BusinessDay

BIC is aiming for 100% environment-friendly packaging by 2025 – Ehouabolet

BIC, a manufacturer and distributor of consumer products in over 160 countries around the world has set an ambitious goal to improve its environmental footprint by 2025. Leonard Ehouabolet, senior marketing manager for BIC West & Central Africa, tells Amaka Anagor-Ewuzie some of the sustainability strategies adopted by the company to reduce its environmental impact. Excerpts:

Briefly tell us about BIC and its purpose as a company?

BIC operates in more than 160 countries around the world and in Nigeria, and is a market leader in the stationery category. We know that with innovation and by bringing sustainable solutions, we can make a positive impact on the world through smart designs of our products.

Our approach to sustainability is really rooted in our values and our day-to-day operations. BIC is passionate about education; you can imagine how important education is in a continent like Africa where many children do not have access to quality education. We have various impactful educational programmes like the ‘Writing the Future Together’ initiative which was launched in 2018.

As a company, we have a commitment to improving the learning conditions of up to 250 million children globally by 2025. One thing people don’t usually notice about us is our ability to provide good quality products at affordable prices. We have a wide range of products such as our range of BIC Cristal and Lucky ball pens and we make a lot of effort to ensure these products are available across Nigeria at affordable prices.

What are some of the steps BIC has taken toward achieving a more sustainable environment in its host communities?

Sustainability is a journey for us and part of what we do on a daily basis and that leads us to constantly explore ways to transform and reduce our environmental impact. This encompasses our products, the packaging and also the way we improve our business model to meet consumer needs. The fact that we manufacture products locally helps us cut down on importation which is quite positive.

We also have what we call our ‘Four Rs Philosophy’. The first R is about reducing the number of raw materials we use in making the product. The second R explains how we use many recycled or alternative materials. The third R is about making more repeatable products like our writing instruments such as ball pens where we just need to refill instead of throwing them away and buying a new one.

The last R ensures that our products are recyclable – both product and packaging – so that we reduce our environmental impact and this is what we call recyclability.

As part of our ‘BIC Writing the Future Together’ sustainable development programme, we have set ambitious goals to improve our environmental footprint by 2025 and we are on track to hit these targets.

We are also decreasing our use of virgin plastic in our products and packages. So, by 2030, we intend to use 50 percent of non-virgin petroleum and plastic – these are plastics that are from recycled products. By 2025, we want to reach 20 percent and then 50 percent in 2030. We hope that by 2025, 100 percent of consumer packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable.

Can you take us through some of the initiatives BIC has implemented in Nigeria’s education sector to fulfil its purpose of bringing simplicity and joy to everyday life?

In our marketing plan, we have different activities like school activations across most of our key markets in West Africa. We collaborated with teachers and students by assisting them with free writing materials. We also advise them on the quality of writing materials they use. We develop learning materials and school teaching aids that we put in classrooms.

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In 2021, we directly reached 25,900 students and 1,200 teachers across 233 schools, in Nigeria alone. For kids who don’t have access to education and the opportunity to go to school, we partner with organisations like the International Organisation of Immigration and Civic Children Foundation to bring support to them.

During the Covid-19 outbreak, we provided 280 writing and colouring items through these organisations. We also gave out 100,000 units of our ballpoint pens and 1,000 teaching aids to underprivileged children.

For older students, we have a global partnership with Enactus – an international organisation that connects student, academic and business leaders through entrepreneurial-based projects. Here, we work with students every year in Nigeria to support them through some SME projects that we put together. We also mentor the students to prepare them for life after university. Liaising with our managers in marketing and sales, we give them exposure to what we do on a daily basis.

We are reducing our plastic waste by producing refillable pens and this technology will soon be brought to our factory in Nigeria.

They get the opportunity to visit our factory to see how quality products are made. This gives them an idea of how internal planning, production and distribution work to ensure they are prepared to enter the business world after university.

We also have an activity that holds on an annual basis called Global Education Week. It is a worldwide activity that happens in the third week of November. In bringing this programme to life, we select schools in some countries – as we did last year in Nigeria – and we go there to help the schools through upgrades and refurbishments. This includes painting classrooms, providing teaching items, replacing blackboards and building libraries.

This is part of our contributions to improving education. Recently, due to the pandemic, we have not been able to visit schools physically, so we launched the ‘Big Cristal Pennyworth Programme’ worldwide. This programme recognises educators for their creative and innovative approach in many regions around the world.

In most of our activities, we try to build synergies because we know that the challenges in Africa are quite similar. So, we try to build high impact activities by looking at how we can hold these activities simultaneously in various countries, but for some of them, we choose key countries where we can focus and develop properly.

We are even working to develop new activities currently with our agencies and partners in Nigeria. They are working and brainstorming fresh ideas, and we are presently working on the next step for activities that we can run in Nigeria.

Tell us about your partnership with Ideas World Cup. Where do you see this partnership going?

Ideas World Cup is a very interesting initiative. It is the largest brainstorming event in the world which starts in the month of May. For this year’s edition, the topic focuses on ‘Inspiring Creativity in Education’. Through our human expression category – which focuses on self-expression of creativity, we saw an opportunity to collaborate with Ideas World Cup, hence, BIC Foundation decided to have this global sponsorship.

The purpose of this activity is to gather ideas from everyone, including BIC employees. We have internal activities and brainstorming activities while also inviting people from other countries like Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. These ideas are geared towards inspiring creativity in education, challenges that are happening in the world, education with new technology and how creativity can help improve education. This is what is happening this year with our collaboration with Ideas World Cup.

Ideas have been submitted so far and winners will be announced soon. BIC Foundation will support the winners to have access to a group of experts in education, psychology and global NGOs to help them bring their ideas to life and maximise their impact. There is also a monetary prize of up to EUR 5,000. This is not a one-off activity, as far as the topics are geared towards an area which is part of our mission, we will definitely collaborate with them. We took the opportunity this year because it was really in line with our mission of supporting education.

What plans are you putting in place to create more opportunities for the development of talents in Nigeria vis-à-vis West Africa?

We are approaching kids, schools and artists in Africa with different activities. We have many artistic talents and you know that when talking about art promotion, Africa is trying to catch up with the rest of the world. Sometimes, people think of art as just music meanwhile, visual artists are making huge impacts in the western world. In 2017, in South Africa, we launched an activity called ‘BIC Art Master Africa’. This enables artists to propose pieces of artwork made with ballpoints. Some people are not aware that our ballpoint pens can be used to create art. We have ball pen artists who we encourage to showcase their creativity in this competition and we in turn support winners with monetary prizes.

We collaborate with international artists to be a part of our jury and to also help organise the activity. We see the huge impact this competition is garnering in Africa, as we keep having more and more submissions every year. We are piloting a project to start having kids in school taking part in BIC Art Master Africa. We will continue to run this activity in Nigeria.

How have you been able to merge your operations with technology to give your consumers the desired results?

We use technology not only to improve the quality of our products but to also reduce environmental impact by using more recyclable materials in products like our shavers and gold pens. We are reducing our plastic waste by producing refillable pens and this technology will soon be brought to our factory in Nigeria.

When pricing our products, we also try to think about the financial impact on buyers. I personally visited schools to see how we can help them and progressively, many classrooms are shifting from using chalks on blackboards to using markers on whiteboards. Many teachers were saying that it’s better for them to use a marker instead of chalk because it’s more comfortable and better for their health.

We have products like dry write markers which are long-lasting and permanent. So, by using technology to provide quality products, you can be assured of making a positive impact.

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