"Addressing the divide between ecological urgency and economic priorities"

The French Climate Convention for Businesses starts in September. 150 leaders will meet for 8 months to co-construct roadmaps aligning their companies with European objectives: the reduction of 55% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 but also the regeneration of biodiversity and the writing of a desirable economic future. Eric Duverger, initiator and co-founder of the CCB, highlights its goals and its differences with the Citizens’ Convention for Climate.

Missions Publiques. You are launching the French Climate Convention for Businesses, which brings together 150 business leaders. How were they selected? Aren’t the companies recruited already committed to a form of ecological transition?

Eric Duverger. The participants of the Climate Convention for Businesses (CCB) are recruited and this is the main difference with the Citizens’ Convention, which selected its participants by lot. Why this choice? Because a company director has by nature a very busy agenda and when he or she speaks, it is rarely in his or her own name but on behalf of his or her employees and stakeholders. When it comes to climate change, biodiversity, pollution and natural resource depletion, companies are as much at the heart of the problem as they are at the heart of the solution, and we quickly fall into heated “economy versus ecology” debates. Employees, stakeholders and public opinion may not agree with each other and this can quickly generate tensions when one does not feel comfortable with the subject.

So there is a lot of convincing to be done: the CCB will be an exercise in stepping out of one’s comfort zone and it is up to us to prove that the game is worth the candle. To do this, we insist on the fact that the CCB is a perfectly complementary exercise to the transitions already underway: whereas the definition of a CSR policy is an isolated exercise, the aim of the CCB is to make the collective intelligence work. We will bring together people and sectors that never talk to each other but are linked by the same global issues.

Some are already very ambitious, others are at the very beginning of their transition, the first 90 companies of the CCB have applied to participate in a formidable gas pedal of collective action. They understand that the challenge of all challenges is the coordinated transition of industries, sectors and entire regions. This is the basis on which we have built our selection criteria: distribution keys by sector of activity, geography and company size translated into recruitment objectives that express all the wealth and diversity of the French economy. The only criterion on which we have decided not to be representative of the French economy is the proportion of women managers. As such, we are proud to have announced a selection of 15 women and 15 men in our third wave of recruitment.

Finally, there is a subjective criterion that completes our approach: we recruit leaders whose ability to influence and inspire beyond their own organization is perceived by us, because 150 companies is a lot and a very little at the same time.

“The only criterion on which we have decided not to be representative of the French economy is the proportion of women managers. As such, we are proud to have announced a selection of 15 women and 15 men in our third wave of recruitment.

Eric Duverger

Initiator and co-founder of the CCB

Missions Publiques. The approach and the method chosen are close to those of the Citizens’ Convention (reduction of GHG emissions (to 55% to bring you in line – 8 months, 6 themes, guarantors and independent experts). Who are the guarantors and independent experts and what is their role? You have also recruited “student participants” to the committee. Why did you do this?

Eric Duverger. Our committee of guarantors is almost finalized, and we are extremely happy to have nine very fine and strong personalities on it. A wide range of commitments are represented with Arnaud Leroy from ADEME, Fabrice Bonnifet from C3D, Paola Fabiani from Comex40 of MEDEF, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and his GoodPlanet foundation, Matthieu Auzanneau from the Shift Project, Patricia Savin from Orée, Anne Mollet from the Community of Companies with a Mission, Léa Falco from Pour Un Réveil Écologique, and finally Grégoire Fraty, co-president of the 150 members of the Citizens’ Climate Convention. This is the strength of this committee, whose role is threefold: to guarantee the CCB’s high standards in relation to its stated ambition, to provide a benevolent external perspective on the progress made by the 150, and to participate in the resonance of the CCB in the French economic fabric.

Specifically, the participation of the student world is crucial in our eyes: we no longer have time to delegate the indispensable transformations to future generations. They are the ones who will live with the consequences of our actions. It is therefore normal to include them in the process and to make their voice heard in the debates. The movement Pour Un Réveil Écologique, a member of our committee of guarantors, has already made history: more than 30,000 students have raised their voices to make the economic world and their parents understand that they do not want the world that is being prepared. The economic world heard them very clearly.

Also, several of the CCB sessions will take place on student campuses (ESTP Cachan, Audencia Nantes, EM Lyon, HECTAR, a brand new School of Agriculture), which will put the student world in direct contact with 150 leaders thinking about the world of tomorrow.

 

Missions Publiques. One of the pitfalls of the Citizens’ Climate Convention was most certainly the announcement to take up the proposals “unfiltered.” What does the CCB commit to as an exit point?

Eric Duverger. The commitment of the CCB is first and foremost that of its participants. The 150 companies represented will evaluate, define and amplify their environmental strategy (climate, biodiversity, natural resources) by 2030.

The idea is that at the end of the convention, they will be in a position to clearly explain what they will do more, better, but also perhaps what they will stop doing or what they will do differently. The strength of their commitment will be proven over time, until 2030. This may not seem as concrete as proposing 149 pieces of legislation, but in the corporate world, the best proof of commitment is what you do and the money you invest to transform yourself.

There’s a second exit point on top of that: demands on the political world. The 150 leaders of CCB will start by committing themselves, to then be legitimate in expressing to the government, to the legislator, to the institutions: “this is our new trajectory and this is what we need from the public sector to maintain this course but also to encourage the rest of our sector to take the step”. Many of the elements of the solutions to our environmental challenges are known – it’s “just” hard to get everyone to take the plunge at the same time: there’s a kind of large-scale prisoner’s dilemma at play. We are confident that the public sector will take advantage of the CCB’s proactive and positive narrative to play its full part in erasing this dilemma in time.

 

Missions Publiques. You have identified 6 “systemic” deliverables (training, accounting-indicators, finance-shareholding, circular business models, eco-responsible marketing, governance). Are they the operational translations, in companies, of the trajectories identified in the themes? How can managers commit themselves to their companies?

Eric Duverger. Absolutely. Each of these systemic levers is already part of the strategy of every company in France and around the world, from the most committed to the least committed. They cover disciplines that have been practiced and researched for decades, if not hundreds of years. Looking at environmental issues through the prism of these disciplines is, on the one hand, to speak the language of managers and, on the other hand, to prove to them that they are already largely intellectually equipped to tackle the problems.

As a company grows in size, each of these six levers mobilizes more employees – the commitment of the leaders involved in the Convention will therefore be to learn in order to transmit and empower their employees to take hold of each of the subjects.

 

Missions Publiques. The impact of the media can lead to a more generalized movement. Internally, i.e. within companies, how can we ensure that the changes will be implemented? Have you planned an evaluation of the approach?

Eric Duverger. If the participation of managers does not translate into concrete actions with a lasting impact, the CCB will not have been of much use, that’s for sure. We are already interacting a lot with the leaders of the first three waves of recruitment and we feel an extraordinary desire to take advantage of the collective strength to take action: we have no doubt that something very strong will happen.

It is also our role to go beyond this to prepare the resonance of the CCB within each of the 150 companies but also outside towards the entire French economic fabric. We have set up a “multiplication” team that will accomplish this mission, in particular by providing tools to measure the internal transition of participants and the redirection of their organizations. This will be done by means of questionnaires before, during and after the CCB to ensure regular follow-up over time and to demonstrate the strength of our approach: when leaders take the time to sincerely address the climate and ecological emergency, everything becomes possible again.

 

Missions Publiques. The evolution of the concept is very favourable to making a serious impact on the debate and the system envisaged is likely to spread on a local as well as on an international scale. What are the next steps you are aiming for?

Eric Duverger. A successful first CCB will certainly allow us to envisage a more desirable economic trajectory and to open many doors. We already have many ideas to amplify the impact of the CCB with more local or sectoral variations. For this to work, we are considering condensing our methodology into a toolbox that other volunteer teams could use with our support, a bit like TED and TEDx. Then, of course, there is the international dimension: we have preliminary discussions with interested actors in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom… The propagation of CCB could be a great project to be supported by the European Union in the framework of the Green Deal.

   
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