Talking about sustainability in the sugar-energy sector is not only about publicizing investments in the recovery of native vegetation, reduction of water consumption, better use of by-products and energy efficiency, elimination of the use of fire and mechanization of the harvest. As in all Brazilian agribusiness, it is a matter of deconstructing prejudices.

They say that “it is not enough to look like it, you have to be it” and this phrase, in times of communication and dissemination in social networks, has been transformed into “it is not enough to be it, you have to look like it”. In the era of stakeholder capitalism, the phrase “it is not enough to be sustainable; you have to look sustainable” represents very well the communication challenges for the productive sectors. When it comes to the sugar-energy sector, this goes beyond being and appearing to be. In practice, what we see is a constant communication effort, after all, we are talking about a sector with more than five hundred years of history in the national territory.

In the last 15 years, the sugar-energy sector, especially in the center-south of the country, has voluntarily eliminated the burning of sugarcane straw as a pre-harvest agricultural method, substituting manual harvesting with the use of fire for mechanized harvesting. In this new dynamic, fires represent real environmental and economic damage that must be prevented and fought. However, even today, sugar mills and cane suppliers are still wrongly blamed for fires, many of which originate on roadsides due to cigarette butts or glass bottles thrown away by drivers.

The case of the elimination of burning shows us how difficult it is to “pretend”. The difficulties in demonstrating the sustainability of a productive sector or a specific company are not unique to the sugar-energy sector and have a direct impact on its financial health.

In this context, the financial market has introduced a new paradigm to qualify companies and economic segments: ESG. Today, it is impossible to talk about sustainability without mentioning ESG criteria (acronym for “Environmental, Social and Governance”, which can be loosely translated as “good environmental, social and corporate governance practices”).

So, you may ask yourself: but doesn’t the concept of sustainability already incorporate ESG criteria? In fact, ESG criteria can be seen as an evolution of the famous sustainability tripod (social, environmental, and economic), because now companies and productive sectors know which indicators the financial market recognizes as sustainability criteria, criteria that will guarantee them access to better lines of financing, thus recognizing their advantage over competitors that do not adopt the same good practices in their production chains.

Briefly, the financial market has begun to look for environmental, social, and corporate indicators to identify what “appears to be”, allowing a differentiated rating and recognition of those who are truly sustainable.

Although there is still no ESG certification or specific label that qualifies a company or sector as an ESG investment segment, there are instruments that guide this qualification. The S&P index of the Brazilian Stock Exchange (B3) is a good example of how the financial market recognizes this type of initiative in the most diverse production chains.

However, in the case of the sugar-energy sector, being an extremely heterogeneous sector, composed essentially of privately owned family groups, as well as large publicly owned multinational groups, it would be unfair to limit the ESG qualification of a company solely based on its participation in the S&P B3 list.

Thus, from an ESG perspective, recognition of the “seeming to be” of the sugar-energy sector can and should also be verified through sector certifications and programs, such as RenovaBio, Greener Ethanol, Bonsucro, or even adherence to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

Evolving and continuing to produce food and clean and renewable energy has been the commitment of the Brazilian sugar-energy sector. The use of sugarcane by-products to produce electricity and biogas, ferti-irrigation with vinasse, as well as the investments made in environmental recovery and protection, the retraining of the workforce and the adoption of better governance practices are also important indicators that guarantee the sustainability of the sugarcane energy sector.

In the state of São Paulo alone, Greener Ethanol has resulted in more than 54 million seedlings of native vegetation planted in the last 15 years, more than 200,000 hectares of protected riparian forest, a reduction in water consumption from 5 m³/ton of sugarcane processed in the 1990s to 0.7 m³/ton in 2023, more than 400,000 retrained workers, not to mention the 22,600 GWh of electricity produced from sugarcane bagasse.

Being sustainable is what drives innovation in the sugar-energy sector, and now the biggest challenge is to get this recognized nationally and internationally, demonstrating that far beyond “looking like it” and phrases of impact, sustainability in the sector is something that is practiced daily, with the commitment of all, whether in the cities, in the countryside or in industry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux