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Five Minutes with… Philippe Fonta

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Cement,

Having developed extensive experience within sustainable development, both at Airbus and as Managing Director of the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), Fonta now runs his own consulting firm in order to help companies and organisations in setting-up their sustainability strategies, improvement plans, and associated partnerships to properly answer their stakeholders’ expectations.

How did you start in the cement industry?

I started my career in the cement sector when I joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in 2011 in order to manage the destiny of one of its flagship projects, the CSI. As an aeronautic engineer, I had very little knowledge about the sector, but I rapidly learned about the basics of cement and cement manufacture, particularly through training at the European Cement Research Academy (ECRA).

What is your proudest career achievement?

This question is difficult to answer for someone like me with sustainability at heart. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination: everyone should be humble with regards their own achievements, as more always needs to be done and should be done. In this spirit of collaboration, I am however proud to have extended CSI membership opportunities to countries where the initiative had no members, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Guatemala, as well as to smaller companies that could learn from the larger more-advanced groups.

What is your favourite food?

As a French citizen, I obviously rank French cuisine as one of the best in the world. Although I enjoy different types of cuisines when travelling, I always appreciate coming back home and having a ‘pot-au-feu’ made of vegetables, potatoes, and beef slowly cooked for a few hours together.

Where is the most interesting place you have visited – and why?

I have had the chance to travel frequently for my various jobs and I have visited fantastic places and met great people. I keep souvenirs of all of them, but I would probably say that the most interesting place to go would be the one I have not visited yet. Meeting new people in unfamiliar places is the best way to enrich yourself.

In your view, what is the biggest challenge facing the cement industry?

The biggest challenge ahead of the sector is undoubtedly its ability to properly address the impact of its activities and products on climate change. The technology roadmap that the CSI developed in 2018 with the International Energy Agency clearly demonstrated that the ability of the cement sector to reduce its CO2 emissions to levels compatible with a 2°C increase of the average temperature below preindustrial levels is extremely demanding – and that does not even consider the 1.5°C objective! The major difficulty comes from the fact that 60% of the sector’s CO2 emissions come from the proven, longstanding manufacturing process that transforms limestone into cement.

What strategies can the industry employ to solve this challenge?

Traditional technology improvements need to be scaled-up, and best practices shared among all manufacturers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but different opportunities must be developed and combined to fit the local and regional conditions (in terms of resource availability, regulations, costs, and stakeholders’ expectations). Breakthrough technologies, such as applications from carbon capture, as well as innovative products, should be further explored and implemented. The challenge is so huge that the luxury of leaving some solutions aside is not an option.

What are reading at the moment?

I am currently enjoying the second reading of Changer d’altitude by Bertrand Piccard, who made a round-the-world trip in balloon and then with the Solar Impulse plane. The book explains how to get out of our comfort zone and be open to change, especially when adverse conditions are forecast ahead of us. In life, as in a balloon, if the conditions do not allow you to progress smoothly, changing altitude (as per the title of the book) is a solution to find better conditions. It is also a life philosophy.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you meet – and why?

Antoine de Saint-Exupery: he was a pilot in an age of pioneers, carrying mail from France to North Africa and then in Latin America, while also being a renowned writer and poet. The Little Prince is a book that millions of children have read and he also wrote some reflective books about humankind, such as Terre des Hommes, which is based on what he learned about the various cultures he encountered in South and North America, as well as Asia and Africa, at a time when travel was more of an adventure than it is today.

Do you have a final message for the industry?

I strongly believe that global challenges, such as climate change, need global solutions: this means that the kind of cooperation that CSI was providing to its members is more than ever necessary. Moreover, some specificities (biodiversity, water, supply chain management) associated with these challenges need expertise from outside of the sector and cooperation with NGOs and governmental organisations is essential. I would strongly encourage the sector to initiate discussions with other industrial sectors too, as one sector’s waste is another’s resource. In a world where external stakeholders’ expectations are fast evolving and increasingly demanding, sectors that will succeed are the ones that are open, transparent, and open to change in the way they operate.

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Cement news 2018