Sustainable development : Depaz and JM take the environmental issue in hand

The nuggets of the GBH (JM) and Bardinet (Depaz) groups can boast exceptional terroirs. This is an asset that they intend to preserve as much as possible, thanks to a CSR policy that has been in place for years, but which they have only recently begun to highlight.

The use of co-products from the rum-making process (bagasse, vinasse), energy production, labelling… Depaz and JM are doing everything possible to have as little impact as possible on their environment… while remaining aware of the road ahead.

They are two Martinique distilleries located on the slopes of Mount Pelée. Depaz in the north-west, near Saint-Pierre, and JM in the north, near Basse-Pointe. While Depaz is on a promontory overlooking the sea, swept by the trade winds and darted by the sun, JM is nestled at the bottom of a valley that forms a tropical green bower around her.

But both share an acute awareness of how lucky they are to occupy such places, and of the efforts needed to preserve them. This is why Depaz, like JM, has for years been pursuing a policy of preserving their environment and their terroir. And now they are making it known.

The obsession of both distilleries is to have as little impact as possible on their environment. This involves using bagasse as fuel, processing vinasse, and using green energy… But this is not easy, and the distilleries, which would often like to go even further, are still facing technical and financial challenges.

With EDDEN, JM wants to put its CSR policy in the spotlight

It is not because we are an industry that we pollute,” attacks Emmanuel
Becheau, the director of the JM distillery. From the moment the distillery was bought by the GBH group in 2002, investments were made to bring it up to standard. Each time we chose the greenest option, even if it was more expensive. We were thinking about the future, but we had no idea that CSR would take on so much importance within companies.

However, all these investments and actions were still largely unknown to the general public and to consumers. That’s why JM decided to group them together under a single concept: EDDEN (Engagés pour le Développement Durable de nos Ecosystèmes et de notre Nature). The idea of EDDEN is to show that JM rums are produced in respect of 3 main pillars: “the defence of our nourishing earth with a more reasoned agriculture, a circular economy thanks to the treatment of 100% of our waste, and the transmission of knowledge and know-how to the younger generations,” explains Emmanuel Becheau. And I would add a fourth: welcoming female employees, since 75% of our management staff are women.”

The fate of the wine

In practice, this priesthood translates into particular attention to the treatment of waste, which for the most part ends up as an amendment in the banana or sugarcane fields. Thus, the 24 million litres of vinasse (liquid residue from the distillation of sugarcane wine) produced each year by the distillery are treated via a process set up with the Martinique Water Office, INRAE, and co-financed by the French Office for Biodiversity.

During its passage through 4 planted beds, the vinasse is filtered (using gravel and plants in particular), transformed into sludge and mineralised. The water resulting from this process will have been stripped of its undesirable elements, but will contain some potassium and nitrogen.

It will then be used to irrigate the GBH group’s banana plantations, thus avoiding the need to take water from the river. “After seven or nine years, the sludge, mineralised by the presence of bacteria, will be collected and spread on the fields as an amendment,” says Emmanuel Becheau.

The multiple uses of bagasse

The 6,000 tonnes of bagasse produced by the distillery (remember that one tonne of crushed sugar cane yields around 300 kg of bagasse) will also be processed and reused. About 4,200 tons are burnt during the distillation process, and thus contribute directly to the production of rum. It should be noted that the distillery can boast of a 95% reduction in atmospheric emissions between 2019 and 2021 with the installation of new filters on the chimneys.

“The ashes, full of minerals for the soil, are used in the fields” and the dust from the fumes, which is recovered after treatment, will enter an appropriate treatment channel”, comments Emmanuel Becheau. says Emmanuel Becheau.

What about the customers now? Are they sensitive to these efforts? In the short term, this should not boost the brand’s sales, since the concern for sustainable development (or not) currently weighs little against the origin of the product and its taste, when making a purchase. However, Martinican consumers and tourists are invited several times a year to come and discover the backstage of JM and have access to the vinasse treatment tanks, to the compost… They even plant cane,” says Emmanuel Becheau, “they are convinced and see the distillery and the rum in a different light! When it comes to the environment, small streams make big rivers.

At Depaz, taking the environment into account is a constant challenge

At Depaz, the concern to minimise the impact of rum production on the environment is rooted in the desire to preserve the exceptional terroir where the cane grows. Everything starts in the field. Thus, every 5 years, the sugar cane plantations are rotated with banana plantations and market gardening, which makes it possible to optimise their
This allows them to optimise their agricultural yield while preserving the quality of the soil. Depaz teams work with alternative methods to the use of synthetic pesticides, such as mulching and mechanical and manual weeding, thus reducing the use of herbicides. In addition, Depaz is currently in the process of converting some of its plots to organic farming.

To combat soil erosion, limit water loss from the cane and preserve ecosystems (especially for birds), 4 km of hedges have been planted around the plantations and 6 km of additional hedges will be planted this year. Finally, the emphasis has been placed on cuttings. “We have developed a new type of planting called BPG, for pre-germinated cuttings. We start by raising small cuttings in the greenhouse that correspond to an eye. They will germinate and when they have put down roots and have been hardened by the sun, we plant them in the field,” explains Eric Lecoeur, Technical Director of the Domaine Depaz site. This allows us to use less sugar cane and to save two months of time compared to a standard plantation. We also do less ploughing because the soil remains bare for less time, which means less damage and less diesel is used. In addition, the plants are more resistant to weed attacks and require less weed killer.

Bagasse to run the distillery

Particular attention is paid to the processing of waste. Thus 40% (i.e. about 5000 tonnes) of the bagasse produced is used to heat the ovens and produce steam to drive the grinding mills and heat the distillation columns. “While most of our competitors have switched to electric power, we are still running at 100% on bagasse to power our 100-year-old steam engine,” says Eric Lecoeur. 20, 25% of the bagasse is sent to a subcontractor’s composting unit, which will transform it into compost. This will then be bought by the distillery and spread on the sugar cane fields. And 20, 25% will be used to produce energy for the power plant, while the balance will be used as mulch and bedding for the animals… “The aim is to use everything possible”, says Eric Lecoeur.

Methanising the vinasse

The vinasse is sent to a methaniser located below the distillery. They are put in the presence of bacteria, “exactly those that we have in our stomachs,” explains Eric Lecoeur.

They will eat everything that can be eaten and by digesting, they will produce methane. These bacteria work without oxygen and do about 85% of the work. The sludge is then sent to an aerobic tank (in the presence of oxygen) where another type of bacteria completes the work (97%). Finally, all that remains is the mineral part, which no longer degrades, but which is fertile and will be spread on the sugarcane fields (which represents several thousand tonnes per year). 33,000m3 of vinasse is thus reused each year.

Avenues for improvement

The water, which is no longer polluted and almost clear, goes back to the river. “We are thinking of capturing it to use it to water the sugar cane fields, but to do that we would have to build a basin to capture it,” explains Eric Lecoeur.

As for the methane, it is currently burned in flares and there is no question of recovering it, as this would not be profitable given that the distillery only operates for 5 months a year.

The farm buildings are equipped with solar panels supplied by a service provider and the electricity produced is sent to the EDF network. “We are thinking of installing solar panels on the offices, but the insurance companies do not want us to put electricity-powered equipment on the roof of the winery for safety reasons,” explains Eric Lecoeur. As for water, Depaz has reduced its water consumption by half in 10 years by recovering rainwater and recycling cooling water. In the near future, cooling water could be used twice to cool machines that do not need water at the same temperature to reduce their temperature. The fight for the environment and against the waste of resources is a constant challenge.

What is CSR?

A key concept for the 2010s and 2020s, CSR, for Corporate Social Responsibility, is defined by the European Commission as the voluntary integration by companies of social and environmental concerns into their commercial activities and their relations with stakeholders. In short, companies that follow this approach want to have a positive impact on the planet and its inhabitants. It is regulated by the ISO 26000 standard, which highlights seven core issues: organisational governance, human rights, labour relations and conditions, environment, fair practices, consumer issues, communities and local development.

The race for certification

On the certification side, at JM, 25% of agricultural investments are devoted to research to achieve more sustainable agriculture and 80% of plots are HVE certified. In addition, the Bonsucro label is well advanced. Finally, JM is seeking to become the reference in the West Indies for the Global Compact, initiated in 2000 by the United Nations, which aims to encourage companies worldwide to adopt a socially responsible attitude by committing to integrate and promote several principles relating to human rights, international labour standards, the environment and the fight against corruption.

As for Depaz, it obtained ISO 14001 certification two years ago, a first for a Martinique distillery. This certification confirms the efforts made in terms of consumption of natural resources and control of environmental risks, reduction of waste, discharges and nuisances. Finally, 100% of the plots are 100% HVE, and some are in the process of obtaining the organic label.

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