Industry and Environment: How Can and Should the Industrial World Using Plant Resources Contribute to the Conservation of Biological Diversity through Botanical Gardens ? An example: that of the Yves Rocher Foundation.

Michel Cambornac

Botany and Agronomy Department of Laboratoires Y. Rocher
Trustee of the Y. Rocher Foundation
Le Moulin 56200 La Gacilly, France


It is now evident that human beings' industrial activity is mainly to blame for the serious damage done to Nature: intensive exploitation of flora and fauna, alteration of waterways and climates, pollution, and formation of deserts.

The various categories of industrial activity that use plant resources are investigated, with emphasis on the effects on biological diversity. In each instance examples of existing or planned actions are reviewed in order to point out possible connections with botanical gardens.

The concluding section stresses the need to organise networks that will pool the competence of public and private companies, including industries, in order to set up efficient conservation and enhancement structures for biological diversity by using botanical gardens which, if they have not already done so, should specialise and acquire conservation-efficient technologies.

The part played by the sponsorship of company foundations is emphasised, and the example set by Yves Rocher Foundation is presented, together with its activities for plant conservation and education, more especially its project work aimed at children.


Un constat est fait montrant que c'est essentiellement l'activité industrielle de l'homme qui est cause des atteintes graves portées la Nature: exploitations intensives des peuplements naturels, modification du régime des eaux et des climats, pollutions, désertification.

Ensuite les différentes grandes classes d'activités industrielles utilisant les ressources végétales sont examinées en mettant en avant les conséquences sur la diversité biologique. Dans chaque cas des exemples d'actions existantes ou en projet sont exposés pour montrer les relations possibles avec les jardins botaniques.

La conclusion met en avant la necessité d'organiser des réseaux regroupant les compétences des institutions publiques et privées, dont les industries, pour mettre en place des structures efficaces de sauvegarde et de valorisation de la diversité biologique en impliquant les jardins botaniques, qui devront, si ce n'est encore fait, se spécialiser et acquérir les technologies de conservation les plus performantes.

Le rle du Mécénat des Fondations d'Entreprise est mis en avant et l'exemple de la Fondation Yves Rocher est présenté avec ses actions liées la sauvegarde du monde végétal, et l'éducation, avec en particulier ses réalisations destinées aux enfants.


As the representative of an industrial company using plant resources and enjoying several years of excellent relations with BGCI, I wish to thank the organisers of this Third International Congress for entrusting me with the weighty task of developing the cardinal topic of "Industry and Environment".

I shall strive to lay emphasis on possible ways in which industrialists can contribute to saving and protecting biodiversity, and to point out existing or possible relationships with botanical gardens.

My paper is divided into two parts:

Industry: the Principal Culprit

We have no alternative now but to admit that the industrial activity of human beings is indeed the cause of the far-reaching upheavals that are occurring all over the globe.

Two major phenomena come together:

The subsequent effects on nature are harsh and extensive, namely:

I believe that the consequences for biological diversity, which all of us here are acquainted with, are by now also well known to the public at large.

In this respect, at least one of the merits of the Rio Conference held in June of this year was to bring this endangered biological diversity to the foreground of public attention, and the USA's vote against the other 157 countries highlighted the economic stakes involved.

(N.B. since then, the USA has reconsidered that decision and ratified the Convention).

Industries are not all alike with regard to biodiversity

In dealing with these economic stakes, industrial activities are not all alike. I propose to classify those activities which make a profit by tapping plant resources or whose activity affects environment, into four categories:

1. Industries using genetic resources

These are industries that use genetic resources as raw materials in agricultural and agro-industrial applications in the traditional sense of 'plant improvement'. This improvement has been one of human beings' activities ever since they became sedentary and started working the land.

From this agricultural perspective, primary resources belong to everyone and the transformed genetic resource belongs to the breeder.

This, through a concern for efficiency and profit, led human beings to narrow the range of food-producing species, and at the same time to decrease intra-species variability.

From the 1970s onwards, the evidence of genetic erosion led the United Nations Food and Agricultute Organization (FAO) to set up the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IBPGR), with the task of creating a world-wide network of gene banks to conserve the diversity of the principal cultivated plants. A certain number of conservatories or botanical gardens were included in this network.

Since then, genetics, in the search for specific characteristics, has concerned itself with 'related plants', thereby broadening the field of potential prospecting. However, while companies were for a time able to create collections of gene-carriers, these collections are now becoming increasingly difficult and costly to keep up. When a selection programme is dropped, whole collections, often the lifetime's work of many researchers, have been seen to be abandoned and irretrievably lost. Here is where I feel botanical gardens have a major part to play: they can house and conserve collections of gene-carriers ex situ, and related plants in situ or ex situ.

However, along with this technical development the matter of industrial property rights must also be considered. Increasingly, traditional breeders are being taken over by large industrial groups who establish greater legal protection. The Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) can be mentioned in this respect: it grants, though not exclusively, acknowledgement of follow-up rights over new derived varieties. Such protection was not provided previously by the Certificats d'obtention variétale (Certificates of new varieties of plants.)

This change of approach and the unavoidable specialisation of tasks has given rise to networks and scientific interest groups that are designed to manage problems, pool competence and ensure greater protection of discoveries.

Within these structures, both private and public organisations contribute their skills and resources. The whole set-up is based on the principle of mutual services providing access to information and genes. Those who subsequently wish to access this information would be required to pay an entrance fee.

In my opinion botanical gardens have a part to play in these networks by becoming specialists, for example, in a particular botanical species or conservation technique, which would enable them to be on an equal footing with other partners.

2. Industries using plants as raw material with high value added

I am referring mainly to the pharmaceutical or parapharmaceutical, as well as the cosmetics or perfumery industries. I would also include what are now termed the 'biotechnological industries', which partly overlap the first category in their search for specific genes to isolate and transplant. Their activities are due to expand considerably in the coming years.

As for medicinal plants, there has been obvious over-use. I shall give only two examples which I have observed to illustrate this type of plant over-utilisation :

Nevertheless the attitude of industrialists has changed nowadays. First of all, organic chemistry has made huge progress, the plants which are utilised are highly selected and most often specific chemotypes are required. For quality reasons, there is a tendency to set up cultivation rather than pursue unreliable harvesting. Often cultivation may be done outside the plants' original habitat. We could mention the case of Ginkgo biloba which is cultivated in France and in the USA. This attitude goes hand in hand with a concern for ensuring supplies, as industries cannot take the risk of running short of raw materials, owing to the investment required, often over a long period of years, to put a product to market.

As for the new genetic engineering technologies which are able to take genes and transfer them to other organisms, such as resistance genes developed from bacteria and transferred to higher plants, these are areas which bring up major ethical problems and which are not about to be solved.

However, limiting ourselves to the sector with which we are concerned from an industrial point of view, I can see two types of specific problems which need to be solved :

Access to resources and information

First of all, access to resources: considering the immense possibilities, it is access to information which becomes of prime importance.

The fact that roughly speaking industries are located in the North and resources in the South poses the serious problem of access to plants and their ownership. This is a long-standing topic which was brought up for debate at the Rio Summit in June:

The problem is complex, and as things stand at the present time, I am afraid that only large industries can invest in and obtain access to this information.

Here I would like to mention several examples of developments, without trying to evaluate their efficiency or predict their future:

Inventories and conservation

The other type of problem that we are concerned with here and that I would like to stress, is that of inventories and conservation.

A great deal of research work has been carried out by a large number of private or public organisations, often within the framework of international co-operation. Quantities of data, observations and collections exist. What is required is to put them in order and make them available.

Here botanical gardens have a lot to offer. They have a part to play not only by maintaining their classification activity, but more importantly, by moving into high-performing identification and conservation technologies.

In order to solve inventory and conservation problems, my opinion is that multipartite contractual-type patterns will be the trend, bringing together in each case:

The financing could be public, on a national or international level, or privately through foundations.

3. Mining-type industries

To continue with my listing of industrial activities, I shall cite the case of the mining-type industries, meaning those which tap resources with no concern for restocking:

All of us here are aware of the disastrous consequences of these activities on biological diversity.

In a free-market system, it is next to impossible to contemplate management of such problems, which can only be very long-term, solely by user industries. Where tropical forests are concerned, conservation problems must be solved through political decision-making, along with public, national and, above all, international funding , and be carried out by major organisations such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

I would like to cite, as far as Europe is concerned, the recent setting up of pan-European networks for in situ conservation of the main European forest species.

4. Large chemical industries, especially petrochemicals and nitrogen manufacturing.

These industries have substantial environmental impact, mainly in the northern hemisphere with the all too well-known serious consequences of forest loss and water contamination.

Public awareness and pressure have spurred these industries to progressively improve the management of their waste products and invest in the protection of their surroundings.

In this area media coverage is given to nature protection programmes such as reafforestation.

An example which I find interesting is TOTAL's distribution of bottled gas to African village women to do their cooking, thus putting a stop to the destruction of the wood supply in the Sahel zones.

At the Rio Summit, on the initiative of Chambers of Commerce, 1000 industrial companies signed an 'Industries Charter' which bound them to make moves for environment protection and act on the causes of the pollution which they bring about.


To conclude, I should like to emphasise several ideas aimed at industries which I feel to be of utmost importance:

  1. First of all, we have reached a point where the notion of a sole species is outdated and where we need to add what are known as the 'related species', which leads us on to the consideration of habitats and ecosystems, and thus to the problem of conserving these habitats;

  2. This compounds the problems, whose solution requires an increasingly greater gathering of skills, and therefore a need for task-sharing;

  3. The cost of these solutions can only be accepted if short-, medium- or long-term potential value can be expected to open up technical or tourist uses;

  4. This naturally leads to investment requirements which can be met by industrialists or local governments only insofar as the results correspond to their own needs and objectives.

Some very large companies may be able to tackle these problems alone, but most are or will be willing to join such networks as those I have described above, with a limited number of partners sharing expertise and working towards a precise objective. Botanical gardens have a role within such structures, as I have stated, by specialising in certain species or techniques.

For less specific problems, we have seen that the prime notion is interdependence, both locally between environments and human activities, as well as internationally between countries of the North and those of the South.

The result is an internationalisation of problems with the necessary political choices creating constraints on industrialists.

Activities of the Yves Rocher Foundation

After the generalities discussed so far, which may open the door to debate, I would like to end by telling you about some actions which have been taken by the Yves Rocher Foundation. I trust that everybody has heard of the Yves Rocher line of cosmetics which extracts active principles from the plant kingdom. It was only natural for the Foundation to invest in a domain to which the brand is morally indebted, so to speak.

We have focused on two major fields of activity:

Protection and preservation

We are in touch with conservatories and botanical gardens. Several points may be mentioned here :

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