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Environmental and social commitment in times of crisis: in the mind of an entrepreneur

In 2020, the entrepreneur’s life has turned upside down. In 2021, he cannot ignore the fact that the French economy is at half-mast, with a GDP that fell by nearly 8.3% last year, for the simple reason that he lives these figures. The macro observation becomes real: in the midst of a never-ending health crisis, suffocated, exsanguinated, his company is in “survival mode”. However, no entrepreneur should ignore that the “concrete” environmental measures are coming, especially on the regulatory front with the future Climate and Resilience law, and on the tax front as foreseen by the famous Green Deal and the green taxonomy. And in general: excluding impact issues from one’s business model and governance represents a risk for the entrepreneur – for himself and for his clients.

Finding the place of CSR, between constraints and opportunities

For many entrepreneurs, CSR issues are still either about recycling cups or about macro-trends. In any case, not about the survival of their company. CSR has a hard time finding a place in the real life of a boss, whatever his convictions and values. Because it is clear that his professional life is a series of trade-offs between constraints (investments, future regulations) and opportunities (demands of B2B or general public customers). Nothing could be more concrete than that. And these rational behaviors can only be exacerbated in this context of crisis within the crisis. Seen from the entrepreneur’s window, the climate diplomacy that is in full swing may therefore seem distant or even lunar, just like the speeches of large companies, competing with announcements on neutrality.

However, all signals converge towards the fact that companies that can demonstrate their performance on the environmental and social pillars as much as on the economic pillars will have a head start. The others will quickly be left behind. While demonstrating a positive impact may still seem unclear, containing GHG emissions while treating employees well and boosting the economy could not be clearer.

How can we do this when companies have neither the time, nor the teams, nor the budgets to devote to CSR and only 30% of them have a formalized environmental and social policy*? This figure is even lower for small and medium-sized companies, which do not have a dedicated department and even less resources. Yet these are the companies that make up the majority of the region’s businesses, and because they bring their dynamism to the large groups that are their customers, it is precisely from them that commitment is required.

While the legitimacy of CSR is well known, the keys to activate it are not

What companies need today is not so much good reasons as the keys to act. To make progress on these CSR issues, each action must be translated into concrete terms, with an associated cost and benefit. Entrepreneurs must be able to understand the impact of their company, evaluate the impact of their choices throughout the value chain, measure themselves against their peers and promote their actions to their stakeholders, who are particularly looking for keys to reading the concrete achievements of companies and proof of transparency.

If the entrepreneur has understood that embodied CSR can be his business ally, he can rely on three pillars to help him define the framework and manage his actions.

  1. Surround yourself with a multidisciplinary team that is aware of these issues, with the idea that the company can change from within, via its own employees. Some initiatives along these lines have recently been noted, such as “Les Collectifs”, a group of employees committed to the ecological transition.The aim is to create a network of influence to push their employers to rethink their business models. No doubt this initiative will be emulated everywhere, even in small companies.
  2. Calling on external scouts, and in particular accountants and insurers, the first allies of the entrepreneur when it comes to informing his choices in terms of investments. On this side, new rules are taking shape, with the evolution of the role of insurance towards the conditioning of premiums according to the progress on certain extra-financial criteria.
  3. An adapted tool. While the team is key to the dynamic, the tool is the backbone of the commitment, almost single-handedly guaranteeing the sustainability of the process. It helps structure the process, from the definition of the strategy to the targeting of the objective, and outlines the trajectory and the steps to follow. And since going backwards would be a regression, synonymous with wasted time and resources as well as reputational risks, monitoring the indicators via the tool will allow arbitration and authorize the re-evaluation of the strategy.

Companies are certainly economic organizations that create financial value, but they are also social organizations. As for everything else, for an entrepreneur to take action on the CSR front, it is necessary to come back to and remain concrete, to have a methodology and to be able to appropriate the approach. And after the know-how, it is time to share the knowledge: it is also in this part that the ROI of the approach lies.

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