Sustainability is good business

At the beginning of this year, Laurence D. Fink, Founder and Chief Executive of BlackRock, which manages over $6 trillion in investments, caused a stir in the business world when he proclaimed that to make a profit and give back to society are not mutually exclusive.

Fink said that his organization would be looking to invest in companies that could display their corporate citizenship by being transparent about how they manage sustainability-related questions. "This data should extend beyond climate to questions around how each company serves its full set of stakeholders, such as the diversity of its workforce, the sustainability of its supply chain, or how well it protects its customers' data," he explained in the company's annual investor letter.

Optimizing for business and social value

As we ease into a new normal, this message resonates even more. Governments have injected public money into the private sector during lockdowns, paid furloughed workers' salaries, and created favorable loan schemes. In some cases, they also have relaxed regulatory requirements, such as competition law on certain agreements that would normally be viewed as anti-competitive. They have supported companies worldwide, and collectively we need to recognize our responsibility to the people who have supported us.

Lockdown measures have impacted everyone. But they have also exacerbated inequalities. We may be in the middle of a health emergency – but the climate change emergency has not disappeared. Understandably, there is now broader public demand for governments and organizations to include environmental issues and social justice in their recovery plans.

Sustainable investing in the new normal

COVID-19 has put the role that businesses play in the spotlight. We are all living through this crisis and will remember the countless companies that have gone that extra mile. Companies like Ford and GM in the U.S. turned their hand to making ventilators, as did a group of the largest manufacturers in the UK under the banner of VentilatorChallengeUK; the pharma industry has embraced collaboration, information and supply-chain sharing; Royal DSM and VDL Groep announced a joint-venture to manufacture PPE in the Netherlands to ensure there is plentiful local supply. Pieter Wolters, Vice President DSM Innovation, said: "Our joint venture is a purpose-led commercial enterprise. It marks a new phase that builds on DSM's earlier initiatives to donate or support production at cost of, among others, medical facemasks, disinfectants and testing swabs when it was most needed and immediate actions were necessary in the fight against COVID-19."

The pandemic has made us realize that we are all part of a much bigger society inhabiting a planet that desperately needs to be nurtured and cared for. As a result, Coronavirus has heightened the demand among investors for environmental, social and governance (ESG).

According to a recent report, Swiss investment bank UBS expects to see "increased focus on ESG considerations after COVID-19, with particular demand for greater corporate transparency and stakeholder accountability." UBS believes that corporate management of issues such as human rights, employee well-being, and community relations is now under the microscope and is no longer considered a luxury. The way organizations address these could have a lasting impact on reputation and future relationships with partners, customers and regulators.

For example, Orange has built digital equality and environmental responsibility into its entire Engage 2025 strategic plan. We are committed to inclusion so that every person can benefit from the digital revolution. Also, we have launched a Sustainability Bond, which provides €500 million to finance projects that fully reflect the Group's ambitions in green and social fields.

Our contribution to tackling climate change is also a high priority. Last year, we joined the GSMA-led initiative to develop a mobile industry climate action roadmap in line with the Paris Agreement. Rather than the industry’s 2050 target, we’ve accelerated this so that we will achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, despite the explosion of data usage on members’ networks.

Organizations must put more effort into their ESG posture

Despite the disruption that the pandemic has caused to the global economy and markets this year, sustainable investment strategies have delivered comparable or better performance than conventional equivalents, according to UBS.

Organizations will need to set themselves more ambitious goals to enhance their corporate citizenship when it comes to reducing their carbon footprints, supporting diversity in their recruitment, and giving back to the communities they serve, for example. According to the Boston Consulting Group, organizations that out-perform when it comes to ESG can achieve higher valuations and margins. Those that don't could significantly suffer financially as a consequence.

Here at Orange Business Services, we work hard to ensure sustainable growth by making social, societal and environmental issues central to our company ethos. One of our aims, for example, is to reduce the digital divide by offering inclusive solutions to governments and NGOs to help them serve citizens better. We help organizations transform the soft side through our consultancy services, ensuring individuals are digital and future-ready. Finally, we work hard to ensure our offerings are available in as many territories as possible, accelerating digitization and helping close the digital divide.

Total social impact (TSI): pivotal to organizations' roadmaps

As we move into a new normal, TSI should be high on every boardroom agenda. TSI now stands alongside total shareholder return (TSR) as a driver of corporate strategy, maintains the Boston Consulting Group. I second this.

TSI is the overall impact an organization has on society. It doesn't come out of a box, one size fits all. It takes time to create a cohesive TSI narrative and amplify the message. The result, however, is a smarter way of doing business, one that brings opportunities in terms of collaboration and partnerships. And one that ultimately benefits the long-term sustainability of people and the planet.

The recent European Sustainable Development Week was an opportunity for us to recall that the Orange Group has adopted sustainable development objectives as a benchmark for measuring the impact of the Orange Group's CSR strategy.

Fabrice de Windt

Fabrice de Windt is Senior Vice President Europe at Orange Business Services.

With 17 years’ experience in ICT in sales functions, Fabrice’s responsibilities include defining the regional partner strategy, managing presales functions and practices, and ensuring the organization is geared to providing the best customer experience. He is also executive sponsor on key new logo opportunities and existing customers.

Fabrice has held senior positions in sales functions across several companies in the telecom and IT industry.

Fabrice speaks English, Dutch and French fluently and is the proud father of three children. In his spare time Fabrice likes to play tennis and golf.