Antoine Arnault of LVMH

PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton on Wednesday outlined plans with UNESCO to fight deforestation of the Amazon region, with Antoine Arnault, head of image and environment for the group, taking to the stage for a livestreamed forum on biodiversity that featured Jane Goodall and a message from Pope Francis.

“We realized in my company that the environmental culture of our employees is stronger than we thought…on a daily basis, we are receiving calls from our employees to do more,” said Arnault, describing how the pandemic has served as a wake-up call. The executive also outlined the group’s approach to protecting biodiversity, a key element of its so-called “Life 360” program, the umbrella of environmental initiatives at LVMH.

The pandemic has served to further boost growing interest on the part of consumers in social and environmental issues, adding pressure on labels across the spectrum to improve their sustainability credentials. LVMH has been ramping up efforts on this front, and in January last year hired Hélène Valade to work on environmental issues at the group. The former water and waste group executive served on the board of France’s environmental protection agency. In December, LVMH revealed it was structuring environmental initiatives around the “Life 360″ program, with objectives set for three-, six- and 10-year time frames.

“We need to rethink our relationship to nature, how to protect it and how we can live with it, we also have to rethink economic activity in a more sustainable way,” said UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, noting that the online event marked the 50th anniversary of the international organization’s ‘Man and the Biosphere’ program, known as MAB.

When it was created, the idea was to draw up models combining biodiversity, economic activity and sustainable development, with an important role for scientific research.

“We need to implement a number of concrete projects in the more than 700 biosphere reserves that the MAB currently has, and for this we need support, we need commitment, we need mobilization from the whole of society so that we can meet these goals,” she said.

“LVMH’s commitment is very important in this regard, and this is not something new, actually,” she said, tracing ties between the two back to 2013, when they organized a meeting together on living beings.

“We have also promoted research, more sustainable approaches in biosphere reserves and UNESCO has also very ambitious goals, we bring our scientific expertise in order to help the LVMH group to implement more sustainable supply chain programs,” she added.

“It’s a very important partnership which brings together two very different organizations but each has the capacity to change society,” said the director.

Arnault said that the luxury group has a pragmatic approach to issues of biodiversity.

“Without biodiversity, there’s no life on earth, we can’t even talk about companies or the economy anymore if there’s no life,” he said.

“We realize that if the average temperature continues to increase, and the forecasts of plus 2, plus 3 degrees [Celsius] in the next 40 years were to become reality, then we can no longer produce champagne in Champagne [France],” he said, drawing a direct line to the group’s activities. Executives are noticing changes already, with grape harvesting activities shifting from September to August, he explained.

Since setting up its environmental department in 1992, the group has, over the years, worked with “better experts, better farmers, better professionals,” he continued, noting that working with suppliers is also key.

When it comes to setting objectives on the environmental front, the group sometimes reaches the goal, sometimes surpasses them, but there is one overarching goal in his description. “Our general objective is clear, it’s give back to nature what we take from it,” he said.

Respect for living beings is necessary for producing wool, for example, the executive noted.

“We also need to take a step back and think about how we can improve our way of working with this very precious raw material and our consumption of this raw material,” added Arnault.

Supporting the MAB biosphere reserve is a “a very logical and necessary continuation of our commitment and this allows us to safeguard the economy and local communities among others,” he said.

The pair laid out a series of areas that LVMH is working on in the Amazon, as part of a five million-euro program over five years.

“We will contribute to solving two essential issues — the first one is to attempt a reforestation in this area and to improve the management of forest fires in the Amazon and also to create sustainable jobs for the local populations — we want to do this in order to provide livelihoods to the people living in this area so that they don’t have to resort to deforestation,” he said.

They will work with local players in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru to train people in forest management, and support jobs in a sustainable manner. The project includes setting up a local radio system to help prevent forest fires.

Some 13 million people live in the Amazon, noted Azoulay.

“We cannot let these groups disappear, we cannot let the Amazon disappear — the world’s lungs,” she said. The director noted that UNESCO had a long-term view, having been formed after the Second World War, with the goal of creating a better place for future generations.

LVMH laid out a series of goals for its biodiversity program, including measuring the impact of activities, seeking to reduce that impact, promoting animal welfare and regenerating ecosystems. Plans to regenerate five million hectares of habitat by 2030 include programs from LVMH labels, including Guerlain’s bee conservation program training women beekeepers, Moët Hennessy’s soil regeneration program, and regenerative agriculture programs backed by Stella McCartney.

“It is true that these are very unusual times, we do hope that we will come out of this pandemic still standing even though we’ve all been weakened — but still I dare to hope, I have reason to hope,” said Arnault.

“The pandemic could have actually stopped us in our tracks but we realized that the relationship between humans and their environment is even more important to people than we thought it was — and this wakeup call of the pandemic has made it more powerful still,” he observed.

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