20 February 2016

Vive la France - Sustainability Leadership

On May 14th 2010, the UK's Prime Minister, David Cameron said "I want us to be the greenest government ever - a very simple ambition and one that I’m absolutely committed to achieving"... 

In 2016, as UK citizens consider their membership of the EU, the news is full of debate about the relative merits of staying or leaving. Whatever the decision, our friends in France can not only teach us about great cooking, but also sustainability leadership. In fact, they have been delivering innovative business models and regulation which has the potential to nudge the nation to be a global sustainability leader. Let's explore some of their innovations in a little bit more detail...


Air pollution is becoming a huge problem in large cities (London is not an exception, with an estimated 9,500 premature deaths each year), and in Paris in May 2014, drastic traffic restrictions were imposed.  There's more need than ever, then, for new mobility solutions to be promoted.

Cycle hire

Long before London's cycle hire scheme was launched, back in 2007, Paris introduced their Vélib' cycle hire scheme.  With over 20,000 cycles and more than 1,200 stations, it's a sustainable and fit way to travel within the arrondissements of Paris.

Cycle Hire in Paris

Electric Moped Hire

Soon, there will be two-wheeled collaborative consumption competition, when Cityscoot [in French] launches, an electric moped scheme.  Available to riders over the age of 20 with a valid moped licence, they will be bookable from a smartphone app for €3/15 minutes.

Cityscoot electric moped hire in Paris

Peugeot Mu Vehicle Hire

Before many car manufacturers recognised the upcoming threat of 'access over ownership' business models, Peugeot launched Mu, allowing users to rent a car, moped or even van, depending on their needs.  Of course, their electric vehicles are available to rent as part of the scheme (e.g. iOn).  The scheme also launched in the UK back in 2010, as well as Germany, Spain and Italy.
Peugeot iOn Electric Car

Electric Vehicles

It's not just Peugeot who have 100% electric cars available, Renault has a range of vans (Kangoo Z.E.), as well as its tiny Twizy and Zoe, and Citroën (part of the PSA Peugeot Citroën group) has something to offer too with the C-Zero.

Renault Twizy
Renault Kangoo Z.E.
Citroen C-Zero

And of course, with a significant amount of France's electricity generation coming from nuclear (check out this great site to see the energy mix), there's less of an issue of fossil-fuel power plants polluting the environment.

Finally, Renault have announced a partnership with Connected Energy, where their E-STOR proposition uses batteries from Renault cars to support storage from intermittent renewable sources, or for EV charging solutions.
Solar Roads

France hasn't stopped with the vehicles on the roads, it's even considering the roads themselves.  Colas has introduced Wattway, and there's now a plan for 1000km of roads to be made of solar panels across the country.

Colas Wattway Solar Road
Food waste

Food waste is a huge problem at all points along the supply chain from farmer's field, through to the fridge in the customer's home.  France is looking to tackle the problem between the two, banning supermarkets from throwing-away or spoiling food.

Solar / green rooftops

France has another leading policy with new rooftops in commercial zones around France, which must now be built with solar panels, or a 'green roof' covering part of the roof.

Grenelle II - Sustainability Reporting

In April 2012, France decreed that companies must report according to article 225 of law No. 2010-788, or 'Grenelle II', as it's known.  Courtesy of a helpful description from Alcatel-Lucent, it essentially means that corporates must produce an independently-verified report on the environmental, social and societal aspects of their business operations, alongside the financial results.

Corporate Leadership

As well as an active automotive sector referenced above, some other large French corporations are making positive steps to a more sustainable society.


Axa is a French insurance company, as has woken-up to the fact that climate change poses a fundamental threat to its customers, and therefore it's viability as a sustainable organisation.  It has several impressive initiatives underway:


Veolia has long seen the business opportunities around the 'circular economy', and has successfully reinvented itself as a 'resource management' services provider.  It's a member of the Ellen MacArtthur Foundation, and is helping push the circular economy agenda.  One such initiative, is where they have created a recycling loop for small electrical appliances, in partnership with Groupe SEB and Eco-systèmes.

BNP Paribas

Innovative startup, Qarnot Computing, has developed a distributed data centre solution, where schools and offices around Paris can host servers, which are then used to heat their premises, for free, using excess heat as radiators.  BNP Paribas have agreed that 5% of its computing power to support risk calculations will be used via this platform, reducing their carbon emissions required to support this computing effort by 75% (mainly due to reduced cooling needs).


All images © respective manufacturers/organisations, unless otherwise stated 

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