During this month of environmental awareness culminating with the celebration of Earth Day on April 22, we met with Chloé Soroquère, co-president of the Sustainability Committee of the French-American Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco (FACCSF) to talk about its action in the field of sustainability and the major projects underway in the Bay Area’s key business sectors.
Could you first tell us about your background and what led you to work in the field of sustainability?
I became aware of environmental issues very early. I grew up in Madagascar and Tahiti where I developed a strong attachment to nature through the environment that surrounded me but also through my father’s job as a forester in charge of reforestation and tree planting to protect local land. I arrived in San Francisco somewhat by chance at the age of 19. After studying international business at San Francisco State University, I worked in the banking sector and specialized in student loans. In 2008, I switched career to CleanTech and joined the Global Cleantech Innovation Program (GCIP) in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the Cleantech Open, to train and support CleanTech startups in emerging countries.
The FACCSF created a Sustainability Committee which you initiated and currently co-chair with Elie Asmar and Christine Hourcade-Hoefliger. What is the mission of this committee?
The mission of the Committee is to engage FACCSF members and other partners in a conversation about sustainability, its impact on businesses, individuals, and investment strategies and also to discuss the consequences of climate change. We recommend strategies to limit the consumption of natural resources and promote the implementation of solutions to mitigate and reverse climate change at the local and global levels.
We also share the Committee’s work and recommendations with FACCSF members through webinars and quarterly presentations.
What do you see as the major sustainability opportunities for the Bay Area’s business sectors?
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to many industries, each with unique sustainability opportunities.
- Technology: Sustainability opportunities for this sector include the development of solutions for the management of electronic waste, the reduction of energy consumption in data processing centers and the development of renewable energy storage technologies. The San Francisco bay area is home to many innovative CleanTech companies:
- We can mention SunPower, a subsidiary of Total Energies (which received the FABA 2022 Special Distinction) which is a residential solar company that provides sustainable, reliable systems and affordable energy.
- Of course, there is Tesla, the car manufacturer that pioneered electric vehicles. The company also produces batteries, recycles them, and is currently building a lithium production plant near Corpus Christi in order to achieve vertical integration.
- Sustainable Agriculture: The San Francisco Bay Area is home to many farmers, winemakers, and agribusinesses. Sustainability opportunities for this sector include the use of sustainable agricultural practices to reduce the use of and eliminate pesticides. We also talk about regenerative agriculture techniques that are used by many of our members such as Boisset Collection or the production of organic and local food and the use of renewable energy sources for agricultural operations and water pumps.
- Using AI and robotics, FABA 2022 Sustainability Category Winner FarmWise automates farming operations to help farmers reduce costs, use fewer chemicals and increase food production. In 2020, FarmWise launched the first commercial weeding robot on California farms.
- Fruition Sciences, a company founded in 2006 in Napa Valley, measures the water and nutrient status of the vine in real-time, allowing growers to make informed decisions about irrigation, fertilization and management of the canopy. Fruition Sciences’ goal is to help growers produce better quality grapes while reducing costs and minimizing environmental impact.
- Sustainable mobility: The development and adoption of more sustainable modes of transportation, such as electric vehicles, low-emission public transport and active modes of transport such as cycling and walking, represents a great opportunity for the region.
- Sustainable real estate: buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, 28% of which come from operational emissions, the energy needed to heat, cool and power them, the remaining 11% from materials and buildings. Sustainability opportunities for this sector include improving the energy efficiency of buildings, constructing buildings with high energy performance, using sustainable and recycled building materials, and designing buildings to maximize the use of natural light and fresh air. In California, all buildings and residences must now be built to integrate renewable energies such as solar.
- Brimstone Energy: the French start-up is developing the very first process to produce so-called “Portland” cement with zero CO2 emissions. The production of Portland cement is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions, i.e. 8 times the CO2 emissions of France.
- Prologis: the multinational company based in San Francisco specializes in the construction and management of sustainable warehouses and distribution centers.
Ultimately, sustainability is an opportunity for all industries in the San Francisco Bay Area, and businesses that adopt sustainable practices can reap long-term economic, environmental, and social benefits.
Which members in the Tech sector have sustainable practices that stood out to you recently?
I am happy to share three examples of FACCSF members in the Tech industry that are leading the way in Sustainability:
- Cap Gemini, an Ambassador member of the chamber, was one of the first companies in the sector to have its carbon reduction targets validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Their goal is to achieve a 90% reduction in all carbon emissions across scopes 1, 2 and 3 and become a net zero company by 2040. Their new targets have been validated as being in line with the initiative Science Based Target (SBTi) new Corporate Net-Zero standard. This standard is the world’s first framework for setting net zero goals for businesses and is consistent with the level of reduction needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
- Loft Orbital, winner of the 2022 FABAs in the $50M+ Tech category, is a company that provides space infrastructure for various applications such as Earth observation, communications and remote sensing. Loft Orbital uses electric propulsion for its satellites, which reduces the amount of chemical propellant and reduces the amount of pollution and waste produced by satellites. Loft Orbital also strives to minimize the amount of space debris by using materials designed to degrade in the space environment.
- Snowflake, the cloud-based data warehousing company, has set itself the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and has already made progress toward this goal by offsetting 100% of its carbon emissions for the year 2020. Snowflake also uses renewable energy to power its data centers and offices.
In the renewable energy industry, what are some new innovations and recent developments among the major players in the sector?
The renewable energy industry is constantly evolving and new innovations emerge regularly. Here are some examples:
- Solar energy: Solar panel manufacturers are constantly working to improve the efficiency of their panels (by bifacial panels for example), in order to produce more electricity from each solar panel installed.
- Solar energy storage: Solar energy storage technologies are being developed (such as lithium batteries) to solve the problem of intermittency in solar power generation.
- Floating solar systems: Companies such as Ciel & Terre have developed floating solar systems that can be installed on bodies of water, making it possible to use spaces that are not usable for other types of infrastructure.
- Wind power :
- Offshore wind turbines can be installed in areas farther from the coast and in deeper waters. They are larger than onshore wind turbines and are capable of producing more.
- Vertical-axis wind turbines can be installed in smaller spaces and produce power at lower wind speeds.
- Bladeless wind turbines use oscillating cylinders to generate electricity.
- Hydro-electric power :
- Tidal turbines: These are turbines that use the energy of moving water to produce electricity.
- Underwater dams use the pressure difference between deep water and surface water to generate electricity.
- Energy storage:
- Companies are developing next-generation batteries for energy storage, such as redox flow batteries, and sodium-based or hydrogen-based batteries. These technologies can improve efficiency and lifespan.
- Thermal energy storage technologies are also being developed. They use heat to store energy and include hot water tanks and phase change materials.
A subsidiary of EDF Renewables, PowerFlex has developed technologies that help spread solar installations. Their key technology differentiation is in their patented asset management platform, which seamlessly optimizes the operation of solar, storage, and EV chargers to help their customers reduce their energy costs, increase their resilience and achieve their sustainability goals. They are also the inventors of Adaptive Load Management® which allows them to install 4 times more EV chargers on a given electrical infrastructure. This is especially true for large sites, such as LAX Airport where they operate 1,200 chargers.
Now let’s talk about the wine industry, where more environmentally-friendly production techniques are practiced by many estates. What opportunities have recently been identified to make wine bottle packaging more sustainable?
We had an excellent panel at our “sustainable packaging in the wine industry” event in Napa on January 30 with Lisa Brown – Senior Brand Manager of Import & LVE Wines at Boisset Collection, Felix Lamolinerie – CEO of Verallia USA, Melanie Thomas – sales director of Ramondin USA and Claude Dardant – CEO of Autajon. The use of sustainable packaging materials, such as glass, paper and bioplastics, is increasing in the wine industry as consumers and businesses become more environmentally conscious.
When it comes to evaluating the sustainability of wine, a 2020 California Wine Institute study found that traditional glass bottles account for 29% of wine’s carbon footprint, and bottle transportation accounts for 13%. And 6% for corrugated boxes and 3% for other packaging such as caps and labels. It is therefore important to reduce the weight of the bottles, a task to which Verallia applies itself like other bottle producers such as Saver Glass. Verallia premium wine bottles are on average 20% lighter than others on the market. Unfortunately, consumers associate the weight of a bottle of wine with the superior quality of the wine when it has nothing to do. Consumers therefore need to be educated. They have also created a “Reuse Lab” to encourage the development of reusable bottles.
What are the upcoming FACCSF sustainability-related events not to be missed?
After the success of last September’s webinar about the circular economy, we plan to organize new sessions on this theme and in particular on the subjects of recycling and composting with the new rules which will come into effect in San Francisco in the coming months.
We are also involved in the organization on May 2 of the “Farming Expedition” in Los Banos, a study trip that will allow us to discover on the ground the use of AI techniques and robots in farming.
Don’t miss the 8th edition of the French-American Business Awards (FABA) and the winners in the sustainability category which will be announced on June 1 in San Francisco. More information here.
Sustainability is an important and common topic for all chamber committees and we plan to work with everyone on this topic for future presentations and events.