We speak up for what we believe in
Communities and citizens must take control again
From the first environmental charts to the Agenda XXI, from energy management in cultural heritage to territorial climate plans, from the first cycling paths to mobility services, communities engaged in the ecological transition.
Even though these communities made progress, not many inhabitants, citizens and users understand this issue. Besides, the crisis reinforces short-term preoccupations. Of course they are legitimate but they prevent people from thinking about the future.
From our experience, there are three fundamental elements to initiate another step in these territorial policies :
- Going over technocratic approaches and sharing the importance of a more sustainable development
We don’t want to undermine the different plans and programmes implemented by communities, because they have the merit of having initiated elected members and services to complex topics and engaged communities into structured actions. And yet, the “best” climate plan, the most efficient HQE building, or the “best” ecodistrict can’t work without inhabitants and users, for their behaviour is the key to success. Thanks to an ambitious communication policy, people will be able to better understand all these waste, climate, energy and mobility plans, which otherwise pile up and are not clear. Of course services must do their part of the job, but other means of communication can be used to avoid the classic approach that makes people feel guilty and conveys a doom-mongering atmosphere. Sustainable development is fundamental, let’s embrace it together, let’s imagine the future and create a relationship with citizens based on understanding and cooperation. You can count on their creativity to design the future !
- Mobilising the territory players
Networking is now a part of communities’ duties! Communities now have to integrate the territory players, either citizens, companies or public players, and that doesn’t only mean organising meetings constantly. Today, new technologies, at the service of the players, offer enriching collaborative perspectives as long as they are adapted to the public. How many project managers do communities pay today? Hundreds, thousands... and they are important representatives of the implemented policies. Training them and sharing common objectives such as the choice of the elected members become very important at a time when budgets are reduced and “operating costs” are considered less productive.
Mobilising citizens and companies is the best solution to keep this pace. Especially regarding territorial climate energy plans and waste prevention plans. The evolution of behaviour and of citizens’ practices are becoming more important than the technical approach, without excluding it of course. Mobilising citizens is the key to success, and it is possible !
- Favoring development and not only the environment
Many studies show the potential of sustainable development projects regarding jobs creation, but also jobs enhancement and local jobs settlement. But just like Saint Thomas, people want to see it near their home to believe it. There are many possibilities to give a new start to sustainable development programmes: making communities and companies collaborate on savings for product-service system projects, submit calls for projects on ecodesign, helping the development of repair or re-use services or supporting cooperative projects. The work carried out by Synergence with international companies shows the relevance of cooperation between communities and companies: it supports sustainable development and it is good for communities.
Communicating, integrating and cooperating for “sustainable” added-value are the three keys to keep innovating and design the future. They are three means to get hold of our destiny at a moment when society seems to have no future.
Building corporate citizenship
We want to go back to the ontological definition of the company such as we formulated it at the CJD.
When people start confusing CSR and Sustainable development and start doubting companies’ sincerity (greenwashing, deception, managers’ arrogance) it is useful to go back to the definition of corporate citizenship such as we formulated it at the CJD (young business leaders organisation) 20 years ago.
Why? Because companies, and more generally the economy, must make up with Society and become tools at the humanity’s disposal.
We voluntarily chose a definition quite different from the common one (a company is an economic organisation producing wealth in order to make profits). Corporate citizenship is :
- A group of men and women
- Gathered in a common project
- To create social links (for example a company can make phones, but the finality is to allow people to communicate at a distance)
- Through the production of goods and services
- With economic and social constraints (profit being an economic constraint)
- In interaction with both local and global environments
In this sense, companies are not only people-oriented organisations, but also institutions. Saying that a company is an institution means that it has a responsibility towards Society that goes beyond producing economic wealth.
Thus, it also means that companies are political, since they contribute to the life and building of the Societies they are set up in.
How to finally get there, beyond social economy that lies at the heart of the classic economy?
What if financialization was not to last?
Our vision of companies was annihilated by the financialization of the economy: companies now just exist to make profits.
And yet, some current transformations could lead companies toward this corporate citizenship approach.
At this points, they are not very developed, but many transformations are occurring and they converge toward the same point :
- Beginning of relocation
- Development of collaborative consumption
- Real dialogue with the stakeholders
- New economic models tested by companies and often with public partners: product-service system, circular economy, ecodesign...
- ISO 26000
- CSR approaches, when they go beyond reporting
- Sustainable development practices, when they lead to the transformation of the economic model
- Development of partnerships (public-private partnerships even though there have been abuses)
- Diversification of the companies’ status (SCIC (social enterprise) in France or flexible purpose corporations in California) or classic cooperative status (McDonald’s franchisees)
The objective is to use these transformations, to strengthen and standardise them so that they become an alternative to finance-based companies, the latter thus becoming out of date. I think the transformation has already started and that it can be accelerated.
What can we expect from these transformations?
There are four main topics, all are important and must be dealt with at the same time. Here are the ambitious results we would like to get:
Changing corporate law and corporate governance
Corporate law confuses the moral contract between the stakeholders. We would like to implement corporate law and business accounting that respect everyone and share the added value.
The corporate law we have today dates back to the 19th century, at a time when men were interchangeable and when only capital could create industrial capital gains. But the world has changed and added value comes from different elements. In all business sectors, it always comes from a complex dynamic between capital inflow, work community, positive dynamic with all the external stakeholders, varied social and administrative network and performance of the educational system.
Therefore, we must make the difference between companies and capital companies. Capital companies must remain in the hands of the shareholders and business accounting must keep assessing the profit and performance of the invested capital. Companies, however, concern all the stakeholders. To do so, a new corporate law will be necessary and business accounting will have to measure the added value produced by the dynamic of all the stakeholders, especially the dynamic between the shareholders and the work community.
And there we get to a corporate governance that involves its stakeholders in the decision making and in the sharing of the added value. A contract gathers the stakeholders (shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders depending on the business sector). The business accounting must include external activities so that the added value takes into account environmental and social costs.
Changing economic models in a sustainable development perspective
The environment must be considered as a constraint. The protection of natural resources is the foundation of the economic cycle
To face increasingly scarce resources, even the most common ones like copper and iron, industrial companies are changing their processes while remaining owners of their raw materials. To do so, they are transforming their production and marketing processes. They sell the use of the products but remain their owners. Since they own the products, they prevent obsolescence and make recycling easier. Instead of accumulating products, consumers can choose the services they need at a precise moment and thus develop collaborative consumption practices. Communication technology makes this logic much easier regarding mobility, building management, but also home appliances (SEB is launching a test with 250.000 inhabitants). This new interaction between product-service system and circular economy implies to conceive new industrial and marketing models. This new growth will need few resources but will be socially richer and will be based on new long-term customer relationships. Developing these new economic models requires to be creative, and this is precisely what companies lack today because their governance is not collective. A new corporate law will catalyse this creativity process.
Employees are not only a resource for companies. Emancipating jobs create creativity and cooperation.
Companies can no longer be only about performance, this performance must take into account people’s lives.
The most important is managers’ capacity to detect new paths and dynamics that can make them progress. Sometimes, this can mean “pushing” someone in a direction because they have the potential to do so. Sometimes it can mean accepting a co-worker’s request that is useful to his personal project, even though this is not what we had in mind. Sustainable action means acting with people and therefore accepting to take other paths. New managers must be leaders, to make their co-workers creative, mediators, to solve potential conflicts resulting from the search for cooperation and creativity, and educators, to help each co-worker in its personal development. It is fundamental that management evolves in this way. Indeed, all the companies that fail in their sustainable development approach are those that make small compromise between environmental, social and economic issues. On the contrary, the companies that succeed try to fully implement the economic, social and environmental logics thanks to creativity and cooperation. These new management modes will have a key role in the transformation of the relations between companies and Society.
New relations with the territory
Companies must not be considered as autonomous entities, they must be fully integrated to the territory.
Companies are no longer the centre of social life but they must adapt to the Society they are settled in. This is what Pierre Calame means when he says that companies will not be the main players of the 21st century, the main players will be the territory and the sector. The sector is the companies’ network. They are linked to one another around a type of products and consumption and recycling issues. The territory is the local network making sure that companies respect environmental and solidarity approaches. This evolution, which is compatible with the reduction of local authorities’ budgets, will lead to new territory public practices that will reconcile public and private sectors. Local authorities must initiate this movement because corporate culture is not quite ready yet.
Four urgent major reforms to carry out :
- Changing corporate law and creating a corporate accounting different from that of capital companies.
- Transforming management training, different of the current Anglo-American trends, to generate a massive capacity to create and implement new economic and management models.
- Because of local authorities’ reduced budgets, imposing a public-private cooperative conception of local projects and of their financing.
- Reforming taxation. Replacing social taxation by new environmental taxation. Implementing a global taxation on financial transactions. Implementing new patterns of redistribution of wealth with the basic income for instance, since wealth no longer comes from work and wage earning.
Thus, it may be possible to subject finance to the economy, and the economy to the humanity.
This text was written by Didier Livio for the Citizen Gathering, on 5th and 6th of October 2013