By Stefan Crets, Executive Director, CSR Europe
As I reflect on the year gone by and welcome new beginnings in 2014, I see CSR practitioners and businesses across Europe increasingly faced with a dual challenge.
Firstly, the sustainability of business in Europe, job creation and living standards still remain paramount. However, considering a high proportion of jobs in Europe are created by companies operating globally, it is also incumbent on us to consider the creation of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in different regions of the world. These twin priorities often collide, with the focus on growth in European operations often excessively driven by faster growth potential opportunities outside of Europe.
2014 is not time for business as usual or complacency in Europe. Over the past years, visionary thinkers have outlined an image of what is needed for a sustainable future in Europe and beyond. For instance, John Elkington’s Breakthrough Capitalism, Gunter Pauli’s Zero Emissions Initiative ZERI or Ellen MacArthur’s Circular Economy have all challenged mainstream thinking and practice. Although CSR and sustainability thinking is no longer on the periphery of business, success in 2014 will very much depend on our own personal responsibility to lead from within companies.
2014 will be about the level of intrapreneurship and social innovation that we can nurture within our companies, step-by-step to make sustainability breakthroughs. As CSR practitioners, we have to ask – what can we contribute to sustainable growth of our company and to the European economy and society? To adequately respond to this challenge, we need to bring together different business functions, influencers and stakeholders both inside and outside our companies. This will require creativity and perseverance. Critically, this is where CSR Europe seeks to support its members in 2014.
In this vein, a recent Accenture CEO Survey indicates that 33% of the CEOs believe we are doing enough to tackle future sustainability issues. 84% believe business should lead the effort but most CEOs struggle to see the business value of doing so. CSR managers must redefine their role, it is not only about reporting, relations with NGOs, specific projects like diversity and supply chain management. It is about influencing strategy, planning and performance at corporate level, in each company division and affiliate and even along the value chain.
I see pioneering social innovation within companies as a valuable way to create new business opportunities and tackle societal challenges such as emissions, poverty, education, demographic change and urban congestion. Through social innovation, Europe can maintain its lead in the world and find new prospects for smart, sustainable growth both in the domestic and international markets.
Over the past year we already witnessed important shifts in the way CSR Europe member companies operate, be it in the transition to electric mobility, sustainable consumption, new business models, developing IT infrastructure for smarter cities, etc. Encouragingly, in line with CSR Europe’s Enterprise 2020 European Business Campaigns, almost all CSR Europe member companies have ventures in place to develop STEM or entrepreneurial skills, collaborate with formal education, support vocational training, reach out to citizens for more sustainable consumption or proactively bring sustainability solutions to regional and city governments.
In 2014, CSR Europe will build on the business case to speed up the implementation of innovative and scalable business solutions. Specifically, to meet these demands, we have shifted gear with our European Business Campaigns. The Skills for Jobs campaign embodies this approach by targeting Europe as the ‘’best place for work’’ for both for industry, entrepreneurs and employees.
The Sustainable Living in Cities campaign to be launched in March 2014 will bring together the local and regional level with business stakeholders to develop implementable solutions. Our 2014 work programme provides opportunities to engage your company and urge different divisions to look beyond their own borders to leverage collaboration in Europe, and break through issues such as intrapreneurship, city collaborations and innovation.
A recent Boston Consulting Group report on addressing sustainability concerns describes companies that ‘’walk the talk’’ by putting sustainability strategy at the top of the management agenda, developing a business case and measuring performance to adapt business models. CSR Europe will provide opportunities for “walkers” to make strides in 2014! Without doubt, our leading member companies and all of our national partners are well placed to take up the challenge to make CSR/sustainability issues a core strategic imperative to mitigate threats and identify new opportunities throughout 2014.