Whether to enhance a company’s image or genuinely out of good ethical intentions, committing to a CSR approach is an essential step for any organisation concerned about its sustainability... and its popularity. A commitment to CSR is a real strategic asset for companies aiming to attract today's consumers, and is guaranteed to boost their visibility. There are specialist organisations that can help you to achieve this!
👉 We explain the why and how.
Committing to a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) approach is always worth your while and we’ll explain why.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is defined by the European Commission as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis.”
In simple terms, CSR is “the contribution of companies to the challenges of sustainable development.”
Therefore, a company that practices CSR aims to have a positive impact on society while remaining economically viable.
CSR is represented by three letters. It also has three pillars.
A CSR approach is the implementation of a company strategy which aims to improve its performance in terms of the aspects described above. It is up to each individual company to decide which actions should be prioritised, depending on the type of business, its sector and the territory in which it operates.
To establish a hierarchy for these issues, a materiality matrix can be used to identify the economic, environmental and social areas which are most likely to improve the company's performance and sustainability.
The importance of governance is often forgotten by company managers because it is not directly linked to one of the three pillars.
Nonetheless, it covers several essential issues, such as the involvement of the company’s stakeholders in CSR, whether this includes shareholders, NGOs, trade unions or local authorities, the implementation of anti-corruption measures in the countries where the company is based, or the decision not to opt for an aggressive tax optimisation policy, like Uber in France for example. It is therefore an important point for consideration.
In order to guide the CSR approach of companies, certain strategic issues have been collectively defined and grouped under the acronym ESG (for Environmental, Social and Governance). Recognised by the international financial community, these ESG criteria are used to assess the level of integration of sustainable development into a company's strategy and to take into account challenges over the long term.
Each company is free to focus on the most appropriate elements in order to develop a tailor-made CSR action plan that is relevant to its sector, according to the context and individual sensibilities. However, take note: CSR only has meaning if it is implemented as part of a holistic approach.
To support this approach of making sustainable development issues a central focus for companies, the French Parliament passed the PACTE law (Action Plan for Business Growth and Transformation) in 2019.
✅ This law “aims to give companies the means to innovate, transform, grow, and create jobs”.
It represents a fundamental building block in terms of CSR: it introduces the notion of “mission-oriented companies”. By using this new terminology, a company can add a “purpose” or “mission” to its singular role of generating profit for its shareholders, with the aim of initiating its ecological transition on a larger scale. For example, this is the case for Patagonia, Slip Français and also Danone, which will be further discussed at the end of this article.
Finally, it is clear that more and more in France, development is becoming synonymous with sustainability, with the increasingly widespread implementation of CSR approaches and laws that are moving the country in this direction. But to what end? Saving the world is a bit too broad a remit.
Okay, so adopting a CSR approach is good for the planet, but will it also be good for my company?
The answer is yes. A definite yes.
In February 2020, Oney and OpinionWay published a study on the aspirations and behaviour of consumers in France, Spain, Portugal and Hungary.
The results are conclusive: 9 out of 10 respondents expect brands to be socially-engaged and to help them consume better. The study reported that:
“90% of European consumers say they are aware of the importance of sustainable consumption and feel that they are taking action to move towards this objective.”
In this regard, three aspects of consumption are highlighted as being the main levers for action:
These figures show that a basic trend is emerging among European consumers: they are increasingly positioning themselves as “consum’actors” who want to bring about change; this trend has been heightened by the international health crisis which has been ongoing since last February.
Furthermore, in this period characterised by a lack of trust: with the latest greenwashing scandals, green packaging is now viewed as potentially dubious rather than reassuring, a clear and transparent CSR approach is the best way to reassure consumers about what they are buying.
While consumers represent one side of a coin, employees represent the flip side, that from inside the company. Encouraging employee commitment means establishing a climate of trust to which they can relate and will want to be a part of because the objectives underpinning their work have meaning.
Focusing on CSR can help to boost this commitment. Based on a Kantar survey of 1,500 employees, the 2020 edition of the CSR perception barometer published by MEDEF highlights the importance of employee commitment to their professional work.
And guess what? A commitment to CSR can significantly boost employee retention by improving the company’s image: 83% of employees working in companies with a CSR department or function feel that their organisation can take pride in having a “positive impact” on society, compared to 59% of employees in organisations without a CSR strategy.
In addition, in companies where there is a CSR department or function, 83% of employees emphasised that they “enjoy their work”, compared to only 64% working elsewhere, and 79% of employees still see themselves working for the same company in three years' time compared to 68% of the others.
The last side of our coin (yes it's a three-sided coin) is represented by new recruits, and especially young talent. Young people are particularly concerned about companies’ environmental commitments and finding meaning in their work. According to a study by Jam, 15-25 year olds are looking for a company that is committed to them as well as the planet.
Seven out of ten young people think that companies are not deeply or sincerely committed in this field. Taking into account that salaries are generally the same between competitors for employees with equivalent skills and qualifications, the real difference is the values that your company embodies. Whether your company is a start-up or a large corporation, no matter how big or small, an honest and transparent CSR approach is worth more than any offer of employment.
After considering these arguments, you will be in no doubt: you need to implement a CSR approach for your company as soon as possible, but how do you go about it?
In general terms, the stakeholders of a CSR approach include all the entities that interact with the company and which are likely to be affected by its activities:
Internally within the company, while the implementation of corporate CSR actions affects everyone, insofar as each individual is free to approach their HR department or line manager with ideas, in theory, it is the CSR manager (or director of sustainable development and social responsibility) who is responsible for defining and coordinating the actions to be implemented for sustainable development.
Their duties include identifying the priority issues to be addressed, steering the CSR approach in collaboration with the organisation’s various departments (HR, production, safety, etc.), defining success indicators and control processes, developing communication and lobbying actions, producing reports on the actions taken, and finally, monitoring the new policies that must be adopted.
Once all the stakeholders are prepared and motivated to embark on the company’s transition, it is important to understand the company’s current position in order to implement appropriate actions.
A CSR audit involves the establishment of an exhaustive status report on all levels: an environmental and social analysis. This includes supplier evaluation, waste and construction site reports, etc. An Assessment of GHG emissions is also a good starting point: it is used to instantly identify the company's major emission sources, and, therefore, the areas in which action must be taken for the environment.
Everything is recorded in a table of criteria that must be approved, often with an initial self-assessment followed by a visit from an external consultant.
Many companies are now opting to go down the CSR route and that is excellent news. However, a lot of them still forget or neglect to communicate enough about their commitments, even though they have every reason to do so. Below are some measures for effective CSR communication:
Alongside CSR communication, internal training is essential. According to a study carried out by the Observatoire Salarié et Entreprise Responsable in January 2020, 39% of employees lacked knowledge of the subject in-house, thus hindering the adoption of CSR-related practices.
What’s more, almost half of employees struggled to give a precise definition of CSR! Many employees are simply left out of initiatives: only 8% of employees are asked to integrate CSR into their business activity.
However, the most important statistic from the study is as follows: 70% of employees would like to be more involved! There is no reason not to go for it: you must train your employees if you want your CSR approach to be sustainable over the long term and they are more than willing to participate.
You don't necessarily need to go back to school to learn about CSR, but below are two examples of certified CSR training:
Companies can get support for their CSR approach from a number of organisations, including: specialised consulting firms, employers' organisations, professional federations, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, ADEME, or networks of specialised companies.
Implementing a coherent CSR policy requires time and money, and it is difficult to estimate the overall cost of the approach because of the cross-disciplinary nature of CSR. However, it is important to understand that the cost of not adopting a CSR approach will be much higher than the initial investment. For example, it is logical that reducing energy and resource consumption will reduce the company’s costs, while benefitting the environment. Thus, the company will be more profitable.
Nevertheless, certain costs can be quantified: the creation of a CSR manager role, a Carbon Assessment, the development of a communication campaign and a graphic charter, etc. These expenses will likely include calling in a CSR consultancy firm.
When implementing a CSR strategy, it is an excellent idea to enlist the help of specialist consultancy firms, such as:
These firms aim to offer comprehensive and tailored support to each customer.
To quote Greenflex: “[Our role] is to facilitate the integration of social responsibility and stakeholder relationship management into the strategy of organisations and to define a differentiating sustainable development positioning that creates value.”
Such firms therefore serve as a mentor in CSR: they provide advice, identify issues and highlight where efforts still need to be made. Some of these firms, such as Carbone 4, are experts in Carbon Assessment, the foundation of an effective CSR strategy.
There are many independent experts available who can support you with the practical implementation of such an approach. For example, the IMPACTS agency offers advice and training on this subject.
Companies conduct a carbon assessment, among the other CSR actions that must be implemented, in order to evaluate the quantity and origin of all their GHG emissions. It is a key first step in going green that is used to make a diagnosis and then find solutions to minimise the company’s environmental impact. Many organisations offer carbon assessment services, with the two main solutions being either to hire a specialised firm or to opt for company carbon assessment software like that of Greenly.
Enlisting the help of a specialist company means being provided with comprehensive support throughout the CSR process, but it is a costly investment in terms of time and money (depending on the firm, rates can vary by several tens of thousands of euros). It is for this precise reason that software has begun to emerge that is revolutionising the carbon assessment market. The aim is to make the process easier, faster and cheaper. It is up to you to decide which option is best suited to your organisation.
Conducting a carbon assessment is crucial to aligning the company with ESG criteria, and has in fact been mandatory in France since the adoption of the Ecological Transition for Green Growth Act in 2015. Many businesses are affected by this first step towards the development of a low-carbon strategy, in particular companies with more than 500 employees (250 in France’s overseas departments and territories).
From small companies to major corporations, everyone must commit to building a more sustainable world. Below are two examples of large groups that have opted to implement a CSR strategy and three startups representative of the cause to save the planet.
Danone, the French food giant with a turnover of $21 billion, is an example of a large group that has been committed to its CSR approach for many years. Antoine Riboud, the founder, emerged as the first promoter of sustainable development in 1972: “We should lead our businesses with our hearts as much as our heads, and we must not forget that if the earth’s natural resources are limited, those of mankind are infinite if he feels motivated.”
Internally, the company has based its human rights policy on the GRI 3.0 (Global Reporting Initiative). As a result, Danone can demonstrate how it applies these indicators using concrete examples and measures (via its Food, Nutrition and Health Charter in 2009). The decision to use the GRI framework is evidence of the strength of Danone's CSR initiative, since these indicators demonstrate a voluntary application of standards rather than strict compliance with the law.
Externally, extra-financial rating agencies audit the group’s CSR performance; for example, the Vigeo agency used the ISO 26000 standard to evaluate Danone and found that its results were very good, close to the maximum score. Thus, Danone not only seems to be complying with the law as far as sustainable development is concerned, but also to be taking the initiative with regard to recommended but not mandatory standards.
However, everything is set to change at Danone. On 14 March 2021, the board of directors ousted CEO Emmanuel Faber. During his tenure, Faber made some major decisions in terms of CSR, which resulted in lost profits, and this did not sit at all well with the shareholders, who have not hidden their desire to make profit the number one priority once again. A decision that should be followed very closely and one that might not work out for the best.
Another example of a large French group being committed to sustainable development is Bouygues. To quote Philippe Bonnave, CEO of Bouygues Construction: “We want to create a low-carbon culture”. With the support of consulting firm Carbone 4, the group's five core businesses announced new climate strategies in December 2020, in line with the Paris Agreement. The company launched a new low-carbon strategy in 2020 (2030 target), which will involve the CEOs of each of the group's business lines.
Among these core businesses, Colas and Bouygues Construction have announced a 30% reduction (40% for Bouygues Construction) for Scope 1 and 2 (direct and indirect emissions linked to energy consumption) and 30% for Scope 3a (other indirect upstream emissions, such as the materials used by suppliers). For its part, Bouygues Immobilier, the third largest subsidiary in the construction sector, announced a 32% reduction for each Scope category.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that large corporations like Danone and Bouygues are still a long way off of making their impact on the planet sustainable. In 2016, WWF published a list of the 25 most polluting French companies... and both groups were on it.
Launched in 2017, this neobank for freelancers has made social responsibility one of its primary objectives. To establish a “responsible bank”, it has implemented measures for employees, the environment and its freelance customers.
According to CEO Nicolas Reboud, the CSR policy at Shine has several aims: firstly, “to try and create the most progressive and healthy working conditions possible”; secondly, “to have the lowest possible environmental impact”; and thirdly, to have “the most positive social impact possible”. These are our famous three pillars. These objectives have been transformed into a number of practical measures.
For example, internally, Shine has amended all of its employee contracts to remove the exclusivity clause and to include one day per month for freelance work: guaranteeing freedom and healthy working conditions to improve employee retention is an example of a CSR approach that works.
The latest initiative by recycling powerhouse TerraCycle, Loop was launched in Paris and New York in May 2020, and in London in October. Milka biscuits in aluminium tins, Signal chewable toothpaste, Coca-Cola in glass bottles and refillable Bic and Febreze pens. In total, the products of over one hundred brands are sold in returnable packaging through Loop. “We chose home delivery to make the experience as smooth and easy-to-adopt as possible. From five loops, i.e. reuse cycles, our products have less impact than the same ones sold in their conventional e-commerce versions,” explains Laure Cucuron, CEO of TerraCycle Europe.
Loop is now under the umbrella of Carrefour, with stands available in most of its supermarkets and through its online store by choosing the Loop option. By applying this concept, jobs can be created and society can move towards zero waste.
The mission of TooGoodToGo is well-established as part of the CSR landscape: to fight against food waste by recovering unsold food from local shops, which is then sold at a lower price on their app.
This directly involves all the central issues of CSR:
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