Sustainable Innovation

Cultural Differences and Sustainable Development

If you ask people what sustainability is all about, you will probably get multiple answers. Between 2009 and 2011 I interviewed sustainability managers across Europe. I found out that sustainable development has different connotations. Interpretations are often linked to historical developments.

In France, sustainability (développement durable’) has a strong social connotation. The principles of the French revolution, ‘Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité’, are still visible in today’s society. People believe that rights of individuals, employees and families should be defended at all times. You can recognize this social connotation of sustainability in the approach of Orange and of La Poste.

The Swedes are known to be very close to nature. For many Swedes, sustainability is more connected to environmental aspects. You can read more about this in the case study about best practices of Ericsson.

Not only national connotations may differ. Differences in business culture impact the way how sustainable strategies can be implemented in a successfull way.

In France, the society is organised in a strongly hierarchical way. Important decisions are taken at top level. This allows a swift implementation of new strategies. Decisions are taken early in the process and handed top-down through the hierarchy, as is done for example at Danone.

In Northern European countries, important decisions are often being made after intensive consultation rounds. These consultatations are being used to gather ideas but notably to make sure that all participants agree on the specific decision. A disadvantage is that this process may be time consuming.

What can we learn from the above?

First: Never assume that your understanding of sustainability is being shared by everyone across Europe – let alone people in the Americas, in Asia or Africa. When you are developing a multinational sustainability strategy, make sure you understand the regional connotations and include them as much as possible.

Second: Be aware of differences in business culture. Your sustainability implementation plan will need to be challenged by local experts. You will probably need to adapt it to the local business culture and decision making process in order to be successfull.

Globalisation improves a mutual understanding between people in different countries. Also national business cultures may change. French organizations slowly get less hierarchical. Generation Y employees get in direct contact with company boards as the case study of the Veolia Environnement illustrates. Globalisation however needs time to develop. At date, the differences in connotations, historical legacy and business culture are still very important.

Develop global, but adapt to local conditions: Test your global strategy with regional experts, and complete your strategy with regional implementation tactics, for instance in cooperation with national governments and local NGO partners, as DSM, Philips and Nokia show.

More about Best Practices of European Sustainability Leaders in: ‘Your customers want your products to be green’.


Dutch Business News Radio Interview

Why do customers want green?

This week I have presented my new book on the Dutch radio in the Business News Radio program ‘BNR Duurzaam’.

Presentator Mark Beekhuis, Jos Cozijnsen and I exchanged about sustainability news and strategies, employee engagement, cultural differences and the new book.

For those who understand Dutch find hereby the link to the radio emission:

Your customers want your products to be green

I am proud to announce my new book:

‘Your customers want your products to be green’

During the last few years I have had the chance to interact with senior managers of European sustainability frontrunners.

‘Your customers want your products to be green’ contains Best Practices of Sustainability Frontrunners such as Ericsson, Shell, Rabobank, DSM, Philips, Danone and Veolia Environnement completed with freshly printed business recommendations.

Create societal impact and develop new business opportunities. More information on The Green Take website here. Enjoy and be inspired!

I wish you a happy and healthy 2012!

France develops Social Product Indicators
November 30, 2010, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Sustainability in France | Tags: , , ,

The Grenelle Engagement 201 aims for environmental and social product labels. These labels should help consumers to make better informed choices, hopefully resulting in preferences for products and suppliers that create a positive societal and environmental impact. Concepts for new Eco-Labels will be tested as of July 2011. Currently product labels indicating social impact are under construction.

The French Ministry of Ecology, French normalisation institute AFNOR.

Measuring social impact of products is a rather complicated question. What to measure ? How to present the information ? A label or sticker ? There are already so many labels on the market that show that products respect certain ethical, environmental or social requirements .. How should this new label fit in ? How to measure social impact ? Impact on end-users, the employees of the company, the society as a whole ?

The taskforce ‘Affichage Social’ lead by the French standardisation institute AFNOR has defined its objectives as follows (1) :

  • Informing and encouraging customers and public and private purchasers on social aspects
  • Creation of tools for enterprises that are already rather advanced in monitoring social conditions
  • Encouraging enterprises to make sure social conditions are sufficient (producers, distributors, ..)

Various parties are at stake whilst looking at social impact. The United Nations workgroup UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative uses the Product Life Cycle Analyse as an inspiration for assessing social impact. Product life cycle analyses are known as a tool to analyse (see the ‘LIDS-wheel’ (2) applied for the company Arféo). When used to investigate social impact, the UN Group identified 4 major type of stakeholders  (3):

  • workforce (working conditions, remuneration, accidents,..),
  • local community (healthy environment, non-toxic, human rights, improved infrastructure),
  • users of the products (concerning the use-stage) 
  • society (national and/or global)

AFNOR has chosen to focus on social conditions of workforce, in the Production and Transport life stages. This means that thereby the social impact of the product on its users and society, and the impact in the end of life stage will be excluded. It is understandable the French workgroup needs to set some limitations to its scope of ‘social impact label’. At the very same time it brings up new questions about developing complementary indicators that, for instance, represent indicators of social impact of products on users and society, such as health, security or economical progress.

The key principles of the Taskforce ‘Affichage Sociale’ were presented by Eric CORBEL, of the French Ministery of Ecologie and Rim CHAOUY of AFNOR (1)  :

  1. Volontairy principle : A guideline of ‘Best Practices’ with a framework for measuring and presenting social conditions on product level, published April 2010 (5).
  2. No indication on the product itself, but on Internet, a brochure, given the ‘label jungle’ already existing.
  3. Transparency about the Value Chain : the producer will explain how the value chain is being built up.
  4. Mentioning the date and refreshing the information on a regular base like the Carbon Footprint Calculations.
  5. Qualification of the information : Self-declared, Evaluated by a third party or Miissing..  
  6. Addressing 8 social aspects (Principles of the UN International Labour Organisation) : 1. Liberty of association & right of collective negotiation, 2. no forced or obliged work, 3. no children work, 4. no discrimination (work and profession), 5. respect of working hours, 6. respect of laws on hygiene/health/security/working conditions, 7. proper remuneration, 8. social protection.

Emmanuele BERTIN of the cosmetic company Terre d’OC has tested the new framework . Based on the product ‘l Huile Argan bio 50 ml’ she specified the social conditions aspects, using the new guideline called ‘BP X30-025’ published in April 2010 (4).


Cosmetic oil ‘Argan Bio 50 ml’ of the cosmetic company terre d’Oc, test product for the 1st ‘Affichage Social’, and picture of the ‘Argan’ nuts, the source products for the Argan Oil.

Mrs BERTIN has questioned all suppliers and transporters of the (sub) products. For that she needed to trace back the origins, production and transport of the glass bottle, the Argan oil, the metal cork and the cardboard box.

The resulting schemes show a breakdown of product components against the primary social indicators, applied for the Product Life Stages Production and Transport. See below a part of the large scheme for the Production Phase. Following the guideline, for every element, Mrs BERTIN has indicated :

  • 0: no information
  • 1 : if the supplier has directly supplied the information
  • 1bis : if the supplier has supplied the information from one of his suppliers
  • 2 : if the information has been validated by a third party
  • 2bis : if the information has been validated by a third party controlling a supplier


Findings and discussion Mrs BERTIN shares her experiences with the audience of interested people at AFNOR in St Denis 16th of November 2010. She remarks that, contrary to her expectations, suppliers were OK to take time to answer her questions. They are getting used to answer questions from professional customers, notably now companies are launching environmental audits for ISO 1001 certification for instance. However, despite reminders, it was not possible to find all information.

Generally speaking, the public audience fears that suppliers give political correct answers in surveys (for instance about working hours or other working conditions). In this case Mrs BERTIN is confident that due to the close relationship with suppliers one can assume the correctness of the information.

Mrs BERTIN recommends the development of a small sign or logo would be good, showing that for the given  a ‘Social Conditions’ audit has been made to be found on the companies website.

Inspiration for European application. The studies and developments around the ‘Eco-Etiquette’ and now the ‘Etiquette Social’ are not only of interest for France, but could and should also be used on an international level. Only when guidelines are being used on an international level, representations of ‘environmental’ or ‘social’ impact will gain momentum and become accepted.

The repetitive character of supplier questionnaires are starting to become an issue for SMEs with limited resources, notes Eric CORBEL of the French Ministery of Ecologie. Mr CORBEL adds that new initiatives are being set up by French industry to share best practices and redistribute information to professional adherents, eventually to avoid time-consuming repetitive questionnaires. (Comment of the author : One of this new initiatives is the ‘Observatoire des achats responsables’, a new initiative of private parties in France (5)).

 : more about Sustainable Product Development Strategy, environmental and social transparency and co-creation.

Sources : 1. Presentation ‘Affichage Social’, by Eric CORBEL of the French Ministery of Ecology, Rim Chaouy of AFNOR, Emmanuelle BERTIN of Terre d’OC, at AFNOR, 16th of November 2010 ; 2. Brezet, J.C., Hemel, C.G. van, UNEP Ecodesign manual, Ecodesign: a promising approach to sustainable production and consumption, United Nations Environmental Programme, 1997 ; 3. Griesshammer, R, et al ‘Feasability Study : Integration of social aspects into LCA’, 2006 ; 4. AFNOR Publication of Bonnes pratiques pour la transparence de l’affichage des conditions sociales de production et de mise à disposition des produits  ‘BP X30-025’; (51,35 euro ! )  ; ; 5.

French Ministery of Ecologie now lead by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet

Sarkozy has presented his new team of ministers for his third presidency season. As not unusual in France, ministeries, responsibilities and ministers have been reshuffled.  Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former secretary of state for Ecology has been appointed as Minister of Ecology.


Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and ‘Passage de Pouvior’ of Borloo to Kosciusko-Morizet

Jean-Francois Borloo has been dismissed with the appointment of Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. French associations and NGO’s welcome Nathalie Kosciusko-Monet (or ‘NKM’)  for her competences and drive. She has extensive experience in public services, among others as (adjoint) major of Paris suburb cities and secretary of state of Ecology (2007-2009).

Smaller scope. The main concern of French NGO’s and associations is related to the fact that the importance and scope of the ministery (once nr 2 now nr 4 in the government) has been strongly decreased. This raises the fear that the ambitious Grenelle Environnement Plans, stimulating sustainable development in all industry sectors, will not have significant momentum against other forces, such as the nucleair industry..  

Once a Super Ministery… In 2007, the Super Ministery Ecologie, Environment, Climate Discussions, Sea, Green Technologies and Energie was created by Sarkozy and lead by Jean-Francois Borloo as the most important ministery in France, in response to Nicolas Hulot  ‘Pacte Ecologie’, signed by 750.000 people in France.

Now just Ecologie.. Mrs Kosciusko-Morizet will inheret now in 2010, a Ministery that has been decreased. She will ‘only’ supervise Ecologie, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing. She will be notably busy with the implementation of the 257  new articles of the new Grenelle Environnement 2.

Energie moves to Economie. Remarkable is the choice of moving ‘Energie’ to the ministery of Economie lead by Christine Lagarde. People fear that it will be difficult for France to keep its commitments for a maximum of green house gas emissions and its development of renewable energies. It does not help that new ministers like Patrick Ollier (relations avec parliament) are rather right-wing, pro-nucleair and not in favourite of wind energy.

Sceptical NGO’s. Pascal Husting, Director Greenpeace France, repeats his comments following the Grenelle de l’Environnement presentations : he believes that Sarkozy and Fillon have not kept their promises and engagements with respect to the environment. He fears that government Sarkozy/Fillon 3 (3rd season) will be even worse.. Arnaud Gossement of ‘Les Amis de la Terre’ points out that the Superministery has been beheaded and that it will be much more difficult to take governmental decisions in favour of ecologie now the related topics are spread. 

Worry. French people in favour of Sustainable Development are rather worried that the ambitious plans of the Grenelle de l’Environnement will slow down, or worse, reverse, avec this new governmental elan. Time for a new Pacte Ecologique ?

Implementation of Grenelle de l’Environnement. ‘Sur et certain’, Mrs Kosciusko-Morizet will need all support, inside the government, from industry and associations to implement the Grenelle de l’Environnement !  

Sources :

French government presents new plan for boosting sustainable development

Jean-Francois Borloo has unveiled his new plan for boosting sustainable development in France. New goals are set to encourage green economy as well as backing the creation of an World Organisation for global governance on environmental issues.

By launching its new plan  ‘La Strategie National du Développement Durable 2010-2013′ government Sarkozy wants to boost the national green economy and fair trade.  The new plan is in line with the bills ‘Grenelle d’Environnement I and II that have been presented previously in 2007 and 2010 (1,2).

First of all, the French government wants to make sustainable products more accessible and to more people. As one of the indicators for this, the sales of eco-labelled products should be doubled by 2012.

Secondly, the French government wants to encourage companies to ncrease their recycling practices, use renewable energy and develop responsible products by taking into consideration the complete life cycle of products : from design, production, distribution until disposal or recycling.

Among the goals (see all here) are :

  • Reduction of Frances  greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020 compared to 1990 (similar to EU objectives)
  • Increasing the part of French national energy consumption to 23% from renewable energy by 2020. Despite extensive oppositions from (fishing) communities in France a RFP will be launched for 600 offshore windmills representing 3000 MW and 10 to 15 billion euros (3)
  • Realisation of at least 1000 ‘Agenda 21’  implementations within local communities,
  • And a reduction of national poverty by 30%  up till 2012.

Special dashboards have been developed to track the progress of a variety of indicators : R&D investments, working women participation within governmental institutions, green house gas emissions, renewable energies, energie consumption transport,  life expectancy, pauvrity, working seniors, jobless youngsters, public donations and general social-economical factors like under and unemployment, income spread, demography and fertility rates.

Sarkozy is also supporting the development of a new World Environment Organisation. This new organisation should guarantee environmental governance on a global level. The next Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit 2012 is ought to be the good momentum (4).

If you want to read more about French sustainability developments I invite you to read my previous blogs on : Pacte Ecologique of Nicolas Hulot that urged for stronger governmental intervention ; Grenelle d’Environnement I focussing on Building Sector and Transport ;  Why Eco-labels are developed to help consumers make a balanced choice, CSR reporting rules extended to large SMEs ; Grenelle 2 focussing on local application ; How to turn around media saturation’ and  Why targeted examples of individual benefits of responsible products and behaviour are needed.

Sources : 1. ; 2.; 3.; 4. ;

French Government presents Grenelle II Laws ; Focus on Local Application

Today, the new ‘Grenelle II’ laws are presented in the French Parliament. Though the  ‘Tax Carbone’ has been abandoned (France will wait EU regulations). detailed plans are presented for building, transport and energy sector. Local authorities are asked to play a more important and facilitating role. French NGO’s point out the weakened ambitions since the Grenelle II and ask French parliament members to push the government to keep its promises (1, 2, 3, 4).

The Grenelle II follows the Grenelle I (2007) and a second public consultation round with representatives of large companies (MEDEF), SMEs (CGPME), NGOs.

The new law package contains six pillars and contains the ‘outlines’ and ‘logistics’ of the application on regional and local level.

1.  Improving the Energetic Performance of Buildings. Among the measures are : insisting on ‘Batiments a Basse Consommation’ (BBC, < 50 KW/H/m2 per year) for new buildings and to reduce the consumption of existing buildings by 38% untill 2020. Which makes sense as the existing buildings use on average 250 KW/H/m2 per year, as stipulated in earlier article.

2. Creating a change in Transport Use. Among the measures presented are : speeding up the process of public transport infrastructure, insisting local public authorities on offering ‘lease-bikes’ and car-sharing programs, and subvention of electric and hybrid car development.

3. Reducing significantly Energy Consumption and Carbon Emissions. Measurements foreseen are : Obligation of all entreprises with over 500 employes and municipalities with more than 500.000 inhabitants to calculate CO2 emissions on a yearly bases, see also earlier article, Stimulation of Renewable Energies, notably by simplification of governmental procedures.

4. Preserving Biodiversity. Pharmaceutical and hospital products will be more restricted and reported. Choice of new geographical zones that need special attention.

5. Risks, health and waste. Various measurements are proposed, such as the Protection of Electrical and Telephone Network workers. Quite remarkable is the new and explicit Interdiction of telephone use in all schools of all ages. The phones may only be used outside the school, nly with seperate earphones connected with a wire to the phone.

6. A new Ecological Governance Model. Introduction of Five ‘Colleges’ of Stakeholders : ONG, Entreprises, Unions, Public Authorities and Public Administration. Regions with over 50 000 inhabitants will be obliged to create a Sustainable Development report.  Exchange with NGOs, Associations and Entreprise Representatives will be extended on a regional and local level to reinforce transparance and exemplarity. Each product should carry CO2 emission information, related to the CO2 emissions created by transport of people and goods.

Open Letter of French NGO’s to vote against the new laws. A group of French NGOs have sent an open letter to the French public representatives to express their inconvenience with the current proposed laws that are regarded as ‘weakened’. They point out that the French Government tends to forget the earlier made promises in 2007 of the Grenelle I claiming to promote renewable energies, whilst subventionning notably nuclear (not solar nor wind energy) in the 2009 Grand Emprunt Plans. They ask the delegates to carefully study the new laws, ask clarifications, clearer and obligatory transparancy on social impacts of French companies and clear dates as of which new laws should be operational (such as the Eco-Etiquettage) (4).  

Sources and more information on : 1.; 2., 3.; 4.