Sustainable Innovation

Late Adoption of Corporate Responsability in France


Why has France been rather late with accepting CR policies ? Elisabeth Laville, French Sustainability Consultant, gives 4 plausible reasons and Francoise Helene Jourda, Architect, adds a 5th one :

1. State held responsible for social and environmental matters . In French welfare state, people expect the government to take care of social and environmental issues.  Companies are supposed to create sufficient revenues for the benefit of its employees and  families. ‘Corporate Responsibility’ (CR) had been for long simply not recognized as a concept applicable to French companies. It was perceived as an Anglo-saxon invention.

2. NGO’s have limited influence. French company boards have not been really challenged by NGO’s about their social or environmental responsabilities. There is no tradition of dialogues between Corporate Companies and public pressure groups – the Grenelle discussions were an exception. Many French people feel less connected to NGO’s, compared to the UK, where Oxfam is very popular, and the Netherlands, where 30% donate to the World Wildlife Foundation.

oxfam world wildlife foundation

3. Pioneers lack in the private sector. First, Corporate Responsibility (CR) is seen as something invented in the Anglo-saxon world. There are limited examples of real French companies about which the French people can be proud of such as the Bodyshop in the UK – again an English example – started by Dame Anita Roddick.

bodyshopbodyshop title

Bodyshop Values : Protect the Planet, Defend Human Rights, Support Community Trade

4. Limited experience with holistic thinking and transversal working. Sustainable development require out-of-the-box thinking and cross-functional working. In sustainable architecture projects it has been proven a blocking point. The same challenge is recognized in other industries. In France, people value profession development and tend to stick to their career path. This complicates working in multi-disciplinairy teams.

5. Sustainable development believed to be ‘uncool’. Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsability had been simply ‘uncool’ for years. In architecture, according to Jourda, ‘Sustainability’ did in fact  devaluate an architectural design ! Fortunately, things have changed recently. Sustainability has become a must-have to create a rigid and acceptable design and it (almost) has become fashionable…