Putting a message behind the picture

With humanity facing urgent environmental and social challenges, Yann Arthus-Bertrand employs the power of photography to foster change. His GoodPlanet foundation promotes ecology and solidarity while engaging in projects to boost sustainability efforts worldwide. In an interview with Scope, he explains the role that both individuals and companies have to play in safeguarding the planet for future generations.

September 18, 2020

Interview with Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Mr. Bertrand, do you consider your photography artwork or a mission?

The goal of my photography is to raise public awareness about environmental issues and environmental protection. In other words, my photographic work aims to make ecology and humanism a central issue, in order to encourage people to take real action for Earth and its inhabitants. All of my photographic work is royalty-free for schools, associations and non governmental organizations. Also, I hope that my photography will become a form of heritage for a new generation, even if Earth is changing a lot every year due to the expansion of capitalism.

When you started your photographic work, it seems that the main goal was to enhance the beauty of our world.

That’s true, but after several trips and after meeting with a lot of scientists, I realized that it was essential to put a message behind each picture.

Do you sometimes wish you lived on another planet?

No, not at all. I love Earth, and I don’t think that exploring Mars or other planets will help to solve the issues we’re currently facing on our planet. We should focus first on the environment that surrounds us and should learn to respect it. I think we lack respect for our beautiful flora and fauna.

The global threats to the future of our children are enormous. How can investors help to make a positive impact?

I think investors have started to change the way they make investment decisions. First, we can see growing engagement in socially responsible investing. This initiative, of course, should expand further in the future. Also, I think it is important to apply more restrictions, such as eschewing investments in weapons manufacturers or oil companies. I know that investors are becoming increasingly aware of these issues, and that’s a good sign for the future.
Even if the capitalist model is destroying our environment, we should use it instead of blaming it. That’s why I’m working with Total and other large companies to bring about beneficial change for the environment.

You are the founder of GoodPlanet. What makes this organization different or unique?

Our foundation doesn’t really differ all that much from other environmental organizations, but we have taken some actions that definitely can be deemed unique. In Paris, for example, we created a public space dedicated to ecology and solidarity that is open to everyone. The GoodPlanet Foundation took up residence at the Domaine de Longchamp in Paris. There we created a “green bubble” with free admission, where visitors can experience a generous, positive form of solidarity-centered ecology forged through discussion and encounters.

What specific form does this experience take?

In addition to the permanent exhibitions, every weekend the GoodPlanet Foundation organizes two themed days highlighting environmental, social, and solidarity issues. From organic food to nuclear power, from freedom of the press to refugees, and from honey harvesting to ethical fashion – all of today’s subjects, from the most interactive to the most critical, are put under the spotlight at the Domaine de Longchamp.
Our foundation also cooperates extensively with schools. We recently sent sets of 17 posters on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to all 80,000 schools in France.


Ashes is the title chosen by Yann Arthus-Bertrand for this picture of a tree that he took in northeast Cote d’Ivoire. The ashes are what remain following the annual manmade fires lit to make the savannah soil more fertile.

The GoodPlanet Foundation takes actions that include helping companies and institutions implement environmentally responsible approaches. Could you illustrate how the foundation is going about this?

Our foundation is something of a specialist in carbon offsetting. We offset the carbon emissions of several large companies through biogas reservoirs. For example, we are offsetting all of the business flights booked by Total through 7,000 reservoirs currently under construction. A biogas reservoir is a container in which organic waste (animal excrement, food waste, etc.) is digested anaerobically by bacteria via a fermentation process that produces methane for use as cooking gas. Each reservoir also releases residues that can be used as natural fertilizers to replace chemical products. These reservoirs thus help to improve the living conditions of populations while combating deforestation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Lake Tele

Lake Tele in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) captivates people with its circular form. For photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the lake is one of many symbols of Planet Earth’s beauty. Most tourists never get to experience Lake Tele close up, however, because it is surrounded by vast swamplands and is almost impossible to access.

Where are these reservoirs being constructed?

They are being built in developing countries. In India, for example, a family reservoir installed by the GoodPlanet Foundation and its partner SKG Sangha costs EUR 450 and replaces the use of four tons of wood each year. That means five tons of CO2 per year. The project is running in six districts (Jabalpur, Naramahpur, Madla, Chindwara, Seoni and Balaghat) in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

It has four objectives:

  • To develop sustainable energy through the construction and maintenance of domestic biodigesters.
  • To improve social, economic and environmental conditions of populations.
  • To finance the project through voluntary carbon offsetting.
  • To promote alternative agriculture through the use of digestates.

To achieve those objectives, we have identified families in need, trained future users, and established rigorous follow-up protocols.

GoodPlanet promotes projects aimed at providing accessible renewable and sustainable energy financed by voluntary carbon offsetting. Is the voluntary approach enough to lastingly change our energy strategy?

Yes, I think it is. I think it’s a shame to ignore the environmental impact of our actions. For example, everyone should be concerned about the carbon impact when taking flights. I think we all should greatly reduce our air travel and should offset CO2 emissions each time we fly. As mentioned before, our foundation offsets CO2 emissions through biogas reservoirs, but there are lots of other ways to offset them, for instance by planting trees.

Nevertheless, this voluntary approach by individuals must be supported by companies and institutions to have a broader impact.

Which of your many awards and honors are you particularly proud of? Why?

Twelve schools throughout France bear my name today. I think that’s the greatest reward I could ask for. I would be very proud to spur global action to change the world, but I don’t think the younger generation should have to bear the responsibility. Actions must be taken by the governments, companies and institutions of the world’s leading countries today.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not represent the views of Credit Suisse. Assumptions made in the article are not reflective of the position of Credit Suisse and may be contrary to that of Credit Suisse.