A company’s CSR approach: from must have to must do

Oct 16, 2018

6 mins

A company’s CSR approach: from must have to must do
Laure Girardot

Rédactrice indépendante.

CSR has long been considered a good communication tool and a regulatory indicator of corporate activity. Today, it is an essential strategic priority. What lies behind this word? Corporate social responsibility means bringing together all practices which are launched in a proactive manner so as to uphold the three pillars of sustainable development: being economically viable, having a positive impact on society, and respecting the environment. The debate is nothing new, so how can this change be explained?

1. CSR: evolution & models

A little bit of history: from constraint to needing to do better

More than 50 years ago, Milton Friedman wrote that “corporate social responsibility is about increasing profits”, a statement which contrasts with Howard Bowen’s vision in “Social responsibilities of the businessman” which was released in 1953. For a long time, there has been scepticism surrounding the way in which a company reconciles profit and societal challenges before being invited to the strategic reflection table. This switch can be illustrated by some key dates:

  • Between 1990 and 2000: regulations were implemented in different countries, including the NRE laws in France. These required certain companies to be more transparent, notably via the publication of a CSR report which included financial and extra-financial data.
  • In 2001, the European Union, in its Green Paper on Corporate Social Responsibility, went further by describing CSR as a voluntary approach.
  • In 2010, the International Organisation for Standardization published the ISO 26000 standard, an international standard developed by experts from over 100 countries. The aim was to encourage the voluntary implementation of CSR.
  • As of 2009: in France, the Grenelle laws, among others, added a social pillar to the NRE report and expanded the list of companies that were subject to this regulation.
  • 2017: the Vigilance law imposed a broader vision of responsibility of large companies and their subcontractors with an obligation to monitor social and environmental risks at an international level.

CSR figures:

  • In the 2000s, only a dozen Fortune 500 companies published a CSR report. In 2012, more than 8,000 signed the United Nations Covenant.
  • A focus on CSR in France with figures provided by Produrable in a 2017 survey:
  • 50% of CSR management departments of the companies that responded to the survey reported directly to general management.
  • 52% of companies aimed to mobilise their stakeholders with their CSR strategy in 2017.
  • 71% of the people surveyed thought that their company should be more committed to social and environmental issues.
  • 55% of the companies surveyed said that they had implemented, or were in the process of implementing social innovation projects.

What do CSR approaches look like today?

There are as many CSR approaches as there are companies but, according to Pierre-Yves Sanchis, the founder of Comeen and e-RSE, some typologies are emerging:

  • Companies with a mission: to create a business model that reconciles people, planet and profit. There are 2,000 in the United States. In France, La Camif (Established by B Corps in 2015) embodies this positive model by using made in France.
  • Companies which adjust their economic activity. Danone is an example of this; the company will use 100% fresh produce from regenerative agriculture by 2025.
  • Companies which are committed to positive action without needing to change their business. Coca-Cola launched 5 * 20 in support of women’s employment around the world.
  • Then the others… without undertaking a real approach, they launched CSR initiatives… without realising it. This is the case for many SMEs. According to a survey carried out by Bpifrance Le Lab in March 2018, “90 % of executives surveyed said that they undertake CSR activities and 50 % said they have an approach”.

2. What can you gain from being a responsible company?

Why is there such an acceleration to create responsibly? 55% of decision-makers believe CSR is a competitive advantage. What interests do they see in it?

Being able to differentiate yourself in a market which requires transparency

In a hyper-connected world, consumers are increasingly demanding and increasingly likely to avoid companies with poor reputations. In a survey carried out by Landor Associates, 77% of consumers said: “that it is important for firms to be socially responsible”. For today’s consumer, buying is a commitment. In the age of the internet and social media, the slightest slip-up is very rapidly exposed and can destroy a brand.

The public demands transparency and wants to consume responsibly: they learn about products, production methods, and even working conditions. The rapid success of the Yuka app (2 million downloads in March 2018) reflects this trend.

Creating levers of productivity

A study carried out in partnership with YouGov of more than 500 senior managers in the United Kingdom showed that, for 37% of companies, their environmental policy has reduced operational costs. Reducing costs using CSR initiatives (flex-office, anti-waste campaign…) is a significant lever when we look at energy consumption figures: according to ADEME, every year, offices in France consume almost 55,000 GWh of electricity. The e-rse website also points to the impact of the internet as being a significant source of energy: “Every year, internet use across the world consumes the equivalent amount of energy of the electricity production of 40 nuclear power plants.”

Every year, internet use across the world consumes the equivalent amount of energy of the electricity production of 40 nuclear power plants.

Another lever of productivity: choosing a more flexible and considerate management. A study published by Alma Consulting Group estimated the direct cost of absenteeism to be 45 billion euros in France in 2014. Yet Sébastien Henry, a managerial coaching specialist, emphasises that « the more we take care of employees, the more they will take care of customers. This is known as a symmetry of attention.» Recent experiences of participative management combined with a more flexible working environment showed a real employee performance: according to a study by Stanford University, an employee who regularly teleworks is 13% more productive.

Improving the employer brand to guarantee its appeal

Demanding and searching for meaning, the notorious Millennials want to work ethically: 56% of young people from Generation Y would be prepared to reject a job if the company conflicted with their values (Deloitte’s The Millennial Survey, 2016). They see their professional life as being a lever of change and they want to invest themselves in it: to improve their environmental impact, to establish a skills-based sponsorship programme, and to develop their local associative fabric… Their massive arrival on the labour market – 40% of the working population in 2018 – has put CSR at the heart of the collaborative experience: how to attract, harness and retain talent. In fact, the Cone Communication study on employee engagement (2016) revealed that 70% of employees would be more “loyal” and “devoted” if a company took responsible action. Companies like Engie have realised this and have created an internal think-tank of young talent which directly puts forward innovative ideas to COMEX.

3. So you’re convinced… but how do you get started?

The challenge is not to launch CSR initiatives, but rather to build a coherent approach which is shared by all and is in line with the issues facing the company.

Some areas of concentration to focus on include:

  • Putting CSR at the heart of your business strategy. “You need to start with yourself” stresses a Greenflex consultant, i.e. identify CSR issues in order to be consistent with your economic activity. You, therefore, need to develop an approach which is meaningful, sustainable and mobilising. For Marc Jacouton, a member of C3D’s Management Board, “The challenge is to start with symbolic CSR actions which have an impact on the strategy and operational processes, and even on the business model”. For this to happen, the CSR team must work alongside decision-making bodies so that they can make recommendations.
  • Connecting with all company stakeholders: building a viable CSR, a credo: co-construction. With who? Customers, partners, funders, shareholders, employees. At the heart of the business, only they know what needs to be improved and what can be done better on the ground. Involving them early is an investment of time, but it ensures ownership of the approach over time. Comité 21 provides a methodology to develop ideas and improve dialogue.
  • “Cascading” your CSR approach: for operational implementation, a visible and clear action plan is needed which is shared by the whole organisation. Pierre-Yves Sanchis stresses the importance of the CEO’s role: « CSR objectives must be embodied at the highest levels of the company ». Every layer and stakeholder – employees, managers, operational workers – must understand the company’s CSR objectives so that they can incorporate them in their day-to-day activities. The role of human resources is vital because training is necessary for incorporating these objectives in the evaluation process.
  • Communicating and creating a CSR mindset: to engage as many people as possible, you need to talk about it. Internally, this means promoting collective and individual actions by coordinating communication and HR. The information-training tandem encourages the building of a CSR culture which is in line with the company’s values. Externally, you need to produce initiatives to serve the employer brand, but make sure you don’t overdo it: find the right balance between achievements and areas for improvement.

4. Major groups, entrepreneurs… everyone does it. Some examples.

The Bouygues group is one of the 25 most attractive employers in France. Fabrice Bonnifet, the group’s Quality and Sustainable Development Director, created the intrapreneurship programme “Innovating as a start-up”. The aim: to draw on employees’ creativity to propose practical solutions to the service of tomorrow’s sustainable city. “We know that the ideas come from people who are at the heart of the business. By listening to them, we can become more competitive and attractive.

We know that the ideas come from people who are at the heart of the business. By listening to them, we can become more competitive and attractive.

On the side of start-ups, the ecosystem is increasingly serving societal change. HappyTech brings together start-ups like Workwell and Wehobby to fight against workplace malaise. Ticketforchange, an incubator of change, supports entrepreneurs who are breaking down walls. This wave is in line with the Frenchimpact initiative launched by Emmanuel Macron: this public banner units and values promoters of social innovation.

This changing economic paradigm is restructuring a company’s own legislative framework: Jean-Dominique Sénart, CEO of Michelin, recently submitted a report to the government which set out fourteen recommendations on the company’s new social and environmental dimensions.

Photo: WTTJ

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