As part of its Solvay Way sustainability program approach, the Group encourages the protection of biodiversity around its buildings and facilities. With its rare species of orchids and abundant honey production, Solvay’s RIC-Lyon research center is setting the bar very high.

The Research and Innovation Center Lyon  one of  Solvay’s nine corporate research centers, established in 1959 in the outskirts of Lyon. Its nearly 500 employees conduct research on a wide range of subjects, from organic chemistry to polymers and materials.

Sweetness for all

A few years ago, RIC-Lyon installed twelve beehives in the small woods located on the center’s grounds, adjacent to the lab buildings. This was the initiative of an employee who had beekeeping experience – he is now retired but continues to look after the hives. “The bees are doing amazingly well,” says Philippe Marchal, Senior Staff Scientist in Microbiology and Ecotoxicology and biodiversity correspondent at RIC-Lyon. “The yield of the beehives actually really surprised us.”

One hundred kilos of honey are produced here each year, filling 800 jars with three different types of honey from various essences. “We don’t sell any of it,” continues Philippe. “We give it out to the employees and also to a local social and solidarity grocery store.” Every year, as part of the Solvay Way Days, RIC-Lyon puts together animations, workshops on security and sustainability and visits of the hives as a way to raise awareness.

 

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Orchids and freeways

Other employees on the site have a passion for botany. One of them happens to be a specialist of orchids and has been observing the specimens growing in the center’s lawns for some 20 years. Five years ago, a survey conducted by an environmental consulting firm confirmed there were several species growing on the site, some of them quite uncommon. “Following that confirmation, we implemented actions to protect the orchids, such as designating areas where the grass shouldn’t be mowed and placing little signs to indicate where the orchids are,” says Sébastien Righini, department manager at RIC-Lyon and local correspondent for Solvay Way.

Nevertheless, it was quite a surprise when in 2017, the presence of a rare species of mountain orchid was confirmed. “They weren’t even protected before, which makes it even more amazing that they started growing here, so far from the mountains and in a relatively urban environment, with a freeway nearby,” explains Sébastien. What’s more, a second rare species may have been spotted as well – people are currently working to confirm this when the flowers have bloomed. So far, a total of eight species of orchids have been identified on the grounds of RIC-Lyon, with about 250 plants.

A natural curiosity

What makes RIC-Lyon so active when it comes to promoting biodiversity? First of all, the center’s grounds, with its large lawns and adjacent woods offering a wide variety of tree species (a tree planting campaign was even carried out in 2017), offer a unique environment – in spite of the traffic zipping by. But there’s probably more to it: “Perhaps our particularity is that we’re a scientific research center,” says Philippe. “The people who work here are all scientists, with a natural curiosity for the world surrounding them.”

But the positive impact of this increased environmental awareness goes beyond that, as Sébastien explains: “We thought the people who mow the lawns for us would complain about having to go around the orchids. But no, they told us they were really happy to do it. All in all, it’s a positive evolution for everyone.”