Perspective

How can companies be CSR innovators?

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Dimitri Caudrelier

Consulting firm Quantis France helps multinational firms navigate their environmental transition and is partnering L’Oréal on multiple projects. CEO Dimitri Caudrelier explains what companies need to do to change the game and why it’s in their interest to act quickly.

From promise to reality: CSR as seen by Quantis

Big differences across countries and sectors

“When it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR), not everyone is at the same level”, says Dimitri, pointing to cross-country differences. While the Nordic countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark – and other countries such as New Zealand already have very eco-friendly business cultures, the likes of China, France and Japan have gone for bigger government involvement through regulations, taxes and quotas. A third group of nations has specialised in renewables and is ready to lead by example. They include Spain with solar, Costa Rica with geothermal and Switzerland, a long-standing hydro leader. Differences in CSR approaches and awareness levels are also in evidence across sectors. Construction, transport and energy producers are under mounting pressure to change their models. Although newcomers to this area, the cosmetics and luxury sectors are active players: the importance of brand equity in these sectors has made CSR a critical issue. Meanwhile, there are major disparities within the chemicals, forestry and agrifood industries.

Be committed first, then work on your method

How do you go about establishing an effective CSR policy? Before drawing up an action plan, says Dimitri, you have to remember a vital point: everyone, but especially top management, has to buy in. “If the management committee and the CEO are not behind it, even the best action plan in the world will never be put into practice”, says Dimitri. Part of his job focuses on teaching and the importance of commitment. “While there may be factors of resistance, such as a lack of time or a poor understanding of the challenges, you can change things within the organisation with a little patience. Our first job at Quantis is to establish the initial commitment.”

Time to act: carbon assessments are not enough

Dimitri says that the challenge of CSR is to limit the consequences of our actions so that we can preserve our current way of life while supporting fair social development.

With this in mind, to tangibly improve a CSR policy, several issues need top billing. Number-one is indisputably climate change. “For most sectors, this is the most pressing and certainly the most strategic issue. But it forces firms to set – and stick by – the bold goal of improving their business models to hold the increase in the global temperature to 2°C by 2100, in line with the targets set by the COP21 climate change conference in 2015.” In France and abroad, initiatives have been on the rise since the Paris climate summit, even after the arrival of Donald Trump and the climate sceptics in the White House. “Our US office is growing just as much as before: businesses can see that this is an internationally-important subject.”

But meeting the carbon challenge alone is not enough – a point that Quantis is hammering home. “Companies have got to try to understand and improve their overall environmental impact so that they can respond to the global environmental challenges of water use, air quality and biodiversity.” When it comes to implementation, Dimitri stresses the importance of shifting from a corporate social responsibility to a business social responsibility mindset. Put another way, CSR needs to be at the heart of the company’s business challenges and connected closely to customers, whereas its impact has sometimes been too detached from real activity. “By taking this step and introducing CSR into our day-to-day activities, we can engage the changes needed to make planet-wide environmental impacts.”

Think cross-functionally to drive CSR innovation

Promoting a holistic approach to CSR

As the head of Quantis France, Dimitri has tasked himself with building a value chain-type rationale into his customers’ CSR plans. A prime example of this is SPOT, the new tool co-developed by L’Oréal and Quantis to measure and improve the social and environmental impact of Group products. “It’s an end-to-end system that follows products all the way from raw materials extraction to design and packaging recycling. This cross-functional approach paves the way to involve suppliers and all personnel, from operational staff to marketing and research teams. By moving forwards together, we can set CSR goals that are worthy of the name.”

Major groups have a duty to set an example

“We like working with large groups because they have the resources to change their industry: they can invest massively and set an example for the rest of the sector to follow”, says Dimitri. SPICE, a joint project by Quantis and L’Oréal, illustrates this idea perfectly. “SPICE offers cosmetics firms a shared methodology that they can use to define what constitutes sustainable packaging and start real change in the industry. It’s a holistic approach that has already drawn interest from over a dozen major players from the sector.”

Welcome to the era of transparency

For Dimitri, the future of CSR is all mapped out. If companies don’t change by themselves, consumers will leave them with no choice. “From food scandals and growing suspicion about labelling to the popular success of shows such as Cash Investigation, a French TV show that exposes corrupt corporations, a groundswell movement has begun. Welcome to the era of transparency and traceability!” He expects to see sharp shocks in consumption cycles, partly triggered by millennials, who are championing a new, more selective and ethical approach to consumption, one that cares about where a product comes from, what goes into it and how it is manufactured. Companies that adapt and get themselves on the cutting edge of CSR issues will win market share. And the rest? “They’ll be left behind.”

CSR | June 2018