Norwegian movers and shakers: Cilia Holmes Indahl, Aker BioMarine

Published November 13, 2018

“You should see how the eyes of company executives light up when they realise that sustainability is profitable,” says Cilia Holmes Indahl.

A sea of environment-friendly opportunities

When following the public debate, it is easy to get the impression that sustainability and profitability are poles apart.

This a huge misconception, according to Cilia Holmes Indahl, who is Sustainability Director at the Norwegian biotech and Antarctic krill harvesting company Aker BioMarine. In fact the opposite is true.

Aker BioMarine krill

“This is not just my personal opinion. There is growing empirical evidence that sustainability strengthens the long-term financial performance of a company. Research shows that profitability and sustainability go hand in hand,” she says. Holms Indahl holds a double master’s degree in international business and sustainable development. As part of her master’s thesis she analysed over 400 different sustainable business models.

“There are several reasons why sustainability is a business advantage. One of things I’m most concerned with is what we call ‘future-proofing’ – equipping ourselves to meet whatever changes the future will bring.”

Holmes Indahl is seeing a growing awareness among companies of their corporate social responsibility. She has seen how executives’ eyes light up when they realise that there is money to be made by saving the earth.

“People want to contribute. I have noticed a particular interest in strategic sustainability, which strengthens the business over time. But it is also very important that we as individuals are aware of the choices we make each day, both as producers and consumers,” she says.

Aker BioMarine lab Houston

Europe’s most innovative company

Aker BioMarine won the Award for Innovation at the 2018 European Business Awards. Cilia Holmes Indahl describes her role as being in the interface between risk and opportunity.

“As Sustainability Director I work to balance the risks associated with sustainability with the opportunities it opens up – from meetings with environmental organisations and customers to strategy development and development of new products. We at Aker BioMarine have integrated four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into our activities. This means that we will not do anything that does not make a positive contribution towards achieving the SDGs for food production, health, responsible production and consumption, and life below water.”

She explains that the symbiotic relationship between sustainability and business has several different aspects.

“Win-win situations are one thing – for instance, you can save electricity by reducing your carbon footprint. Another thing which is at least equally important is to make investments that are strategically valuable.”

“The Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund (AWR), which we established in 2015, is a good example here. We have joined forces with environmental organisations to promote more research on the Antarctic ecosystem, introduce best practice that protects the ecosystem and ensure sustainable krill fishery, also in future. Responsible actors in the krill industry have recently come together to create buffer zones around vulnerable penguin colonies.”

Aker BioMarine Houston lab with person

X-rays of the ocean – a future dream

Although our planet is facing a number of well-documented challenges, Cilia Holmes Indahl sees the possibilities for making a positive difference.

She points out two developments as particularly favourable.

“Electrification of fishing boats and increased use of residual raw materials: I believe these two trends represent a positive development. The aquaculture industry is now actively exploring how to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and raise awareness about resource use. I think we will also see new feed ingredients emerging in the years to come, such as algae and larvae. The use of krill as a feed attractant will enable the use of a higher percentage of algae and larvae in feed because it helps the fish to maintain their natural appetite.”

The Sustainability Director also has a specific technology that she would like to see materialise in 10 years’ time.

“I really hope that X-rays of the ocean will soon become a reality, so we can take snapshots of large ocean areas via satellite and obtain counts of biomass for various species. This will help us to prevent overfishing. And it should also help us to discover illegal fishing.”

As one of the founders of Sustainability Hub Norway – a network for promoting sustainability among companies, organisations and individuals – Holmes Indahl gives The Explorer a warm welcome.

“First and foremost, I think that The Explorer is important because it represents a change in mindset and makes room for the growth ambitions of Norwegian companies.”

Photo of Cilia Holmes Indahl: Øivind Haug