How our oceans are driving the European economy through innovation and sustainable growth.
The so-called oyster luge, slurping the brine of the bivalve followed by a smoky sip of single malt scotch, has become something of a stealth hit among elite bars.
But that’s not the reason Glenmorangie, the Scottish whisky distiller owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), started sending divers of the northeast coast of Scotland. An active participant of the Monaco Blue Initiative (MBI), Glenmorangie had launched an ambitious marine life reinforcement project called DEEP— the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project. Forming a partnership with Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society in 2014, over 300 wild flat oysters were reintroduced into the Dornoch estuary in March 2017 after an absence of more than a century.
It presented its success to MBI’s ninth gathering last April, where some one hundred scientists, politicians, startups, big companies, and international organizations gathered in Edinburgh.
“Oyster reefs are among the most endangered marine habitats on Earth,” says Dr. Bill Sanderson, associate professor of Marine Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt. “And it is thanks to Glenmorangie’s commitment that we have been able to create this project, which we hope will become an example that could be replicated in other parts of the world.”
While LVMH doesn’t publish its investment as a partner of DEEP, its commitment is hardly in doubt. “Our position as a leader entails social and environmental responsibilities,” explains Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of the diversified luxury goods company. “We need to go further than simply meeting standards.”
LVMH has invested $7.65 million (€6.7 million) in its internal carbon funds since 2016 and has a 2020 objective for a 10% improvement in environmental performance at all sites and stores affecting water, energy, and waste.
As for Glenmorangie, not far from its historic distillery in Tain, the Highland single malt scotch whisky producer since 1843 recently built an Anaerobic Digestion plant, reportedly at a cost of $6.4 million (€5.6 million), allowing the company to purify up to 95% of its wastewater. The very same DEEP oysters in the estuary organically cleanse the 5% leftover.
“The DEEP project goes a long way to fulfilling our ambition to be a fully sustainable business,” says Marc Hoellinger, president and CEO of the Glenmorangie Co.
Yet transitioning to a “sustainable business” through what has become known as the blue economy requires huge and sustained investment—and some guidelines. As the EU’s Maritime Affairs points out, within this “complex environment which already carries significant business risk, there is limited guidance available on how to act.”
So what exactly is the blue economy, which is relatively unknown in the U.S.?
The World Bank defines it as an approach that “supports economic growth, social inclusion and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring the environmental sustai- nability of oceans and coastal areas.”
There is a compelling economic, as well as environmental, argument to be made. A World Wildlife Fund report from 2014 fixes the value of our oceans’ assets at more than $24 trillion (€21 trillion): “Putting it into an international context, if the ocean were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world.”
Some of those assets are imperiled. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 90% of world’s fisheries are “either overfished or at the limit of sustainability.” Still, there are huge business opportunities for other sectors of the blue economy, including renewable energy, biotechnology, waste management, and climate change.
The European Union says the blue economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost $575 billion (€504 billion) a year. The World Bank’s Blue Economy portfolio is worth around $3.7 billion (€3.25 billion).
Monaco, whose image and livelihood depend on thoughtful stewardship of the Mediterranean, is at the forefront of the Blue Wave. Delivering the 2018 Grantham Annual Lecture at Imperial College London in March this year, Prince Albert did not mince his words. “We must make the blue economy a priority. Clearly this is an immense task, a long and difficult battle to be fought, but one we can win.”
Prince Albert’s commitment traces back to his great-great- grandfather who shares his name. Nicknamed the “Prince of the Seas,” Prince Albert I was an ambitious explorer who devoted his life to oceanography and ocean protection, and built the Monaco Oceanographic Museum to display his marine life discoveries.
“Putting it into an international context, if the ocean were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world,” says WWF.
One hundred years later, in 2006, Prince Albert II followed his footsteps and traveled to the North Pole to document the impact of climate change. He then founded the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, dedicated to “the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development on a global scale.” To date, the Foundation has funded more than 420 projects and awarded $58 million (€51 million) in grants.
IT'S THROUGH INITIATIVES like MBI that the Principality, and especially Prince Albert and his Foundation, act as forces of change towards the blue economy.
“It is by bringing together experts from all backgrounds, from different generations with complementary areas of expertise, that we’ll be able to build a common vision for our oceans, and define a set of actions,” explains Robert Calcagno, Director of Monaco’s Oceanographic Institute since 2009.
Experts like Professor Thierry Chopin, Scientific Director at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, who attended MBI in Sao Paolo in 2016 and is working on a high-yield multispecies approach called Integrated MultiTrophic Aquaculture. As described by Science Direct, this ecosystem “uses marine species that are not only commercially viable, such as salmon, but are also environmentally sustainable, based on the concept that the wastes consisting of uneaten feed, feces and metabolic excretion of one species are a useful input for growth of another species, working in a natural self-cleansing mechanism.” Protecting our oceans may seem insurmountable. But, faced with a dire environmental situation and higher global temperatures considered no longer safe— “irreversible tragedies,” as Prince Albert calls them—economic systems must adapt.
One small, but critical, step comes from Belgian entrepreneur Gunter Pauli, the author of The Blue Economy-10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs. Known as “the Steve Jobs of sustainability,” he has one simple belief: abolish waste the way nature does. “If our industries looked like nature, each waste would be the food of another industry,” he told Le Point magazine. “And no need for taxes, subsidies, or even investment, only beauty and ingenuity.”
Pauli, who has nine Ted Talks to his name, has transformed his ideas into children’s books with the goal of reaching 50 million kids a day, as “Nestlé does.”
Children will inherit the messes we have left them. Perhaps, following the leads of the blue economy,
they will have the courage and imagination to clean them up.