“Sustainability is in our company DNA”

Everyone, everywhere in the world is facing climate change – and there’s no time to lose in tackling its impact. That’s why John Thijssen, Chairman of Barenbrug’s Board of Directors, put sustainability high on Barenbrug’s priority list. His goal: to make Barenbrug part of the solution to this pressing issue.


Many years ago, John and his team started looking critically at our company’s ways of working and their environmental impact. In this interview, he explains what Barenbrug has done in recent years to do business more sustainably, as well as sharing his green future plans for the company.

Barenbrug has been involved in sustainability for many years. Can you tell us a bit about your efforts so far?

As a seed company, Barenbrug has always been involved in sustainability. We produce seeds that grow plants, which in itself is sustainable. Specifically, our grass seeds are cultivated out in the open air, where they even capture CO2 in order to grow. About ten years ago, though, we realised we needed to go further than that. We started looking at our overall operations and seeing what we could do differently and more sustainably.

How do you translate your sustainability ambitions into your production processes?

We have a global footprint that includes our factories, our offices and our people driving around in cars. With this in mind, we asked ourselves: where can we make our operations more sustainable? We began with the most obvious step: looking at our electricity use. For instance, we’re replacing gas-powered forklifts with electric versions. We’re also installing solar panels on our factories, as well as replacing lightbulbs with LED lighting.


These changes are relatively easy, and we’re on the path to completing them. The next level is going to be a bit trickier. Take our packaging, for example. We buy lots of bags in which our seeds are shipped around the world. Can we purchase these bags, or have them manufactured, in a more sustainable way? For that we need the right partners, which is what we’re looking into now.

How do your products and solutions enable a more sustainable world?

That’s what really excites me about our business. We develop products on our research farms, here, but also at other locations around the world. The solutions we create allow our end customers to be more sustainable. To give one example: for years, we’ve selected plants that have a higher resistance to disease. These are plants that, by nature, need fewer pesticides or herbicides to be healthy. In other words, if our end customers use these seeds, they need less herbicide or pesticide. Second, from an agricultural perspective, we can select plants that need less fertilizer to be just as productive. As well as that, we’ve been looking at plants that can increase biodiversity, enabling different plants to grow together with grass. These are all ways in which we can help our customers become more sustainable.

"These are all ways in which we can help our customers become more sustainable."

John Thijssen, chairman of the board

Barenbrug aims to be climate positive by 2035. Can you tell us about the approach you’re taking to get there?

Indeed, that’s our ambition, and we expect other companies will join us in setting that goal. But it’s a big project, one that will take more than a decade. We’ve cut this challenge into smaller pieces and put all those pieces into a timeline. So, with our plan and this timeline, we’re working towards 2035. To give an example: we will operate on 100% renewable electricity by 2025, and at least 30% of the renewable electricity used by the Barenbrug Group will be self-generated. Another project on this timeline is to introduce more biodiversity into the research programme.

Barenbrug can’t shape a better world alone. How do you work with partners to enable a more sustainable world?

Absolutely: we can’t do this by ourselves. We have certain expectations of our suppliers and the people we work with. Take the packaging industry, for instance: we’ve asked our partners to come up with more sustainable options for packaging and transport the seeds. We’re working together with them, but we also expect them to come up with better solutions.


The same goes for the freight industry. Transporting seeds to our sites, and then from our sites to our customers, generates a lot of emissions, which is a huge challenge – we expect transport companies to find a more sustainable way forward, using low-emission vehicles. Finally, we help our crop farmers look for ways to grow our grass seeds in a more environmentally sustainable way, but even that we can’t do on our own: it’s a collaborative effort with the wider seed industry. As a member of seed organisations, we work together with other players by driving sustainability to the top of the industry agenda.

Finally, can you tell us about the exciting innovations you have in the pipeline?

It’s difficult to choose one specific project! I’m very proud to be working for a company that already has sustainability in its DNA, being a seed company. But what I’m particularly excited about is the work we do at our research farms, where, for many years, we have already been simulating the challenges that lie ahead of us, such as drought, diseases and lower inputs. By exploring these circumstances at our research farms, we’ve already been able to select plants that can cope with such threats. In the years to come, we can bring those plants to the market and help our end customers face their challenges successfully. That, to me, is very exciting.