Interview with Olivier LABASSE – First General Delegate and CNE founder

Household packaging from ten mass markets products : evolution 1997-2012
Sep 2016
Interview with Jean LE MOUX, Eco-design and Recycling Director at Eco-Emballages
Oct 2016

Interview with Olivier LABASSE – First General Delegate and CNE founder

olivier-labasseCan you tell us why you created the CNE in 1997?

Ever since 1975, reducing packaging waste has entered French law, like in the July 13th 1992 act. The December 20th 1994 European directive was dedicated to packaging management in order to reduce their environmental footprint. After the launch of Eco-Emballages in 1992 to contribute to the value recovery from waste all the way down the packaging chain, we realised that it was a priority from both an economic and environmental viewpoint to start at the creation of the packaging, and perhaps even at the product itself. Eco-Emballages started out as an industry initiative, developed under the tutelage of the ILEC (Consumer Industries Studies Institute), spearheaded by Antoine Riboud, visionary CEO and emblematic figure of BSN-DANONE (that was before it became 100% Danone if I remember correctly), who had transformed his group from a glass maker into a glass and plastic packaging manufacturer, and, finally, into a leading consumer goods company. In short, from packaging to product.

Antoine Riboud already wanted to coordinate companies’ social and economic concerns (see the “double project” and the Marseille speech). BSN, obvious supporter of material recycling (glass jars and bottles), had later introduced “Vacances Propres” (“Clean holiday”) to collect empty packaging from on-the-go consumption; combining environmental concerns and marketing for carried brands to reduce pollution.

I started my career in the glass industry, at BSN; I left it as Head of marketing to join Gervais-Danone ; from glass jar to the yoghurt. The product/packaging pair was an obvious choice for me. Sales director at Danone, then member of management committees for two product lines from leading brands, head of Marketing, Sales and Logistics, I had experience in retail, and knowledge of different brands and professional organisations; particularly the FCD (Commerce and Distribution Federation) and its chairman, Jérôme Bédier. When the ILEC and its General Delegate Dominique de Gramont suggested a meeting with Jean François Molle (from Danone Environment), Eric Guillon (Eco-Emballages) whom I knew well, Jean François Stosser from the CLIFE (French packaging industry committee) and chairman of Interfilières Matériaux (Inter-industry Materials), I was already busy with the launch of ECR France, first joint industry-commerce national organisation. I was not in completely uncharted territory, and I immediately shared the idea of a (not yet national) packaging council.

After consulting with other pioneers in the business, recruiting what members we were missing on the packaging chain, establishing and negotiating charters, we finally founded the CNE on May 20th 1997 under our chairman Georges Robin. The seven first groupings, representing every player along the packaging chain, including environmental and consumers’ associations, were quickly joined by the eighth grouping, representing public authorities, including the French mayors’ association thanks to its chairman Jean-Paul Delevoye.

The CNE is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

As General Delegate, what do you take away from the time you spent carrying out your major structuring role for the packaging industry?

The role played by all the packaging chain players in our collective success. The inclusion of the product/packaging pair and the packaging’s importance in the product’s success (or failure) right up to the consumer. Much more than an object or material, packaging fulfils important functions for the product and the consumer. Establishing a common language and a frame of reference to account for packaging waste prevention, going further than simple source reduction and wider than the primary packaging, concerning products with equal functions and identical or superior use value, regardless of the material and excluding substitutions, every other parameter being equal…

The CNE’s good practices manuals, written thanks to the collective contribution of all stakeholders, including public authorities, as well as the CNE’s reference documents, application guides and position papers to affected ministries (Environment and Industry), are the best example. The CNE has published, distributed or contributed to twenty-something manuals, studies and position papers during its early years. It isn’t much, but they were all accepted, validated and followed. For the first time in France, we had estimated source reduction as early as 1998 and carried out the first environmental analysis on the evolution of household packaging with the ADEME in 2006.

How do you see the CNE’s future? Members, organisation, governance, funding…

I see a joint organisation encouraging sustainable development, a recognised authority above private interests, pioneering better ideas and practices in service to the common good.

Coming up on 2020, what key subjects do you think should be developed?

When I look back on my time at the CNE, we hadn’t yet completely succeeded in bringing marketing and environmental concerns together, despite conferences at the Ministry of the Environment with Dominique Voynet and 250 industrialists or Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and 250 marketing directors. Surely we can do better. Maybe it’s already the case?

Another related subject: in the early 2000s, performance was better and faster for companies who designed and produced on national territory and took part in the working groups Raymond Wallaert and I were hosting. A geographical scale shift is probably in order to account for imported products, but perhaps we’ve already done it? We had already begun to build relationships on a European level, just like we did with industrialists and distributors for ECR with national organisations and one European Commission coordination, contact and relations organisation.

Do you have any suggestions to develop the CNE’s activities and visibility?

Increase funding to create even more collective intelligence, gain expertise and communicate on that expertise? You tell me!