March 25, 2024

Danone’s Step-by-Step Approach to Building Pre-competitive Partnerships

March 25, 2024

Danone’s Step-by-Step Approach to Building Pre-competitive Partnerships

March 25, 2024

Danone’s Step-by-Step Approach to Building Pre-competitive Partnerships

March 2024

Danone’s Step-by-Step Approach to Building Pre-competitive Partnerships

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We caught up with Facundo Etchebehere, SVP of Sustainable Strategy and Partnerships at Danone. As the key piece in Danone’s global sustainability team puzzle, Facundo and his team are responsible for developing Danone’s sustainability strategy at a central level and embedding it horizontally across all business functions (we’re talking HR, procurement, operations, R&D). His top tip for accelerating transformations? Strategic partnerships.

Before we dig into the do’s and don’ts of the word that most professionals dread: “collaboration”, let’s get to grips with Danone’s approach to sustainability:

Sustainability at Danone:

In 2020, Danone adopted the “Société à Mission” status. What does this actually mean? The status enshrines Danone’s dual long-lasting commitment to achieve economic success and social progress into the organisation’s by-laws.

Danone’s Impact Journey was released in 2023 to make sustainability a key enabler of growth at Danone. This revised sustainability roadmap focused on driving their mission through three pillars (health, nature, and people & communities) with 12 action-driven priorities. These priorities are managed by program leaders across accountable functions (more on the specific set-up later). Progress is tracked using 29 KPIs reported annually. If you also think tracking 29 KPIs is a lot, you’re not alone…

-> Danone’s reporting workaround: Danone created a department within the finance team to simplify data collection and reporting across all local teams. This ensures that all teams have the right data (and capital) available at the right time to implement initiatives on time and at cost.

Danone’s sustainability org set up:

  • Board-level buy-in: is critical to steering the agenda and encouraging company-wide uptake. Danone has created two forums to engage senior executives:

-> The CSR Committee: 5 directors meet 4 times a year to set the strategic direction for Danone’s activities, ensuring alignment with their purpose and mission.

-> The Mission Committee: The mission committee is an external body of 9 sustainability experts, tasked with monitoring the effectiveness of actions and driving the mission forward.

  • The central sustainability team: comprising >100 sustainability leaders across the company, the central sustainability team sets up processes and implements governance. Their aim: to enable pillar ‘sponsors’ to operate on time and at speed. This involves cross-collaboration between core business functions to enable capital allocation and operational prioritisation.
  • Sustainability sponsors: Each impact pillar (health, nature, and people & communities) has a sponsor coordinating the action activities. This tends to be the person closest to the transformation or actions needed e.g.:
    -> Nature: Head of Operations works on energy transition and water optimisation within production sites and supply chains.
    -> Health: Head of R&I works on product reformulations and health science.
    -> People & Communities: Head of HR works on DE&I.
  • Local level implementation: Actions are made at a local level by colleagues on the ground, embedding sustainability into their business plans, in line with their local priorities e.g., Regenerative Agriculture projects in the US are run by local procurement teams.

Top tip: Clear communication between each team is hinged on understanding work streams and priorities. Make sure you translate your mission to the right team, at the right level, at the right time. Leverage your internal experts and expose them to the company via webinars, workshops and open Q&As.

Initiative Spotlight: Building Strategic Pre-competitive Partnerships

Collaborating with external stakeholders, including NGOs and competitors is demanding (we won’t lie to you). Here are Facundo’s steps to finding the collaborative “sweet spot”:

Step 1: Set crystal clear outcomes. This allows you to stay open-minded to other perspectives whilst moving in the direction that means the most to you.

Step 2: Move quickly on your material big bets. For your material big bets (e.g., dairy) get involved as early as possible to maximise your benefits. It will ensure your business case is front and centre as your needs are baked in from the start of the process.

Step 3: Choose the right partner. Be open-minded to different partnership “archetypes”. Some of the best partnerships involve competitors, different industries and sectors. Work to understand the other perspectives and intentions represented. If the partnership doesn’t have significant wins for everyone involved, engagement will be slow.

Partnership example: Danone launched the Dairy Methane Action Alliance with the Environmental Defence Fund NGO, alongside six of the world’s largest dairy companies, including Bel Group and Kraft Heinz. All members aligned on the importance of measuring, disclosing and having action plans to cut methane in dairy.

“One company alone cannot address the climate challenge. It is about scaling up and joining forces with companies that share the same goal.”

Step 4: Be better than competitive. Identify where you want to “win the game” vs “play the game”. Identify areas that you want to differentiate and drive a unique value proposition (e.g.,  healthy portfolio) vs. those that provide broader industry advancement (e.g., plastic collection systems).

Step 5: Resource appropriately. Aligning efforts and ambitions takes time, effort, and money - don’t underestimate it. Long-term partnerships tend to be better as they pay dividends over time. Danone just celebrated a 25-year partnership with the Convention for Wetlands - working to set up and manage Evian’s mineral recharge sites.

Check out Danone’s Impact Roadmap below 👇

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