Decarbonization is also a business affair

Already on all fronts since the pandemic, and then the labor shortage resulting in part from the economic recovery, business leaders, human resources directors and specialists in social and environmental responsibility (CSR) are now facing a new crisis. That of soaring energy prices and consumer prices, with the corollary of the need to increase wages to preserve the purchasing power of employees. What seriously encumber the finances of organizations…

Under these conditions, do they have the means to invest in order to save energy and, more broadly, to decarbonise their activities, while some are gambling on their survival? In any case, this is what the government is asking of them. And this is what the fight against climate change requires.

“They have no choice, precisely because they are gambling on their survival. Doing nothing on energy and decarbonization is perilous, both for the planet and for the viability of businesses,” says Caroline Véran, founder and director of Croissance Bleue, an agency that has been supporting companies in their CSR strategy, action and communication since 2014. Inexpensive fossil fuels were wasted frequently in the past. “We wanted to drive prices down but we were destroying the environment,” she notes, referring to the products produced as well as to the functioning of organizations. But today, many companies are taking stock of the situation. This system cannot last. To make it ecologically and economically viable, we must change. question of sustainability. And if awareness does not always come spontaneously – from inside the company, under the leadership of management or employees – it is imposed from outside. By consumers, but above all by shareholders and investors, for listed companies, due, among other things, to new regulations or the adoption of a different philosophy. Their requirements, which remain intact in terms of performance, are now accompanied by others, on the extra-financial level. “The first driver could have been extra-financial reporting and an exemplary display, if not, moreover, real actions”, emphasizes Hélène Chauviré, manager of Carbone 4, a firm that supports the transformation of organizations towards decarbonization and adaptation to climate change. But this momentum, even “forced” at the start, gradually turned into real action, and above all, it affected more companies. “The large groups have brought on board their suppliers, who, if they wanted to continue working with these large customers, have had to adapt to their demands in terms of environmental responsibility”she says.

Agile SMEs and ETIs

There remain the SMEs and ETIs which do not depend or little on the large groups. Do they have the financial means to embark on decarbonization on their own? Do they have the human resources to do so? “Some of these leaders have understood the climate issues, and the small businesses that have been around for a long time obviously want to continue their activities. In addition, they have sometimes already had to reinvent themselves, under the effect of past economic crises or the push of digital technology. They are nimble.”, continues Hélène Chauviré. And therefore have, at least in theory, the ability to change to implement the new energy sobriety and decarbonization demanded.

“Situations vary. tempers, however, the economist Patrick Criqui, director of research emeritus at the CNRS and the University of Grenoble-Alpes. Small and medium-sized enterprises, especially in industry, are certainly concerned about good management, including with regard to energy efficiency, but even ten years ago, many of them, in particular intermediate size, in a situation of capital shortage, favored offensive investments, to increase their market share, rather than defensive investments, with the aim of reducing costs, or opted only for those which appeared to be the most profitable, knowing that the time horizon matters and that it is too short in traditional accounts. » And this also applies to investments in energy savings and decarbonization, of course… In this regard, this expert in economic modeling for energy and energy transition scenarios believes that public authorities should work a change in the criteria for evaluating returns on investments, in order to extend the time horizon and thus facilitate these expenses.

Still, some companies are already acting, alone or in a group, for a short time for some and longer for others. The large ones, in sectors that consume a lot of energy – metallurgy, chemicals, cement and glass manufacturing – which alone account for 75% of emissions from the manufacturing industry and construction, are trying to improve energy performance when of production, to replace fossil fuels with renewable energies to operate their sites, to capture the carbon emitted, to recycle products and by-products, or even to put new ones on the market, such as low-carbon cement. Thus, since 2021, all Sanofi sites in France have been powered by 100% renewable electricity.

But small businesses? Beyond what Caroline Véran calls the ” sustainable natives “, young companies born with the idea of ​​being part of sustainability, respect for the environment and energy savings, traditional industrial SMEs and ETIs can first benefit from the various aids, including those included in the government’s Zero Fossil Industry plan. Others, even involved in sectors such as the automobile, have been able to find a new positioning. In this respect, Carter Cash, a company with 1,000 employees, is an emblematic case. “When we started in 2002, our idea was to provide automotive aftermarket products to drivers at lower prices. Now, we offer reconditioned tires and regenerated batteries and we are starting to banish from our stores all that is non-recyclable and non-essential, such as cleaning wipes, the oil is also regenerated to be used again and again. So it’s good for the motorist’s car, good for his wallet and good for the planet. But we had to fight with the industrial sectors,” summarizes William Ternynck, director of sustainable development strategy and its implementation at Carter-Cash.

The strength of the collective

Beyond the supply chains, SMEs and ETIs also sometimes need to rely on experts to act. Admittedly, they can enlist the advice of specialized firms, since they are flourishing in this area. They can also benefit from the solutions, in particular with regard to the measurement of energy efficiency and their carbon footprint, provided by several start-ups or large tech groups. For example, Ekimetrics, specialist in data science and member of the Data for Good association, which offers tools intended to accelerate the energy transformation of companies. “Our solutions enable a carbon footprint, the reduction of energy consumption in manufacturing processes, the eco-design of new products and the management of production so as not to have unsold products. We want to help companies make the right decisions”says Théo Alves Da Costa, in charge of sustainable artificial intelligence and climate for Ekimetrics.

But SMEs and ETIs also lack human resources internally or to be tapped on the job market, due to the lack of trained specialists. “Students, in business schools or at university, learn management and business accounting but not carbon accounting”, thus regrets Hélène Chauviré. And this is where the collectives can play. Some come directly from companies. Thus, 27 employee groups networked in the spring of 2021 to encourage their employers (Axa, Michelin, EDF, Vinci, Engie, IBM, Airbus, etc.) to rethink their business model. Other initiatives are also taking shape. Thus, the Great Corporate Challenge for the Planet, launched last March, aims to bring out 100 concrete and applicable proposals by all companies to transform the economy and achieve France’s climate objectives. The Business Convention for the Climate, which brings together some 150 managers of companies of all sizes and from all sectors, totaling more than 250,000 employees, has shared information on climate and decarbonization in recent months but also good practice. Participating companies have presented a roadmap for transforming their business model, and a training center will be launched. “It is extremely important, exclaims Patrick Criqui, and this is one of the facets of good management: the climate imperative must be disseminated in companies to transform products and processes and encourage innovation. Everything that promotes momentum, consolidates and accelerates the movement must be put in place. » Especially since this sharing of collective thinking is also “A Sharing of Hope”, he concludes. The pioneers feel less alone and those who join the movement feel that pride in taking action – before it’s too late…

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T La Revue n°12