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Sustainable development AND economic prosperity with Jorge Laguna-Celis

AND is the Future podcast

Season 2, Episode 3

The new Syensqo 'And is the Future' podcasts hosted by CEO Ilham Kadri will be a continuation of the former Solvay editions that concluded after the spin off of Syensqo in December 2023.

How sustainable production and consumption can make your business thrive

Did you know that sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12) can bring a lot of business growth and economic benefits? Ilham sits down with Jorge Laguna-Celis who leads the One Planet Network, part of the UN Environment Programme, to talk about the importance of SDG 12; the One Planet Network’s global strategy for sustainable consumption and production; how businesses can grow and thrive by achieving SDG 12, and much more! 
*note: this podcast was recorded before COP15 on biodiversity.

1:22 - Upbringing and passion for sustainable development
2:36 - Focus on SDG 12 and the 10 year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production
5:14 - What has been achieved and still left to achieve since Rio 20?
8:43 - Release of One Planet Network’s Global Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and Production

13:51 - Circularity and business mind shifts, and reducing inequality
20:25 - Harmonizing frameworks
15:46 - What was achieved at COP 27?
29:59 - What about COP 15 on biodiversity?
33:12 - Love of music and playing the guitar

Podcast available on   Apple podcasts     Spotify     Google podcasts

Meet Jorge Laguna-Celis

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Jorge Laguna-Celis is a diplomat, an author and internationally renowned expert on global sustainable development policies. Jorge leads the One Planet Network, part of the UN Environment Programme where he is responsible for driving exciting new actions for achieving SDG 12 to enable sustainable consumption and production.

He is the author of numerous columns and publications on issues related to international affairs and sustainable development. His latest book entitled "From Rio+20 to a New Development Agenda: Building a Bridge to a Sustainable Future", was published in 2014 by Routledge.


Ilham Kadri: I'm very happy to welcome Jorge Laguna-Celis to my podcast today. Jorge is a diplomat, an author and internationally renowned expert on global sustainable development policies. Jorge leads the One Planet Network. What a beautiful name (we like it at Solvay), part of the UN Environment Programme.

In this role, he's responsible for driving exciting new actions for achieving SDG 12 to enable sustainable consumption and production. This is an issue that is very close to my heart, so I'm very excited to be having this conversation. Jorge, thank you so much for joining me.

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Thank you very much, Ilham, for having me here. I am absolutely delighted to be with you.

Upbringing and passion for sustainable development 

Ilham Kadri: Yeah, thanks a lot Jorge. And I always like to start my podcast by getting to know more about what motivates our guests. So before we get to your great work leading the One Planet Network, can you tell us a bit more about you, about your background, about, I believe you grew up in Mexico, right? And was there particular moment in your life that sparked your interest in sustainable development?

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Yes, indeed, and as a matter of fact, as I was listening to your question, my thoughts are starting to wonder when I was a child and a kid growing up in Mexico, with my parents, Both of them were very much avid campers and they loved to travel and they thought they believed that really to being grounded, to being close to nature, to being close to the floor, to being close to a community was the best way to get to know yourself. Get to know your surroundings and appreciate nature. So I guess I grew up with this experience of camping, being close to nature and this very much down to earth, uh, childhood that my parents gave me. So I guess that gave me that drive or that willingness to work for sustainable development teachers.


Focus on SDG 12 and the 10 year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production

Ilham Kadri: Yeah. Wow. So camping and this is great. So it gets you close to nature and now bridging it or getting back to your career, Jorge, and the One Planet Network, you are almost entirely focused on SDG 12 and I must say there are very few out there. People talk about the sustainable development goals, but I like your focusing on SDG 12 is about ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. So it's a big theme. Can you tell our listeners more about the work you are doing to promote this SDG in particular as well as the 10 year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production?

Jorge Laguna-Celis:Yes, indeed. The way I like to present sustainable development Goal 12. Well, first of all, for those of you that may not be perhaps aware of all the sustainable development goals, this is a set of goals that were set by the international community, heads of State, Civil Society governments in 2015 to help drive a new sustainable development agenda. I like to go back to three things that we all do in our everyday's lives. For example, the food that we eat, we rarely ask ourselves the question that over 14%, some even say up to a third, of all the world's food is lost along the value chain before it even arrives at the end of the market. Once it arrives to our plates or to the end of the market, in many cases it's discarded and yet, people go hungry every day. We know this in our family tables. We know this in any country that we come from. We also know, for example, that every day we purchase 1 million plastic bottles, drinking bottles of water every minute, and discard 5 trillion single use plastic bags every year. What does this mean? It means that in our efforts to provide economic growth and better livelihoods for everybody, we have missed something along the lines. We have not aligned our patterns of production with our patterns of consumption. SDG 12, it is like that golden thread that connects the climate crisis, but also solutions to our climate agenda, to our nature agenda, but also to our pollution agenda. And ultimately it provides opportunities and a vision of hope so people can live healthy, prosperous lives. 

What has been achieved and still left to achieve since Rio 20?

Ilham Kadri: Yeah. Thank you, Jorge. You talked about the SDGs to our listeners, and I have the honor to lead as a chair. The WBCSD, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, where all the work around the council members, more than 200 companies, are working around the sustainable development goals through the transformation of economic systems, circular economy, cities, climate, food, land and water you talked about is, but also people. So very much important to our industries today. So the SDGs are very close to your heart, Jorge, because you were a lead negotiator during the Rio 20, the conference in 2012 where members states launched a process to develop the sustainable development goals, and then you and your co authors wrote a book called From Rio 20 to a New Development's Agenda, building a Bridge to a Sustainable Future. What do you think has been achieved and what's still left to achieve since Rio 20 and the book you wrote? Are you satisfied? Do you really think, Jorge, that we are going as fast as it should be?

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Quite the contrary, if we look at the bright spots, if we look at those areas where we can see a number of areas of hope, glimmers of hope, I would say that overall the international community is increasingly aware of the connection between the human activities and the environment. We also are increasingly aware as individuals that we all have a role to play. Yet as we discuss and we look back to the successes of Rio plus 20 and also to its shortcomings, we all have to look into ourselves and in the mirror and realize that, for example, there has been an incredible progress in terms of agreements. We have adopted the Paris Agreement that presents a pathway for climate. We have adopted a number of agreements and are in the process of developing an internationally legally binding instrument to address the whole life cycle of plastics. We have adopted the sustainable development goals and yet 10 years down the road since the conference of Rio plus 20, the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions concentrated in our atmosphere has grown the levels of, let's say the IUCN Index of Species that go extinct are also growing in the rise. I do see, nevertheless, a number of areas that have changed, and these have to do with the private agency that companies, individuals, and institutions have. Number one, the amount of financial resources that are devoted to sustainability has grown and is growing. Number two, the employment in innovation sectors, and green I would say, businesses have also grown very significantly, the exponential development of clean energies and clean energy solutions and reducing costs, are every day even more competitive. And therefore, so I do see that there are a number of areas where we have advanced, but of course we are not doing this at the speed, at the extent at the pace that is required.

Release of One Planet Network’s global strategy for sustainable consumption and production

Ilham Kadri: Yeah. And you talked about, you know, I think you are an optimist like me, Jorge, right. So, and science is progressing and, and I really like what you and your team are doing with the One Planet Network, by the way, I love your tagline. Handle with Care. Right. We also have, you know, our program called Solving One Planet, so I'm not sure you know who inspires who, but at the end of the day, it's one home, one planet, and you release Jorge, the global strategy for sustainable consumption and production. Can you tell our listeners a bit more about what's in your global strategy, particularly, I know you have those pillars for actions. I think there are four and what they mean for businesses like mine.

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Absolutely. Let me just spend a couple of minutes explaining what is the One Planet Network. As I did mention at the beginning of this conversation, the Sustainable Development goals, sustainable development goal 12 has a very specific target. That target is helping all countries, 193 member states, implement what you mentioned, the 10 year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production. This is the only inter governmental agreement adopted by all member states endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly.We work with governments and stakeholders. We have 140 national focal points. We are present in 140 countries through designated representatives appointed by the ministries. We are the largest network and we want to grow of individuals that are passionate about SCP or sustainable consumption and production, also known as circular economy from other angles. It's exactly the same. We have experts on procurement, sustainable food systems, lifestyles, and education, consumer information. And we have an increasing number of businesses that are involved. So we are a solution oriented network. 

We started a year ago developing a global strategy for SCP. What we did, it was also taking into account the lessons learned of 10 years of implementation. You have asked us about how much we have made progress. We have indeed made progress in the sense that up to now over 130 countries have reported or have evidence of having embraced sustainable consumption and production or circular economy policies and strategies. There is an institutional setup, yet there are a number of countries that are being left behind. Also, countries are not advancing at the same speed as the challenges that we have looked at require. We started a broad process of consultation to come up with a strategy. Our priority one is to look at sustainable consumption and production or circularity at the same time as an essential requirement to achieve our goals on climate, biodiversity and pollution, but also as a means of implementation. I would say an imperative and a solution. Number two, it's really to create change. To promote change through circularity, public and private partnerships, tools and solutions, but really anchoring in high impact sectors. there are four sectors that are driving our economies. What we eat, our food systems, how we built our built environment, how we move our transport systems. And last I would say, product economy, what goes into retail. Those four sectors driven by the energy that are required and the resources that are being used and the trends that they are following are absolutely essential. So creating these solutions, that impact, that shift, the trajectories in these four impact sectors, or five high impact economic sectors are key.

We are about empowering countries, particularly those that don't have an institutional setup and require to do so. There are a number of countries that cannot achieve the sustainable development goals if they cannot make a strong transition to circularity or cannot embrace a new economy. They require support through the UN development system. I like to call it rethink, act, and inspire. So this is about our fourth priority. How do we foster and inspire a global movement for action? And I like to use these three words because they apply almost to every context. Whatever business you're into, you have to rethink your business model, whatever you are, whatever you thought, you have to act on it. You have to be coherent with that approach. Whatever environment you're working, you can inspire others because you cannot perhaps change all the world, but you can change your world. So we are firm believers that we can create change incrementally at any level and at any scale.

Circularity and business mindshifts, and reducing inequality 

Ilham Kadri: Wow. So inspiring, right? I think sharing that dream, that, you know, perspective rethinking, reimagining and acting about those. So you know, you talked about circularity, Jorge and when I was studying, I was at the bench studying my chemistry, a PhD in chemistry and sciences. We were encouraged to create a product, right, basically meeting technical specs, specification, at cost, you know, meeting, you know, cost targets and goals. We weren’t thinking about the end of life, right? And, and some great companies I worked in, we were always working with life cycle analysis. From cradle to grave, sometimes from cradle to cradle for the best ones, but very rarely actually we were asked to think about the product's second or third life, and now things are starting to change and I wish I'm younger, right? If I'm a young chemist, I would definitely adopt the circular economy, a circular chemistry type of mindset. And I had a great discussion about this topic in a previous episode with Dame Ellen MacArthur, you know, who really with her foundation, we are a member, really starts building ecosystems, right? And helping us, you know, the chemical industry to find partners in creating this circular ecosystem. Are you seeing Jorge an encouraging mindset shifts in your conversation with the 200 business partners around you?

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Absolutely. Yes. And let me just quote a couple of figures and in  this go in line to what you have heard from Ellen MacArthur, the wonderful work that they're doing, we are working together with them to transform, for example, the tourism sector. I can use that as an interesting example, if we look at the nationally determined contributions, these are the roadmaps that countries have pledged against the Paris Agreement to meet the goals of 1.5 degrees, right? If we look at these plans or national plans, national strategies, you can call them any way you want. That's what they are. 27% of, to our latest count, have embedded circularity into their NDC’s. This is good. It's a potential not good enough. I took a little bit of time and I started looking at the top most valuable companies in the world by capitalization levels or by impact. I would say that if we take the top 20 companies, I would say that more than 12 have developed already a strategy that helped them address sustainability challenges, at least from a circular perspective. They have already developed and tracked a number of approaches and I would say therefore that it is encouraging to see that companies and the private sector are moving forward with increasing speed. If one looks at companies that are raising interesting levels of capitalization and resources, new startups, they are all developing ideas and solutions that will help companies thrive. It's something that I like to call Adapt to Thrive. So either if you are developing a new company or a new approach, you want to already anchor it in what you can see the megatrends that we are already taking into account. But if you already are an established company that's been around for a hundred years and you are resource intensive, you know that that is your best recipe to stay in business and to thrive in the next hundred years, provide value, increase satisfaction of your customers and employee retention. Yes, I can see that there is a positive movement. Circularity is driving the agenda, yet we are also cautioning against this false perception, by which circularity and social inclusion will go hand in hand together if we don’t look at a holistic approach on how we address, and this is not only the role of companies, it's also the role of governments. We can, as a matter of fact, create circularity with inclusion, but it's not a given. The second point that I have noticed is that I like to call this the resource efficiency trap, that we, that more is not always better. Faster is not always better, that we also need to change our consumption approaches and as companies, there is a very important responsibility in understanding and appreciating what drives aspirational consumption because those two angles are absolutely essential if we want to meet our climate nature targets.

Ilham Kadri: Yeah. And this is really important, Jorge, because you are bringing now the sustainable developments and the beautiful work you are doing not only on, on the science and products and consumption, but also. Bringing its own fighting inequality, which I think it's core to One Planet Network. And in the strategy you're talking about how to take and make-and-waste economy increases inequalities and vulnerabilities. And this is frankly really close to my heart because, you know, not only as a Chair of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, which has a commission to tackle inequality, but also as an issue for someone who grew up from very humble roots, right? And without inclusion, I would not have made it in front of you today. This issue is so important because as we move forward with the energy transition, we must also ensure that it's a just transition for all, and that inequality is considered at the same level of urgency as the climate. So I personally believe it should be a standalone objective. So moving from this linear world to a circular economy world to a sustainable development is such an important part, as you mentioned, Jorge. So the theme of this podcast as you know, Jorge, how businesses can be both sustainable and profitable. And this is especially important here because some may argue that transforming some of our businesses to a sustainable production model is expensive. But we believe that this is the best investment we can do, and it's not the case if you do it right. It actually brings incredible value to the company, to our employees, to future employees, increase profitability, increase overall economic prosperity. 

Harmonizing frameworks

Ilham Kadri: So you talked about tools and you know, it's great to have, you know, your network and your organization doing it. We have our sustainable portfolio management team, which is helping us. How do you think, you know, we are a scope three of someone. So we're working on scope one and two. Scope three of my customers and obviously my suppliers. I need their carbon footprints and their production, you know, footprints, because without that I cannot size my own impact. How do you think your organization can help our businesses to have a common language? Because now there are. You know, you see each continent is going to its own way, Europe to green deal, US you've seen now the IRA and how the Biden administration is pushing it. We know there is no carbon pricing in China yet is emerging, but there is a dream to get neutrality by 2060. How do you think we should be harmonizing the frameworks around the world to make it one language, Jorge? Because you cannot be working in our camps.

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Absolutely. You have pointed to something that it is, I would say the biggest challenges yet also the biggest opportunity to really drive a transformation on the sustainable consumption and production agenda. At this moment as we speak, there is evidence of over 300 voluntary sustainability standards, yet we don't have an agreed definition of what is a sustainable product, what benchmark, which definition, what agreed methodology we are going to be using. We have identified. And this is an area that I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, the profound revolution on data analytics, artificial intelligence, and what some people are calling digital product passports. Having the ability to trace the impacts across different stages of the value chain and also from a global perspective, presents an opportunity. Yet there is no space to reach that agreement. There is no space to harmonize these standards. We have started a contribution in the context of the sustainable consumer information program. That it is a global partnership led by a number of countries. Especially the government of Germany, government of Indonesia, consumers international, that's one of the largest advocate organizations, a number of private sector entities. Two years ago, we presented the guidelines for providing product sustainability information, and I'd like to quote at least the five fundamental principles of this guidelines because they may speak to this conversation that we're having. The five basic principles are one, reliability, having information that's reliable. Two, transparency. I could count really the number of conversations that I've had with CEOs like you, that transparency have actually helped them in the long run to create better products. So, transparency, relevance, using information and disclosing information that is relevant in your product. Accessibility, making information accessible. And this goes in line with the tool that you have mentioned. And clarity to help your consumers, your customers make choices now. These are all great and are the baseline if you want to get a competitive edge, what we came out of this process from the guidelines of the principles on providing product sustainability information. It is think about aspirational components, such as, is the, is the approach that you're taking supporting behavioral change, is it supporting behavioral change? Is it addressing the three dimensions on sustainable development? Is it leading to innovation, for example, and to collaboration? So, this is to say that there is an ongoing conversation. It is urgent that the international community tackles it. It is an area that in its program for digitalization and digital product passports, the One Planet Network will be working on in the next two years to create better standards, better approaches for defining what those sustainability means. To improve the reliability of information that's provided and setting what you call a common ground of minimum requirements to remove the potential of greenwashing. That is the biggest, I would say, one of the major challenges.

What was achieved at COP 27?

Ilham Kadri: Yeah, well thank you for, I mean, your call is really to move away from the soup of alphabet of definitions and activities and get to, you know, drive multi stakeholders effort to conversion, jointly address the common challenges and, and you talked about the evidence base and the clarity, the transparency to capitalize on the knowledge and the digital technology is obviously helping us. And I know that you launched a network initiative on harness in digital technologies for the circular economy. So that was a brilliant piece I read, on your newly, you know, launched initiative. Well before finishing this podcast, and this is really an interesting conversation, I cannot not bring up the COP 27, right? Did you attend Jorge, what do you think? I mean, I heard people disappointed. I heard people say no. Progressing. I was not there personally. I had my chief sustainability officer who went there with a crew from Solvay. What do you think was achieved that could help advance the SDG 12 in general or in particular?

Jorge Laguna-Celis: I'll answer your first question. I personally did not attend it because the United Nations Environment Program, our mother organization, is committed to reducing the footprint of our delegations that attend global conferences. But virtually thanks to the power of technology, we managed to launch and present a number of initiatives, tools, and activities. My take, and what I think was achieved at CO 27 that could help advance SDG 12, I believe, and I was very much encouraged to see that in the first page of the Sharm el-Sheikh  implementation plan, the outcome document states the importance of a transition to sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of production and consumption as part, as an integral element of addressing climate change. That is wonderful. Of course, it is good to get recognition. It clearly demonstrates how a fundamental shift is needed.

We also were extremely encouraged too, the fact that, uh, there as you, uh, both and we both share that same passion and commitment for a just transition that no one is left behind that the issue of loss and damages, meaning, meaning the support that it is required and keep you given to the trajectories of climate emissions to the most vulnerable and fragile economies to help them cope, mitigate and adapt with the climate threats was truly recognized. However, myself, as many others think that we lost the opportunity to advocate for serious reductions. Now is precisely the time. There's no better time, like a global energy crisis to shift the speed in which we will transition to new forms of energy. So I believe that that conversation was very much needed and we did not achieve the results that we expected. And I also would say that it is a pending agreement for the next COP that will require to address head front the reduction of fossil fuels, uh, with very close targets so that we get closer to the implementation of our Paris goals. And so I would say that it is a successful cop, but with mitigated results, we hope that we will see greater ambition in the year to come and that leaders will race to the level that many businesses are doing by not waiting and carbonizing their operations.

What about COP 15 on biodiversity? 

Ilham Kadri: Yeah. And I love it because I think this is the other call for action and acceleration into finding this, you call it new form of energies or carbon, specifically in the current crisis with this war region in Europe, uh, with our wake up call to live with less gas, right. Uh, over one evening, right? So, I think, you talked about the next step now will be the COP 15 on biodiversity in December, and I think the One Planet Network puts it well when it says that unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are the root causes of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, what do you think should be achieved at COP 15? And do you see the work of the One Planet Network playing a role there?

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Tomorrow at 2:00 PM I'll be, uh, taking a plane and doing that carbon investment to go to Montreal. Why? Because, we are convinced that, I would say the future of the sustainable development agenda hangs in the balance of a new deal for nature. For a long time, we have overlooked nature at the expense of other objectives, other targets. While it is indeed the basis that sustains our development, we are going to go there, with the ambition to reach and support governments and stakeholders reaching an ambitious set of targets that are measurable and quantifiable that put sustainable consumption and production at the heart of, I would say, the food systems and nature agenda, the consumer information agenda, that we get the rights for customers, for clients to be in form of the impacts, in terms of biodiversity that their consumption choices are doing.

And a call from governments to make their procurement decisions more in line, or at least aware of other biodiversity impacts. We know that connection is there and we are going to go there hopefully with the aim, and we are confident governments will race to the occasion. We are also going to go there to open the business and biodiversity forum to advocate of course for the cause. Solvay is doing it and we want solve to do it faster, to do it better. But many other businesses are also looking at nature positive pathways and strategies that help them set purpose and strategy together to take a systemic view, to look at the desired future in harmony with nature, and also really creating this movement. I like to call it the disruption from within. We do believe that if businesses take at heart the agenda for nature, Governments will raise up, so I'll be participating there and it'll be an important opportunity to really create this connection. 

Love of music and playing the guitar 

Ilham Kadri: Absolutely. Great. One last question, Jorge, I hear that you love music and that you play, uh, the guitar very well. What kind of music do you play? 

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Yes, I do play music and I also, something that it's also important when, one needs to put words to feelings, it's to write, poetry about it. And sometimes when comes out, uh, I would say discouraged of these processes that’s time consuming. And therefore, I also like to, to write, write stories and what kind of music I play. I say, folk music, just music that speaks about, normal feelings. Uh, and I write about that sometimes it is happiness. Sometimes it is about joy. Sometimes it is about hope. Sometimes it is about, uh, deception, but mostly about hope that better times are coming for all of us.

Ilham Kadri: Wow. It's a beautiful note to end this fascinating conversation. I can see you camping, with the fire side and you know, playing music. So next time we'll do that podcast this way. Well, thank you so much, Jorge, for joining me from Paris. You're today in Paris. I wish you a great trip to Montreal and great COP 15. Stay the leader you are. Rethink acts, inspire. Uh, you talked about disruption from within and you ask us to raise up to the challenge, but the opportunity, this was again, fascinating conversation about how we can achieve the AND, the A-N-D, how businesses can engage in a sustainable production, create circular solutions, enable sustainable consumption, AND be profitable at the same time.

Thank you. You inspired me. You inspired us. Thank you very much, Jorge.

Jorge Laguna-Celis: Thank you, Ilham.