about the social and environmental importance of forests – and what all companies can do to make a tangible difference to both their carbon footprint and the regeneration of a biodiverse world.


First thoughts

  • Forests are the world’s carbon sink, so reforestation makes a big impact on the climate.
  • Nature-based companies at the top of the value chain must work with farmers to help them mitigate the risk and cost of transitioning to regenerative agriculture.
  • Services companies, those that are nature enabled, can make a valuable contribution by investing in nature-based projects.
  • Regenerative agriculture is something that many companies can engage with as part of their CSR and environmental activities.
  • This is a topic that needs a real involvement in fully understanding what you want to achieve and what are the right ways to get there.



In conversation

How did Reforest’Action come about?

I am the company’s founder and CEO. Reforest’Action has the ambition to regenerate the Earth’s ecosystem at a large scale. How? By acting locally to deal with the global environmental issues of climate change and biodiversity erosion.

I am an engineer by training and by 2010 I’d been working as a consultant in both London and Paris. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and create a company with impact. At the time, however, I didn’t know whether that impact would be social, developmental, or environmental. So, I looked at different opportunities and came across reforestation, which very few people were involved with at the time. It interested me, so I spoke to someone who was doing some reforestation in Senegal and asked if he would show me what it was – and that started my journey to where I am today.


How did your visit to Senegal motivate you to set up Reforest’Action?

I was moved by what I saw in Senegal. I suddenly realised that reforestation was, above anything else, a social topic, rather than an environmental one. It is about improving people’s lives, whether that’s through planting trees that provide fruit for families to eat or enabling farmers to sell the timber to boost the local economy. It’s about the provision of shade in increasingly hot summers. Reforestation improves the soil, which, in turn, supports the proper functioning of water so that people don’t have to walk miles to carry water back to their villages. That social impact is what struck me on my first visit to Senegal and it was something I didn’t expect. In a sense, Reforest’Action was born from emotion, rather than business thinking.


What else did you discover on your first encounter with reforestation?

I am from Paris and that trip was my first time in sub-Saharan Africa. I saw people with nothing, yet they were happy. I’d always thought that people in the Western world were happy because they had everything, so how was that possible in Senegal? It was a lesson for me as I acknowledged that there were two worlds, one of which I lived in and the other that I knew nothing about. Reforestation was a good entry point for me into this other world where people were happy with a different way of life. I quickly understood that beyond the social impact, reforestation was also an environmental topic. It has an impact on climate, on biodiversity and on soil.


How have you built Reforest’Action from a corporate perspective?

I came from a corporate world and knew how to talk to companies. So, when I set up Reforest’Action my initial aim was to promote reforestation projects in Senegal, India and Peru and get corporates to put in funding. This would also enable them to raise awareness of the topic amongst their employees and customers. That same ethos applies today but these are not charitable donations because we are a private company, not an NGO. Rather, these corporates are investing in projects that generate goodwill through this type of philanthropic CSR funding.

There’s also another model by which companies wanting to offset their carbon emissions can fund projects. This carbon business model enables companies to make an impact on climate, on biodiversity, soil and water, having both the environmental and social impact that I’ve already described.


You also promote regenerative agriculture – can you tell us about this?

This is about working on agricultural land in a way that has a positive impact on biodiversity and climate. Agriculture typically ‘produces’ carbon emissions as opposed to ‘capturing’ them. Regenerative agriculture produces food while at the same time capturing carbon. It’s a similar approach to what we have done in reforestation over the past 15 years. So, for example, farmers plant hedgerows and trees alongside their crops to make a positive impact on soil health and biodiversity. Regenerative agriculture is something that many companies can engage with as part of their CSR and environmental activities.


What type of company do you work with to fund your projects and engage in action?

While large corporates tend to have more of an impact because of the scale of their investment, we approach all sizes of company. The climate and biodiversity situation is too challenging to ignore the smaller companies who can also act. So, we have solutions for both small and large companies. And there are two different types of company with which we work on projects and funding, the nature based and the nature enabled.


How does a nature-based company engage in what you’re doing?

Nature-based companies are businesses involved in areas such as pharmaceuticals, agri, and textiles. The best way for them to act is by looking at their value chain – who are they sourcing products from, such as the cotton used in clothing? Are the cotton fields farmed in a regenerative manner that captures carbon, improves biodiversity and has a positive impact on people’s lives? For the farmer in this value chain, switching from conventional agriculture to a regenerative model can be costly, as well as risky. So, the buyer – the company at the top of the value chain – needs to fund the transition and help farmers make the shift.


How about a nature-enabled company?

On the other hand services companies, those that are nature enabled such as Erevena can make a valuable contribution by investing in nature-based projects. To explain what I mean, you may not be part of a nature-based value chain but consider that nature contributes 50% of GDP through the different services it supports. Energy, food and water are all services used by companies and individuals alike. While forests naturally filter water, we don’t pay the forests for that service, we simply benefit from it. That’s not all. Nature captures carbon, and forests are home to 80% of the earth’s biodiversity outside of oceans. As a services company, what you do has an impact on that nature and diversity, typically through the impact of your actions on the climate.


Can you expand on the impact a service company can make on the climate?

Climate change is having an impact on nature and diverse ecosystems. Trees die because of a lack of water due to low (or zero) rainfall. They die when new and damaging insects come into an area previously inhospitable to them but, due to climate change, they now find homes there. New mushrooms take up home in new areas and degrade the trees. It’s all down to climate change, which we are causing due to our carbon emissions. As a service company, the onus is on you to reduce your carbon emissions and help to restore nature. You do that by investing in nature-based projects, such as reforestation, which, of course, I am passionate about. Forests are the first world’s carbon sink we can act on, so reforestation makes a big impact on the climate.


You talk about a holistic approach – what do you mean by that?

The risk of a strategy focusing solely on reducing carbon emissions is that you only look at addressing a single area of concern. Or perhaps you choose to tackle biodiversity and adopt a regenerative agriculture approach, which, in turn, misses the issue of carbon emissions or the social impact of deforestation. Acting solely on just one aspect may, in fact, have a negative impact on the rest. Our projects aim to take a holistic view so that we have an impact on them all. While this might not be as efficient as a single focus on, for example, climate change, it gets the right balance of impacts.


Is there a risk that people who fly a lot think it’s OK just to offset their emissions?

Of course, there’s a risk that they’re not reducing their emissions, but the bigger risk is doing nothing at all. Interestingly, studies have demonstrated that the people who offset reduce faster than others! That’s because when you start to address the topic of climate change, you realise how nasty the situation is. So, I would prefer someone to offset, than not to offset!


What role can Erevena play in this topic?

Erevena recruits decision makers. The more you talk about this amongst decision makers, the more they will act and the better the situation will become. It’s too easy for people to criticise others taking action on the climate and biodiversity when they don’t do anything themselves. So, I would say keep talking about this topic and be consistent in what you say and do, whether it’s offsetting or reducing, or both. We all know that offsetting is not enough. In fact, ‘reducing’ is not enough too. We also need to redress the degradation of the land that’s been going on since the nineteenth century. We need to restore the land because how else will it be in good enough shape to capture our carbon emissions?

As a B Corp certified company, Erevena can lead by example and continue to make sure you have a positive impact. If, for example, you are acting to reduce your impact on the climate, don’t just have an action plan in place to cut your emissions, measure them too. Then offset them, otherwise, while you might reduce your negative impact, you will never reach a positive impact.


What should companies reading this article do now?

Call Reforest’Action if they want to know more! This is a complex and passionate subject, so we’re here to explore the different solutions together. But probably the first thing to do is ask yourself whether your company is having a positive or negative impact on nature. If the answer is a negative impact, then look at what needs to be done urgently because the world will not accept this situation for much longer. Having a positive impact demands a long-term view of your business. Making sure your value chain is sustainable for the future needs a short-term effort at the outset, but it pays back in the value it generates for companies and for the environment. In effect, you can increase your company value by restoring land!


What is stopping companies acting on this?

I think the main reason not to act is that it’s complex. It’s hard to act properly because you can make big mistakes by wanting to do good. As an example, you might choose to plant a single species of tree over a large area in a reforestation project, but is this over simplifying things and will just one species damage the biodiversity? So, you can see it’s a topic that needs a real involvement in fully understanding what you want to achieve and what are the right ways to get there. That’s why you need experts like ourselves or others and to embrace the complexity with a long-term vision.


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Lilian Poilpot, Partner

Specialisms: CEO succession planning, GTM, Tech & Product across Europe & MEA

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