Caterpillars do become butterflies

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General Motors, AIG, Arthur Andersen, Lehman Brothers, UBS ... these indestructible, unalterable and dominant giants have disappeared or are wobbling on their pedestals, which they forgot to make earthquake-proof. Behind the theory of the new economy, which from time to time takes on the appearance of a quest for the Holy Grail, the new era has already begun. In a logic that is ultimately Schumpeterian, the new ecological, economic and social order is reshuffling the deck.

Although they were rather mediocre futurists in the past, the majority of company directors now realise that the leaders of tomorrow will be those who have been able to integrate these new challenges, particularly environmental ones, into their business model1. Probably out of ethical concern, but certainly out of competitive imperative. 68% recognise that "the environmental issue is a major challenge for preserving and increasing market share and profitability". Well beyond environmental scouting, we are in the process of moving towards pragmatic and rational sustainable development, and to think of it as philanthropy is a strategic, managerial and communication error.

We are living in a time of change, beware of the inert

Educated to the scarcity of natural resources, their increasing cost, and the need to preserve them, solving the Brundtland equation is now seen as economically compatible, or even more profitable, for a majority of public opinion and leaders. After the pedagogy of the why in the early 2000s, the time has come to teach the how. Aware of the problem, the world is looking for solutions, which here and there are already underway. We are living in a time of change, beware of the inert.

Contrary to appearances, the financial crisis is the accelerator, but not the trigger, of this quest for a new world order or a new capitalism. The underlying trend had already been operating for some years. The consumer had already become a citizen, and the ecological planet was already in overdrive before the subprime crisis. Markets such as cars, energy, water, transport, cleanliness and building materials are all changing. Who will sell a non-electric car tomorrow? Who will be paid exclusively by the volume of water or electricity consumed? Which school or university will do without its sustainable development curriculum? Who will pay an eco-tax on combustion engines to enter cities? Who will be able to ignore a public outcry against their brand? Who will sell a non-HQE house? Which manager will accept employee vehicles with an ecological penalty? Which "star" or personality will lend his or her image and embody the muse of a brand that is socially or ecologically critical? (Or like the American students who, since 1997, have been mobilised within the "Sweat-Free Campus Campaign" to ask the brands that manufacture clothing bearing their university's logo to better respect workers' rights) Tomorrow's leaders will be those of today who have changed, or challenger companies that position themselves from the outset on solving this equation in defining their business model.

It is often the challengers who reveal other possibilities when the leaders seek to perpetuate established positions

As is often the case, it is the more flexible challengers who shake up the established positions, because they reveal the realm of the possible in the face of leading offers that were imposed by lack of alternatives. Rainett and l'Arbre Vert show that it is possible to be both detergent and environmentally friendly (and efficient). The Toyota Prius, the Bluecar and the famous Heuliez demonstrate other possibilities. Solaire Direct and the Compagnie du Vent are bringing ancestral technologies back into fashion. For a sector like construction, these changes are full of opportunities. The Capeb (Confédération de l'Artisanat et des Petites Entreprises du Bâtiment) has created an "eco-artisan" label to identify professionals specially trained in energy management (training of 50,000 craftsmen over two years). Jean Lardin, President of the Capeb, is convinced that "energy management in the home is above all a matter of local economy, a response with "tailor-made" solutions. It is also a challenge in terms of regional development.2. The challenges of green growth will perhaps allow the French, and the media, to rediscover the scope and diversity of the economic fabric beyond the stock market periphery that the CAC 40 often represents. 96% of French companies are VSEs with fewer than 20 employees, which, along with SMEs with fewer than 250 employees, account for two-thirds of employment in France. If we create "eco-artisans" in France, the Mayor of London plans to create an academy to transform jobseekers into energy advisors, Arnold Schwarzenegger has already done it on March 17 by creating "the California Green Corp", a battalion of young Americans who have failed in their schooling and who will be trained to fight against energy waste and pollution, cities such as Nice or Aix-en-Provence have already launched their "green police" in 2008, ...

As Paul Valéry said, "the time of the finite world has begun". But this "green growth" that many are talking about is already a reality for many companies. The Breton SME Armor-Lux, which sources fair trade cotton with the Max Havelaar label, won the Ministry of the Interior's contract in 2008 for the uniforms of 110,000 police officers ... after having already won the SNCF and Aéroports de Paris in 2007 for the manufacture of new outfits for their staff, and the La Poste contract in 2004 for the management of the clothing of its agents. A choice that seems to have become, combined with quality, a competitive advantage; Max Havelaar-labelled coffee, which is bought from small producers in the South at a fair price that allows them to remunerate their work but also to finance local development, has become the second best-selling product in the department since it was listed at Monoprix; The organic market is not experiencing a crisis. After a growth of 10% per year from 1996 to 2005, the organic market has had the luxury of accelerating for the last three years on the basis of a growth of 20%4 The company Vectrix, which produces ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) electric scooters, is now supplying the New York Police Department (NYPD), which is abandoning its good old Harley Davidsons - quite a symbol. InterfaceFlor, a specialist in modular flooring, is improving its profitability by reducing its ecological impact. The company's use of 30% to 50% of recycled fibres (carpet off-cuts), the ability to measure the environmental impact of each product, production centres powered by 100% of green electricity, the increased use of vegetable fibres, and the offsetting of incompressible emissions with Climate Care, all provide it with profitability and a competitive advantage; Natura, the number two cosmetics company behind Unilever in Brazil, bases its entire strategy on a "carbon neutral" policy; etc.

Other models exist. As Sylvain Darnil and Mathieu le Roux demonstrate in their book "80 Men", a bank can lift three quarters of its clients out of extreme poverty and still be perfectly profitable, a hospital can treat two out of three patients for free and still make a profit, a textile entrepreneur can refuse to relocate and double his turnover while paying his employees twice the minimum wage. The embodiment of this new paradigm is Muhammad Yunus. The microcredit he invented now covers more than one hundred million families. What Professor Yunus calls social business could profoundly renew capitalism.

This sector of the eco-economy is estimated to be worth around 50 billion euros in France and employs around 500,000 people. According to Ademe forecasts, as many jobs will be created or maintained by 2020. This is particularly true for new energy equipment (photovoltaic, geothermal, heat pumps, wind power, etc.). Even if the Chambers of Commerce and Industry already list nearly 11,000 "eco-companies", it is very difficult in France, historically, to define a delocalised industrial policy, based on the entire local economic fabric. This economic fabric is often unknown, not very well publicised because it is not considered very attractive to the reign of the audience, and is distant for our state apparatus because it is diffuse and diverse. However, the potential for job creation, local and therefore less relocatable, is greater than elsewhere, and if public opinion is sceptical or even critical of companies, it appreciates entrepreneurs, which is demonstrated by the fact that it is becoming more and more so itself (the number of company creations exceeded the 300,000 mark for the first time in 2004 and is still high), and the auto-entrepreneur regime launched on 1 January 2005 is a good example of On 20 April 2009, three and a half months later, there were already 145,000 members.

The challenge of the next few years will not be to artificially preserve existing business models, but to let new ones reveal themselves and develop. When so many companies often congratulate themselves on being a hundred years old, recommending their forebears, will we be able to be convinced and seduced by a company "created less than 10 years ago"?

The opportunities behind the constraints 

Large companies are of course adapting to this changing world. Dell launched the Reconnect programme back in 2004. In partnership with Goodwill Industries, a private non-profit foundation. Users of the computer brand drop off used equipment at Goodwill shops. The foundation uses the profits generated by the recycling to finance social aid initiatives, particularly professional reintegration. With this 'donation', the consumer benefits from tax reductions, the brand builds customer loyalty, Goodwill puts an unemployed person back to work every 53 seconds ... and employs 86,000 people ... another interesting triptych of sustainable development, no? The use of polyamides and conventional dyes is totally rethought, consumers must be involved in the recovery, and the non-reused part could even be used as soil nutrients. This so-called "Cradle to Cradle" method is also applicable at the level of an urban community. The city of Velno in the Netherlands is applying it, and will reach its "zero waste" objective in 2012; by making its carbon emission figures public for the first time (20.8 million tonnes), Wal-Mart is simultaneously displaying great ecological ambitions (using 100% of renewable energy, zero waste, eco-designed products, etc.); McDonald's is opening its new eco-designed restaurants in South Carolina with 95% of the wood used respecting the international standards set up by the Forest Stewartship Council For several years now, McDonald's restaurants have been implementing a number of environmental impact reduction measures (natural lighting, rainwater recovery, wastewater treatment, hybrid car chargers, geothermal energy, aerothermal energy, photovoltaic panels, optimised packaging, collection of used cooking oil to be transformed into biodiesel, etc.). In France, the restaurant in Plaisance du Touch in the Haute-Garonne region, which opened in November 2008, is representative of this policy. In another register, the online game "World of Warcraft" alone consumes the annual equivalent of three nuclear power stations in China. Indeed, a single microprocessor can consume between 100 and 200 watt-hours. As a result, Cadence, the world leader in microchip design software, has launched the "low-power" programme to optimise power consumption at every stage of the design process. Are we heading towards an "ecological Moore's law" where, after doubling power every 18 months, the aim is now to halve the necessary consumption? The world's major manufacturers (IBM, Dell, HP, Sun, Cisco, etc.) cannot imagine a future that is not "green IT". Tomorrow you will probably buy an electronic game with an energy-efficient microprocessor, and the legislator may well impose a sort of "electronic speed limit"; Mars Alimentaire, the world's leading confectionery company, has decided to use only fair-trade cocoa that respects sustainable development criteria to manufacture its chocolate products by 2020, and to do so has entered into a partnership with the Rainforest Alliance; Cadbury Group, another confectionery giant, signed a certification agreement with Fairtrade; EDF Energies Nouvelles increased its turnover by 80% in 2008, its net profit by 35%; In 2008, funds specialising in clean tech invested nearly 12 billion euros through 660 companies3This is 42% more than in 2007, 12 times more than in 2001, and above all a development that runs counter to most other sectors where the trend is downward. Moreover, according to Chausson Finance, green companies dominated the top 10 venture capital rounds in 2008.

The responsible economy is more boosted than hindered by the crisis 

Given the increasingly obvious link between respect for the environment and economic efficiency, the development of the eco-economy is not being held back by the crisis, quite the contrary. The only slowing effect today is caused by the general drop in the price of traditional raw materials (which in some cases reduces the price advantage of recycled materials compared to virgin materials, this is notably the case for recycled plastic at present). However, without necessarily calling for a rapid increase in the price of oil, as Jean-Marc Jancovici regularly does, this upward trend will automatically resume with the economic recovery. On the other hand, we need to be aware of the new wave of growing concern behind environmental issues, that of public health issues linked to pollution and various substances. If, out of absolute egocentricity, man can ignore the health of the planet and imagine that he can live without it, he will be much more sensitive to his own health. The consumer-citizen will then claim more rights when the planet, if it has its defenders, has neither a ballot paper nor a payment card. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, environmental concern is not a problem of the rich countries, as is too often the case. It is stronger among public opinion in the developing countries, which suffer more from the risks of pollution, particularly atmospheric and aquatic pollution.

The legislator will impose non-spontaneous developments 

On the other hand, we have now entered a regulatory cycle that requires market players to change. When the legislator gets involved, he imposes the bonus-malus which is revolutionising the car market, he imposes the end of incandescent lamps, he makes the survival of coal-fired power stations conditional on CO2 capture and burial processes, he will ban the sale (EU, January 2010) of any electrical appliance consuming more than two watts in standby mode (one watt in January 2013), etc.

Offers will follow, like Watteco, a start-up from the Var, which is developing an electronic chip capable of switching off your electrical appliances for you if you forget to do so ... soon "Watteco inside" on the appliances of our major manufacturers? Technological innovation will indeed be one of the keys, much more so than the degrowth advocated by some. Processes are adapting. Between 1980 and 2000, the market for beverages sold in cans increased by 60%, yet the consumption of virgin materials needed to manufacture them decreased by 40%, and CO2 emissions by 50 %.

Corporate attributes, elements of differentiation in the face of a generic hyper choice 

If technological revolutions are underway, cultural revolutions are also needed, in our modes of consumption certainly, but also of communication and interaction. Let us look at what we are experiencing. Two phenomena should be considered as absolutely major insofar as they prompt the definition of a new paradigm: the ecological crisis and the financial crisis. These phenomena at the beginning of the 21st century are major because they reveal our "humanity", our common destiny in the sense of a community of men and women, well beyond territorial and national identities. There is porosity between our nations, our lives, our identities, our aspirations, our decisions. The financial crisis crossed the Atlantic in 2008 just as some clouds crossed the Alps in 1986, and men broke down walls in 1989. In other words, borders, despite the new protectionist aspirations, are a maligned species. Globalisation is also a form of re-humanisation in the sense of revealing our common destiny: "I lack what you waste, I die from what you pollute". For the past 5 to 10 years, a trend should have obsessively alerted advertisers and communicators: the recurrent erosion of institutional trust in brands and companies.

Perhaps by comparing too much in search engines, we have been trapped by this famous "use value", so much so that we are now faced with a generic hyper-choice, which we slip into for lack of rough edges. But when it comes to integrating upstream processes and downstream consequences into the choice criteria, i.e. not directly through product attributes, it is the corporate attributes that must carry and demonstrate this added value: "before you tell me what you are selling, first tell me who you are". But let's not forget that we are living in times that do not know how to question what has been achieved, in geological times when the strata are superimposed, product attributes and corporate attributes, which amplify each other by entering into a "positive resonance". It will always be difficult to sell a bad product, but having a good product in terms of functionality will not necessarily be enough if the related attributes such as corporate trust, the ethics of the production process, health reassurance linked to use, etc. are not there.

After the consumer, it's time for the collabor'actor  

This new economy also has consequences for the labour market. If new markets emerge, they must consequently call on new skills. At the same time, the search for convergence and balance between citizens and consumers is also taking place between citizens and employees who are seeking to be in line with their personal aspirations in the exercise of their profession. After the consumer, the time has come for the collaborator, seeking a strong need for individual commitment, as recruitment managers can experience and read in their cover letters and interviews. Civic values are now also indispensable values for employer brands.

The whistleblowers who warned of the excesses of the financial model when ratios were over-performing were unheard. Today, we should not ignore the new models that are taking shape. But beware, if inertia is useful in a straight line, it is a dangerous force when it comes to negotiating a bend. In such a context, the ability to mobilise internal staff and to listen to them as stakeholders is essential. At a time of new challenges, let us not be xenophobic towards difference and novelty. The economic mix is the corollary of the necessary energy mix. If the political world is becoming multipolar, so is the world of economic models, with new forms of activity, new entrants, new equations. But accompanying change is not easy, as it is paradoxically easier to come up with a new idea than to question an old one.

Alain Renaudin

Published in the newspaper La Tribune in November 2010