A discussion with Marguerite Ranjard-Le Saint on the major challenges for corporate social responsibility (CSR) now and in the futureInterviews
Would you introduce yourself and tell us about how you got involved in CSR?
My past experiences have been guided by curiosity; it all happened in stages with nature as a common, guiding theme. When I was young, I was passionate about perfume and the power of fragrance in the plant world. That lead to work in marketing for L’Oréal and then for LVMH with Dior and Guerlain. My fascination for nature’s amazing resources deepened when I worked for Krug champagne and then in cosmetics for an English brand in London.
But it’s when I literally got my hands dirty that I really understood our dependence on the natural world. My landscape design studies at the National Landscape School in Versailles and collaborations on projects on permaculture and nature in the city cemented my desire to make the environment a sustainable resource for society. A diploma in Sustainability Leadership Management was the final step to becoming a CSR strategy consultant.
Education is fundamental for sustainable development, and there’s still so much to be done. So I’m also involved with the ESSEC Business School on subjects about CSR in the luxury sector. In addition, I strongly believe in sharing experience as a tool for equal opportunities, and I’m a volunteer for the NGO Article 1’s mentoring program that helps disadvantaged young people enter the professional world.
What do you think are consumers’ main expectations regarding CSR?
It’s a vague, always-changing and culture-specific topic. It’s vague because the link is still difficult to establish between awareness and a real contribution to environmental transition. 70% of Gen Zers say they are concerned about environmental questions, but 40% are engaged in only a very minor way on a daily basis.
If you look at surveys, brand transparency has become a major criterion for making buying decisions. But behind a brand there’s also a business where the wellbeing of employees is taken into account. In addition, duty of care implies preventing risks to human rights and safety throughout the entire value chain, which means going further than employees to include suppliers and subcontractors.
And it’s an always-changing topic. Over the last 20 years in particular, the Paris Agreement has called consumers’ attention to climate change and to brands’ carbon footprints. It’s now proven that the climate and biodiversity are two challenges that must be dealt with simultaneously. The latest report co-authored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is indisputable. Efforts now cover all the social and environmental angles and mark the end of a silo mentality approach. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this trend by inciting ambitions for stronger local production.
And finally, it’s a cultural topic since expectations change greatly according to the world’s different regions. Social challenges about inclusion and diversity are more intense in Anglo-Saxon countries, while environmental questions carry more weight in Europe and China.
What are the (many) priorities that brands should focus on?
There isn’t just one list for all brands to apply, but rather methods and, above all, a goal to define for each business. Does the company simply want to conform to regulations or does it wish to assume a more voluntary approach with a business model that makes an impact with shared values? Does it want to be a business with a mission?
It’s also important to distinguish between corporate social responsibility and brand social responsibility (BSR). BSR is founded on a brand’s engagement with its clients, while the CSR covers the business’s commitment to all those involved.
The sector, the business model and the brand platform have a big influence on the road map. It’s only by assessing the activities already in place that a strategy can be developed. It’s better to concentrate on a few directions and generate a significant impact rather than trying to meet all the criteria, but each one insufficiently. Performance indicators are essential to evaluate a program’s effectiveness.
How do you think this topic will evolve?
Sector-based initiatives are key and they’re multiplying, though not fast enough. We have to adopt sustainable development as a collective, because the laws that govern regulations for businesses don’t pertain to consumers. Collaboration is at the heart of CSR. The Aligning initiative, which establishes a common vision on how biodiversity is affected, is an example. Educating individuals is also primordial and should be strengthened across three categories: government, businesses and citizen-consumers.
And finally we should dare to encourage consumption habits that are as sober as they are tempting. Creative industries have this capacity to innovate and create scripts to inspire this desire. Concerning the luxury sector, adopting circular and regenerative practices is positive, but separating out ideas about growth and volume is also key for coming back to the source of luxury and creating value.