CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND KEDGE
JEAN-CHRISTOPHE CARTERON, KEDGE CSR DIRECTOR, SHARES HIS RESOURCES WITH US…
Q: Is Corporate Social Responsibility truly important?... or is it simply political-correctness?
J-C.C: Whether it be to respond to consumer demands, going head on with the prices of raw materials, anticipate new regulations or to counter the attacks of activists, I know of no sector, no type of enterprise that can permit themselves to not question their own responsibility without putting their survival at risk in more or less the long-term.
A leader of an industrial group told me one day that 20% of their clients were militants ready to purchase a more expensive « ecofriendly » detergent and that inversely, 20% systematically avoided green products because they were convinced that they don’t clean as well. But for the 60% remaining, whenever the product worked as well as the conventional product and did not cost more, the argument of “responsible product” was a genuine choice criterion. Taking into account the environmental and social aspects in these products is, thus, not an ethical choice. Personally, I know of few companies that can ignore the demand of 80% of their clients…
Q: In the business world, why do people change their behaviors? What are the triggers?
J-C.C: In the time that I have worked in CSR, I’ve realized that there are, for the most part, three major reasons that employees push their company to engage in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.
For certain managers and corporate leaders, the commitment comes from seeking coherence between personal values and the actions taken in the professional context. More simply, I’ve seen many buyers, marketers or financial directors become aware one day that their daily decisions could, more or less, indirectly contribute to deforestation, child labor or pollution. When this contradicts that which is important to the individual, with what they attempt to teach their own children, this can lead the individual to change jobs or change their way of working…
The second lever of change is risk management. Whether you are humane, sensitive to environmental issues, or not, the day when you have repetitive burnouts within your team or your products are banned for sale because they are too polluting, it becomes complicated to remain performant.
Finally, many professionals simply wish to understand the business opportunity. People want bio, equitable commerce, solar panels, electric bikes… so then, just give it to them!
Q: What examples do you see in the professional arena?
J-C.C: One of my favorite examples is with the French postal service « La Poste ». One of the major societal impacts of a mail transporter is, of course, CO2 emissions.
With respect to the planet, it’s a serious issue. But in terms of risk also. The day that city centers forbid the movement of thermic vehicles, the transporters who are equipped with non-polluting vehicles will be the only ones to survive.
« La Poste » has, thus, massively invested in electric vehicles and the « green-transport » of its delivery personnel.
What is most interesting, as a consequence of this, is « La Poste » has de facto reduced its fuel budget and has even managed to sell its « green-transport” schools to other companies…
Q: Is there no way to cheat ? do green-washing ?
J-C.C: Yes, yes.. of course. This exists. But we are living in an epoch where the immateriel capital makes up a large part of corporate value. At the time of social networks, it is difficult to cheat for very long and a reputation can fall apart rapidly.
Is the world of business changing? Or the same consumption model with a nice marketing twist?
Clearly, we are in a moment of transition where models that have created wealth in society for the past 200 years are in the process of exploding! For sure, the system will not change all at once, but not a single sector will escape the change.
If we take the production of goods, our current economy is very linear. I take resources, which I always believed limitless, I transform and sell them, before they become perishable, into trash.
Numerous studies, such as Global footprint network or Yale University demonstrate how humanity is depleting stocks of resources and that evidently that resources which are becoming scarce and difficult to access will become more and more expensive.
In order to not be without raw materials, manufacturers are in the process of relooking at their business models. Instead of selling a product and, thus, definitively losing the basic resource, the company sells the user rights. What is interesting here is how this model, marginal only a few years ago, is expanding massively now with the with phenomenal consequences for businesses. We no longer sell a CD, but give access to the music. We no longer sell jet engines, but the hours of propulsion. We do not sell tires, but the charge for the kilometers of usage. We do not sell a bike, but give rights of usage for a fleet of bikes. A business-model revolution is happening!
Our system has pretty much generated enormous amounts of garbage which has gigantic consequences for our environment. Imagine a system where, from the conception of a product, we consider how it will be recycled permitting us to save on raw materials and permitting us to transform garbage into a resource.
In a world of abundance, waste is a question of ethics, respect for nature and the work of others. In a world of conflict, it is a question of corporate survival.
Q: How does a business school make impact in this area?
J-C.C: Like any organisation, the activities of Institutions of Higher Learning engender negative external consequences. Consumption of energy, CO2 emissions and discrimination are subjects that schools must ask themselves about.
But, of course, our greatest impact is teaching and research. Because we train the decision-makers of tomorrow, institutions of higher learning have a crucial role to play in the acculturation and mastery of these stakes. We should assure ourselves that our graduates are correctly equipped to integrate these elements in their future careers and are able to assume the consequences of their choices with full knowledge of the causes.
Q: What is Kedge doing?
J-C.C: Kedge is, assuredly, far from perfect. But that for which we have become an internationally recognized reference is our work over the past 10 years on the overall scope of our responsibility. In the area of research, 5 chairs have been created around the stakes of CSR as well as very numerous academic publications by our faculty, pedagogical design, the social and environmental management of our campus… but also, a colossal job of lobbying and con-construction for a group of higher learning institutions worldwide integrating issues concerning CSR.
On this point, and not citing a single project, the school is behind the initiative of the first international test evaluating knowledge of sustainable development. Supported by roughly 40 international networks, notably numerous non-governmental organisations (Unesco, UNEP, UNDP, Global Compact, PRME…) the sustainability literacy test est customized today in 19 countries and available in 8 languages.
In less than two years, 350 universities have signed up to use the exam. Nearly 30,000 students have already taken the test and we are launching a version for companies and recruiting agencies in the weeks to come. A vast programme is underway.
Jean-Christophe Carteron, CSR Director KEDGE Business School – France, coordinates the School’s strategy on Sustainable Development (research, learning, campus & governance). He is a leading actor on social responsibility for higher education institutions and deeply committed in different international working Groups : UNGC, UN PRME, GRLI and GUPES-UNEP.
Representative of French Higher Education for Rio+20 and Senior Advisor for the “Higher Education Sustainable Initiative” (the biggest voluntary commitments during the Rio+20), he is copiloting the “The Platform for Sustainability Performance in Education”.
He has launched the sustainability literacy Test, the first international assessment tool of SD knowledge, used by almost 30.000 students from 350 universities from all over the world.
Contacter: Jean-Christophe Carteron