From Sciences Po to the Deep Blue Sea

One is dedicated to ridding it of plastic, the other to replanting its corals: two Sciences Po graduates explain how and why they have created a business devoted to protecting the oceans. In the context of the first Ecological Transition Careers Fair, we spoke to Marie Le Texier, Founder of ConsultantSeas, a consulting firm, and Anne-Sophie Roux, Founder of Tenaka.

What drew you to the domain of ocean protection?

Anne-Sophie Roux: At first, I had no idea that I was going to create my own business - much less an “Economie sociale et solidaire (ESS)”! Before graduating in 2019, I was pursuing the “comparative politics” course at the Ecole doctorale as part of my master’s in political sciences. My research was focused on the adaptation of South-East Asian communities to climate change. During my gap year I decided to go there myself and I discovered lots of initiatives in the Pacific and South-East Asian regions, and had the opportunity to study marine biology. That’s how I learnt that it was possible to plant corals! I saw the impacts that this could have for coastal communities, especially in Malaysia and in the Philippines: restoration of the ecosystems, food safety, protection against typhoons and erosion…

When I returned to France to finish my master’s, I decided to create Tenaka while writing my dissertation. It was a lot of work, but I was able to join the Sciences Po incubator, which was enormously helpful as I didn’t yet have any entrepreneurial experience. Today, Tenaka has six employees on three different continents.

Marie Le Texier: I’ve always wanted to work in something related to water. Before coming to Sciences Po, I studied at the ENSEEIHT (pronounced N-7 in French!), an engineering school in Toulouse. I also did several internships with specialised institutions, like the Institute of Research for Development (IRD). This engineering school gave me a solid foundation, but I felt as though I needed to study human and social sciences in order to really understand the challenges facing water and the environment. I therefore decided to pursue a Master’s in Environmental Policy at the Sciences Po School of International Affairs (PSIA), in 2011. There I took all of the classes that would allow me to gain a better understanding of the challenges in water management around the world, and I also had opportunities to do internships, one, for example, with UN Habitat in Laos.

After obtaining my Master’s in 2013, I went to work for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, an association of 200 multinational corporations and a Secretariat, based in Geneva, which provides counselling for sustainable development. In the three years I spent there, I was able to see the businesses’ point of view and at the same time assess their methods of implementation. After a sabbatical year (to become a skipper!), I asked the WBCSD to allow me to focus on ocean protection. With the help of my managers, I set up the task force for ocean plastic and we worked with many businesses. This is what gave me the idea to create ConsultantSeas, a consulting firm that works with the public sector, the private sector and the public in identifying and implementing best practices to reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans.

Marie Le Texier

How does ConsultantSeas work? Who do you work with, what do you do, and what are the results?

Marie Le Texier: A large part of what we do takes place on land, where the 8 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean every year is produced. We rely on what we call the plastic value chain, which involves the producers, converters, brand owners, distributors, consumers, and waste management companies.

With the co-founder of ConsultantSeas, Alexandre Le Vernoy (who is also a Sciences Po alumnus), we first decided to support businesses in their plastic strategy, which consists of reducing the risks associated with every step of the plastic value chain - whether this is in regulatory threats (like bans on single-use plastic products - straws, lids, etc.), or risks to their reputation. Fairly quickly, we received requests from the public sector and from members of the public, who we now consult as well. In this way we have facilitated collaboration in an unprecedented process, the National Pact on Plastic Packaging (FR), which was signed in February 2020.

Anne-Sophie Roux: During my first trips to South-East Asia, I noticed that coral plantations were bringing very convincing results; nonetheless, it seemed that it was difficult to secure long-term funding. To try and understand why, I decided to address the CSR departments of several big businesses, and ask them what difficulties they were facing. Several mentioned the difficulty of cooperating with local organisations and measuring the real impact of their actions. And, of course, measuring the impact is the keystone of CSR politics (and, more widely, of social and inclusive economy businesses).

Tortue Eretmochelys imbricata

This is why we built a programme allowing big businesses to support the restoration of coral reefs, in return for which we provide them with “bespoke” evaluations and measurements. For example, with Kering, who finances one of our most ambitious projects: we have begun the restoration of a hectare of corals by installing nurseries (which are something like tutors under the sea). We regularly study the evolution of the coral as well as the biodiversity (and the return of endangered species), and we have developed a specialised camera that allows the business to have access to these images in real time.

Thanks to these initiatives, we recently received a label from the Solar Impulse Foundation, who honour the 1,000 most promising solutions in environmental protection. Which is a huge victory for us!

What impact has the pandemic had on your work?

Marie Le Texier: At the moment, the impact of the crisis on our activity at ConsultantSeas is fairly limited, even if we can expect a reduction in CSR budgets for certain industrial sectors. But this doesn’t stop us from taking action! The crisis encourages all of us, citizens, businesses and governments, to think about the “aftermath”. In terms of the impacts of the pandemic, we are seeing a surge in consumption of single-use plastics. However, I see it as my duty to take a step back from the crisis and try to understand the need to rethink some of our economic models in order to evolve towards an economic model - especially the plastic industry - that will be better in the long run. 

Anne-Sophie Roux: We’re actually already noticing that certain businesses are looking to make the most of the crisis and bounce back with new commitments and an economic model realigned with these values. And on a local scale, the slowing of people’s activity has had a clear positive effect on the environment! On my side, I am in lockdown on the island of Tioman, in Malaysia, where we have been planting corals since 2017. I arrived here three months ago, just before the crisis. Our lockdown is pretty flexible, because there have been no cases of coronavirus on the island, but our planned activities have been postponed. I live with half of our team: it’s a challenge, but we’re rising to it!

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