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Thierry Chopin participates in Fortune Brainstorm Green 2011

April 4-6, 2011
I had the great fortune to be invited by Marc Gunther, Contributing Editor to Fortune Magazine, to this unique conference called Fortune Brainstorm Green 2011 (, of which he is one of the co-founders.

The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.

In its fourth edition, the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference gathered around 300 CEOs, CFOs, COOs, Chairpersons, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Directors, media people and Chefs in the splendid setting of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, an hour South of Los Angeles, California. At a conference that has previously seen Bill Clinton, Bill Ford and Sylvia Earle (National Geographic explorer-in-residence and phycologist earlier in her career), we were treated, this year, with Sir Richard Branson (who was announcing his Virgin Oceanic Submarine the next day in Newport Beach) and an evening with Chuck Leavell, the keyboardist and musical director of the Rolling Stones since 1982, and a gentleman tree-farmer and environmentalist in his own right.

The number of academics could be counted on the fingers of one hand, maybe two… but I really enjoyed this conference, so different from the ones I generally attend (the scientific ones), because of the very interesting people I met, the format (panels, round tables, dialogues, informal networking with delicious food, a glass of wine in hand, and no PowerPoint presentations!), and for what I was able to contribute, adding some, hopefully, thought provoking ideas during several sessions. People are still looking for somewhat conventional solutions from the land, whereas I explained that I believe the solutions will come, more and more, from the oceans.

Sir Richard Branson (right) dialoguing with Andy Serwer (Managing Editor, Fortune; left). Sir Richard Branson (right) dialoguing with Andy Serwer (Managing Editor, Fortune; left).

I was asked “What brought you to this conference and why are you here, what is your goal, what will you gain from it?”, like “What is an academic doing here?” five times! The first time I was a little surprised by the framing of the question, but, in fact, it is a very good question. I started each time by mentioning that Marc Gunther invited me and that it was indeed great to be here. But, yes, beyond that, why did I accept the invitation and what could I accomplish during these few days? I think that when you are a scientist who has recognized the value of getting out of the Ivory Tower and making yourself relevant to society, then you have to meet that society, this time business people, media people and chefs. The format and ambiance of the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference allows dialogues that I would not have expected to have and that is what makes this event so special and important.

Marc Gunther (Contributing Editor, Fortune), our talented moderator. Marc Gunther (Contributing Editor, Fortune), our talented moderator.

Marc Gunther had asked me to be part of a morning round table session entitled “Sustainable seafood: it’s not a fish story”. With his highly skilled moderator talents, Marc allowed Chris Lischewski (President and CEO, Bumble Bee Foods), Josh Goldman (Co-founder and CEO, Australis Aquaculture) and myself to develop our ideas regarding fishing and aquaculture practices and where we are heading in the future.

Chris Lischewski (President and CEO, Bumble Bee Foods). Chris Lischewski (President and CEO, Bumble Bee Foods).

According to Chris Lischewski, tuna is presently too cheap and difficult to manage, especially species that are circum-equatorial and fished by boats on the high seas from so many countries with different regulations and policies. He is now chairing the nonprofit International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to improve fisheries management and regulations. Bumble Bee Foods is not involved in fishing bluefin tuna (it would be too expensive to end up in a can!) and Chris does not like the amalgamation and confusion that occurs with the different species of tuna.

I developed a very good relationship with Chris Lischewski, his wife Louise and their communication advisor Deena Sweetman (Senior Partner and General Manager, Southern California, Fleishman-Hillard Inc.). Chris and I knew of each other, but had never met. Interestingly, Bumble Bee Foods owns Connors Brothers in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. With some efforts being made to reintroduce sardines, herrings and mackerel as more noble species for human consumption, this should increase their value and put them back into tin cans (I always considered mackerel in a white wine sauce, with little condiments, as delicious).

Josh Goldman (Co-founder and CEO, Australis Aquaculture). Josh Goldman (Co-founder and CEO, Australis Aquaculture).

Cooke Aquaculture Inc., our IMTA industrial partner, buys sardine/herring trimmings (heads, tails, fins) from Bumble Bee Foods, as what was previously discarded as waste is still an excellent source of fish proteins for salmon feed, hence contributing to reducing the pressure on anchovies of Peru, etc. This is one of the options for fishmeal substitution. With Cooke Aquaculture Inc., we are now working on adding seaweeds to salmon feed formulations, as proteins from the plants in the sea do not trigger competition with staple foods from terrestrial plants, causing price increase (as seen a few years ago with the first generation biofuel source suggestions such as corn, soya, etc.), and there is no need of deforestation for more farm land, irrigation and fertilizers (the fish provides the nutrients in an IMTA setting).

Josh Goldman, after farming tilapia and striped bass, decided to grow barramundi, a species native to Australia and southeast Asia, after doing some comparative studies. Australis Aquaculture is growing barramundi in Massachusetts and in Vietnam. After our session, I spoke with Josh, and combining barramundi and IMTA could be an interesting development.

My message was that we have to face reality: we have an increasing world population, wanting more and more proteins. Agriculture is close to its limits; some fisheries are fine, but some are close to their limits or are overfished. So, the gap in sourcing proteins will be filled more and more by aquaculture, which is already supplying more than 50% of the seafood we eat. After centuries, the agricultural Green Revolution is not perfect; after a few decades, the aquacultural Blue Revolution is not perfect; so, it is time to make the Blue Revolution greener and that is why I like to talk about the Turquoise Revolution. It is, consequently, my hope that we are now entering a new ERA of Ecosystem Responsible Aquaculture and, of course, I explained what IMTA is all about and why I believe it is one of the promising solutions (and, yes, I did the IMTA dance!).

Chuck Leavell in full action at the keyboard. Chuck Leavell in full action at the keyboard.

I also talked about the launch by Loblaw Companies Limited, the largest food distributor in Canada, of WiseSource™ Salmon in association with its supplier, True North Salmon Company (a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture Inc.), and the scientific collaboration of our IMTA research team. This is only possible because the stars are finally aligned: we have a producer, adopting an innovative practice, we have Canada’s largest food distributor, leveraging its buying power to influence the evolution of aquaculture practices, and we, the IMTA R&D team, are in the middle to help with our R&D to scale IMTA up to commercialization. Each of us needs interactions with and incentives from the others to complete the circle. We are in a very interesting case of ecosystem responsibility from the egg - through science - to the plate, and we are working on an innovative initiative to drive sustainability-based transformational changes. This is exactly the kind of story the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference wants to hear about.

On Tuesday night, Chuck Leavell made us travel a few decades back and delighted us with some now “classic” Rolling Stones songs. In the afternoon, a comment was made that wind and solar energies were ideas of the hippie era… well, that night I had the impression that a few respectable CEOs, venture capitalists and investment bankers had a few flashbacks and were dancing like in the good old days! Sadly, this wonderful entertainment was over around 9:30 pm. I wondered if the baby boomers were getting old, but was later informed that it is hotel policy out of respect for other guests not associated with our conference.

The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.

Coming out of the entertainment tent, I had good discussions with John Griffin (Executive Vice President and President, News Group, Time Inc.), Michael Elliott (Deputy Managing Editor, Time Magazine and Editor, Time International), Theodore Roosevelt IV (Managing Director and Chairman of the Barclays Capital Cleantech Initiative, Barclays Capital) and Paul Nicklen (Nature Photojournalist). We clarified a few points following up on our session regarding aquaculture, wild and farmed salmon, and the IMTA practice. Food conversion ratios (FCRs) in aquaculture have improved over the years and are now around 1.2 to 1. We need to compare food production systems: for chicken the FCRs are around 2.0:1, 3.2:1 for pigs and 8.0:1 for cows. We should also remember that in nature the conversion factor between each trophic level is generally around 10 to 1. So, which food production systems are the most efficient and responsible for securing the needs of an ever protein hungrier increasing human population? We also agreed that it is not the species that should be colored red, orange or green… they did not do anything, it is not their fault! It is the fishing and farming practices designed by humans that need to be evaluated and those who try to change things should be recognized instead of being painted with the same brush. As I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology, looking at a mosaic instead of at a traffic light would be much more appropriate, realistic and attractive. I learnt throughout the conference that I should talk about a more “granular” approach!

Cover page of the book “Growing a Better America” and dedication of Chuck Leavell. Cover page of the book “Growing a Better America” and dedication of Chuck Leavell.

We “retired” to ENO, the wine, cheese and chocolate tasting room of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, where Chuck Leavell was very graciously signing his latest book (Growing a Better America) and more discussions were taking place.

A little later, I sat with the chefs who provided us with the delicious “green dinner” served to us under the tent earlier in the evening. I had some interesting discussions with Michel Nischan (The Dressing Room and Founder, CEO and President, Wholesome Wave), Rick Moonen (rm seafood) and Emily Luchetti (Executive Pastry Chef, Farallon and Waterbar Restaurants). Discussions with chefs and photographers/journalists are important; they are the vectors of key messages with significant impacts. Rick Moonen, who remembered my IMTA dance from the Monterey Bay Aquarium “Cooking for Solutions” conference last year, told me that my, admittedly more complex, granular approach for evaluating species is too complicated for the public. I seem to have a higher opinion of the human race than Rick! I believe people can, and want to, be educated. So, let's give them a true representation of the situation; they can understand it.

Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) beds in front of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. Biofuels anybody? Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) beds in front of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. Biofuels anybody?

At the “Can Green Energy Scale?” session, I continued to be surprised that different industries go along independently trying to secure a piece of ocean for their activities. People still have a lot of resistance toward ocean zoning, or marine spatial planning, while we do it regularly on land: nobody thinks twice about building a nice cottage in the middle of a zone designated for commercial malls! So, to increase societal acceptance of zoning the ocean, compatible activities should be combined to decrease their footprint. I will soon publish a paper in which I mention the concept of integrated renewable food and energy parks (IFREP), in which the pillars of wind turbines could be the single point mooring of IMTA systems. Dick Williams (President, Shell WindEnergy) bit into this idea and we had a good discussion.

The “From Food Security to Food Self-Sufficiency” session was very interesting. But again participants were only envisioning terrestrial solutions. Without falling into the cliché that this planet is 71% covered by water, because we will not have farms in the middle of the Atlantic, Pacific or Indian Oceans, we have to consider that the solutions will come increasingly from some marine and freshwater environments. Agriculture will maybe progress a little more but yields and nitrogen fixation will not be much improved. Fisheries are close to their limits, if they have not already been exceeded for some species. So, the gap in securing our food will be increasingly filled by aquaculture, and we will have to work on developing the right kind of aquaculture systems. I was glad to hear Peter Seligmann (Chairman and CEO, Conservation International) mention the term ecosystem services. His examples were terrestrial and I surprised a few people when I mentioned that shellfish aquaculture in Europe should be credited with between 18 and 26 billion Euros/year in ecosystem services for its biomitigating activities. I had good discussions with Peter, Andrew Wilson (Vice President, Corporate Relations, Conservation International) and Arlin Wasserman (Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, Sodexo, Inc.) after the session.

On the way down to the beach of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. On the way down to the beach of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.

What resonated throughout the 2011 edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference is that, in recent years, sustainability and the green message have become part of our everyday vocabulary. However, beyond that first wave of enthusiasm and media bombardment (the so-called green wash), the big question now is how to implement these generous ideas. John Matthews (Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, and Chief of Staff to the President, Diversey) mentioned that sustainability solidifies, re-invigorates and differentiates a company and that a key challenge was to then report sustainability on the social side. Jeff Seabright (Vice President, Environment and Water Resources, The Coca-Cola Company) indicated that the voice of the CEO is key, but that the bottom-up approach and the culture of the company were also important. Beth Stevens (Senior Vice President, Environmental Affairs, The Walt Disney Company) said that big goals create commitment and make society move, but that they are difficult to achieve; setting, then, intermediate targets is often more reachable. For Andrea Thomas (Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Wal-Mart) and Majora Carter (President, Majora Carter Group, LLC), the sustainability message is not only for the boardroom but it has to go all the way to engage store associates, who should be able to speak about, and buy into, the process to be better ambassadors of the concept.

David Steiner (President and CEO, Waste Management Inc.). David Steiner (President and CEO, Waste Management Inc.).

I was glad to hear David Steiner (President and CEO, Waste Management Inc.) say that for Waste Management, “wastes” are “materials”. We should make our garbage men heroes as they are saving the planet and finding profitable solutions. It is no more trucking garbage to the dump, but looking for ways to extract value from waste through conversion technology. This was almost music to my ears! For me, “aquaculture wastes” are “nutrients and energy” and the solution to nutrification is not dilution but extraction, conversion and reutilization through diversification.

Kurt Kuehn (Chief Financial Officer, UPS) Kurt Kuehn (Chief Financial Officer, UPS).

Kurt Kuehn (Chief Financial Officer, UPS) explained how UPS redesigned the distribution routes of all its trucks so that they only make right turns (of course, this means left turns in the UK, India, Australia, Japan, etc.): less waiting to make a left turn, less energy burnt and fewer accidents; all that multiplied by so many trucks in so many countries results in substantial savings being realized. UPS also has a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles; this “rolling laboratory” tests different technologies and logistics for a greener world and better business.

“The Future of Climate Policy” session. From left to right: Marc Gunther (Contributing Editor, Fortune; Moderator), The Honorable Connie Hedegaard (Commissioner for Climate Action, European Commission), Fred Krupp (President, Environmental Defense Fund), James Rogers (Chairman, President and CEO, Duke Energy) and Michael Shellenberger (President and Co-founder, Breakthrough Institute). “The Future of Climate Policy” session. From left to right: Marc Gunther (Contributing Editor, Fortune; Moderator), The Honorable Connie Hedegaard (Commissioner for Climate Action, European Commission), Fred Krupp (President, Environmental Defense Fund), James Rogers (Chairman, President and CEO, Duke Energy) and Michael Shellenberger (President and Co-founder, Breakthrough Institute).

I noticed that, in fact, executives are often not hired to make successive big changes: they are brought in on a model (transformational and inspirational at a time); then, they have to make sure that the model works and provides growth and returns to the shareholders. Everybody expects these growths and returns to increase exponentially. We, in the biological world, know, however, that these curves cannot be sustainably exponential forever; I believe these rules also apply to the economic world, even if we are in a state of denial until we are faced with rude awakenings! So, when the model does not work any longer or its returns decrease, the CEOs are on the ejector seat, and their skills are to negotiate the most comfortable ejector seat (I was told that they are not in the real world of fighter aircrafts!). Guy Kawasaki (a Silicon Valley guru I heard at the R3 (Research/Results/Recognition) Gala organized by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, at which I received an award) says that the companies that survive are the companies that know how to jump to the next curve. I believe that executives rarely jump to the next curve on their own, but the replacement may jump to it, hence the ejections from times to times! But who triggers these jumps? Maybe the visionaries who preach in the desert until they are sufficiently heard….?! Are they academics, gone out of the Ivory Tower, venturing into the business world to understand the way it works, and ready to defy the present conventional wisdom to think out of the box (in fact, several interdisciplinary boxes)? I do not mind to be in that role, not for immediate gain (I was not looking for an investor), but for the long term if we want a responsible evolution in our way of thinking and of our production systems, be them food or energy. That seems to be a brainstorming goal/long term investment noble enough! Should, then, the future editions of the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference change their attendance a little to include more natural and social scientists testing their latest conceptual ideas against business reality so that environmental, economic and societal issues trigger innovations and our world progresses?

The beach of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. The beach of the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.

I was told that you know when you have a transformation/inspirational idea when:
First they ignore you
Then they ridicule you
Then they attack you, and
Then you win!
Where do you think IMTA is on this trajectory?!

Conversation with Laird Hamilton (Giant Wave Surfer and Author of the Book Force of Nature; right). Moderator: Andy Serwer (Managing Editor, Fortune; left). Conversation with Laird Hamilton (Giant Wave Surfer and author of the book "Force of Nature"; right). Moderator: Andy Serwer (Managing Editor, Fortune; left).
People could also follow the Fortune Brainstorm Green Virtual Conference. People could also follow the Fortune Brainstorm Green Virtual Conference.