Why I am not at the COP this year
Christoph Staeuble, CEO, Zaluvida Group
In 2016 my team convinced me to attend the COP 22 in Marrakesh, to present our solution for the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from cows and sheep.
Agriculture has long been known to be the third largest contributor to emissions but did not feature sufficiently on the previous COPs’ agendas. Hence my presentation was themed ‘the elephant in the room is really a cow’. It introduced Mootral, our feed supplement that can reduce methane emissions from cows by more than a gigaton of CO2e, representing the equivalent of 500 million cars off the road. I emphasized that a market mechanism aligning the interests of farmers, industry, retail and the consumers would gain faster traction than the historical wisdom of polemic, taxation and regulation. It was a classical conceptual sell, as everyone uses in the consumer goods industry – problem set-up, solution, facts and reassurances. The audience responded well, but I sensed that I had just done something unusual for this forum.
The defining moment for me came when I was asked to give a TV interview. During my pitch the interviewer interrupted me and said: ’It sounds as if you are trying to sell something – that is not liked around here.’ Indeed, many of the people I met during the COP were either concerned about the end of our planet, questioning our consumption patterns, or advocating taxation, education or regulation as the way forward. In contrast, I had learned and practised all my life that change is best achieved by obtaining buy-in through connecting with the needs, beliefs and wants of your audience, showing them a simple, practical, appealing solution and closing with facts and relevant assurances – the optimal formula or irresistible proposition, as I call it. So I left the COP thinking that one of the reasons why the progress to curb climate change is slow lies in the approach chosen.
Polemic rules in discussing the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, as best illustrated with a well-known German example. The environmental minister first proposed a drastic increase of VAT on meat and dairy with the proceeds to be used to subsidise vegetables and ‘educate’ the population to eat less meat and more vegetables. Aside from the backlash from the country’s important agricultural sector, many reasonable voices raised concerns about the adverse environmental and economic consequences of this proposal, which luckily did not go any further. Obviously, the ministry did not consider what would happen to all the biomass that the cows are turning into high-quality nutrients and the carbon footprint of the mainly imported fruit and vegetables. Subsequently, the ministry spent the taxpayers’ money to develop a campaign about the rules for responsible farming, which had to be pulled due to its patronizing tone and misguided content. A few weeks later came the announcement that the ministry would in future desist from catering which includes meat or fish, as it had to set the example for responsible behavior. However, we need to accept the fact that there are many of us who love cows and need to keep dairy and beef on the menu. In my view, the responsible approach is to connect with this reality and find a solution that lines up all the actors from farm to fork through a positive motivation. While some have made headlines in denying climate change, most people are willing to take direct action to protect the planet. Our research shows that an overwhelming majority of Germans are willing to pay more for climate-friendly beef and dairy products, and this, of course, would generate economic value for farmers, industry and retailers. Therefore, one should ask whether indeed there is a more effective way to restore the value of a product and encourage responsible consumption than putting a price on it?
Sadly, the polemic is increasingly invading our own homes. Last month my 13-year-old daughter, who not only likes beef but very much needs it as she is slightly anemic, told me that one of the teachers in her school had just seen ‘Cowspiracy’. She told the class that cows are the number one culprit behind global warming. Therefore, I spent an hour going through the facts with her and discussing the broader perspective on the issue, before we enjoyed a steak dinner together.
Of course, it makes sense to look for a plan B to meet the world’s protein needs, alternative to growing another billion cows. Some would argue that artificial meat, fed with calf blood and grown in laboratories, is the way forward. However, I would first focus on making the heritage product – real beef and dairy – more sustainable before venturing into a direction that has many fundamental questions to answer, from energy consumption to safety and so on.
Let us then do a fact-based all-encompassing comparison, taking into account the environmental, economic and societal benefits of real cows. No doubt the ‘let us feed cows seaweed and we will cut 100 per cent of the methane’ mindset will still ghost around on many international events. However, nobody mentions the fact that we would have to grow enormous amounts of additional seaweed around the world, with unknown consequences and damage to the ozone layer.
I believe that progress on the climate debate will not happen without a sales-centric, market-driven approach, and only if we tone down the polemic and hype that can drive even the most concerned citizens to negate the need for urgent action to protect our planet. Meanwhile, the majority of us, willing to make a real difference here and now are ready to vote with our purse, but only if we know where the money goes and if we can keep the few things we hold dear. Cows and sheep and their produce very much being one of them.
About the Author
Christoph Staeuble is CEO of the Zaluvida Group. Mr Staeuble has many years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry with a focus on prescription-free treatments and consumer goods. During his six years as Chief Operating Officer at Omega Pharma, he successfully positioned the company in the European market. Previously, he worked for 17 years at Procter & Gamble, where he became Managing Director of the Health Care Division.
Caption explanations for images:
Main image – In October 2017, climate-friendly beef was sampled by thousands of German consumers. Over 50 per cent are willing to pay more for a climate-friendly standard
Secondary image – Cows transform biomass such as grass into valuable nutrients for a growing human population. With a healthier digestion they no longer have to be big polluters.