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Charcoal and Change
Charcoal and Change
News Apr 16, 2015

Fabien Girard reflects on the work TFT is doing with Carbonex to transform the charcoal industry

As of January 2019, The Forest Trust has become Earthworm Foundation.

A few weeks ago several of the TFT France team completed a seven hour round trip to visit the charcoal plant of Carbonex – a TFT member based in Champagne – a region in the middle of France. Carbonex is relocating its charcoal production to France, which means switching from importing charcoal – often from high-risk countries in terms of deforestation, (40% of the charcoal sold in France is from Nigeria), to local charcoal production. It was an extraordinary trip. Over time we have witnessed the change of this major player in the charcoal business.

I still remember my first visit to their site three years ago. Back then, the relocation project was just starting. The kiln – which helps to generate electricity – was just starting to be built. The charcoal market in France, which is mainly driven by retailer purchase – particularly food retailers – was ready to be changed.

This is the result of years of TFT work, involving initiating discussion in the industry; encouraging transparency of the market; suggesting retailers seek the real origin of the packaged charcoal; convincing key players that they need to move towards supplying and purchasing responsible charcoal. Carbonex have been prepared to change. The vision they have shown in doing business differently has made this journey possible.

I have had the privilege to have worked for TFT for more than seven years now. During this time I have seen markets, factories – the whole charcoal industry, undergo change. I believe a tipping point has been reached so that being ‘responsible’ has become the norm. For me, this is the heart of the TFT model: we bring change, changing ourselves, reflecting on what we are doing, questioning ourselves, and re-framing our work if we no longer believe it is transforming things for the better in the way we think it should.

Not that getting the French charcoal market to look at things differently was easy. To be honest, we still have a lot to do, both in the French and other European markets before we can proudly claim that the entire industry has transformed, but we are getting there.

So why is change so difficult? When we see what is at stake, why are we not moving quicker to become more responsible? It is mainly because we as people offer resistance. We often only alter our behaviour when we feel a certain degree of discomfort.

This points to part of TFT’s role, which asks the key questions to bring people out of their comfort zone, creating the right conditions for transformation to happen. At TFT, we offer this room for discussion, sometimes in a brutal way; but this can be what is needed to bring a complete change within an industry.

Logs at Carbonex’s charcoal plant.

The recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly shows there is little time left to initiate the change we need to preserve the environment.

Change is no longer an option, it is something we need to embrace and the sooner the better. Doing so remains a challenge, but that does not stop our efforts. We know what is at stake and we will prevail.

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