Why CSR is just as essential in B2B

Customers, partners and employees increasingly want to engage with companies that put a premium on people and the environment, not just issues that impact profit margins. As a result, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is essential, even in B2B. CSR outlines an organization's sustainable development approach by delivering on economic, social and environmental benefits.

This year, the technology sector in which we operate has had a significant opportunity to make a lasting contribution toward the social good. Michelle Bailey, Group Vice President, General Manager at IDC, argues: "During these unprecedented times, those firms that respond using their own technology, skills and altruism will be remembered by clients, employees and ecosystem partners as those that helped to protect sustainability initiatives, encourage workplace diversity and inclusion and make a significant difference to communities at risk."

CSR high on the B2B agenda

Increasingly, B2B companies have to show they have a purpose beyond profit and prove that they are both socially and environmentally sustainable. Customers are demanding to know the provenance of the products they are buying: where and how raw materials such as gold and titanium are mined; the carbon footprint for the product's lifecycle; how employees are treated in factories, and so on.

We listen to our customers, employees and investors' concerns and are committed to being a good corporate citizen. We recently announced The Green Act, a transformation program for the environment. Our aim is to speed up our transition to sustainable growth and be a reference for sustainable digital transformation. Further evidence is that EcoVadis, a leading agency in sustainability rating, ranked us in the top 1% of sustainable companies.

These values are run throughout the Group. Our parent, the Orange Group, recently announced an inaugural Sustainability Bond to finance several CSR projects. The €500 million investment will see 40% of proceeds channeled into digital and social inclusion projects and 60% into energy efficiency and circular economy projects.

The three areas that we are committing to improve are:

An environmental commitment

While technology can't solve global warming on its own, we are making every effort to reduce our carbon footprint. This means that by 2025, Orange Business Services will have reduced its carbon footprint by 30% compared to 2015. For example, by this date, we aim to have all our Orange-branded devices as eco-designed. We will also contribute to the Group’s objective to source half of our electricity from renewables.

The Orange Group as a whole is committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, an ambitious target that is ten years earlier than those set out by the rest of the sector. To achieve this, we follow a strict energy efficiency policy that includes investing in carbon capture solutions to reduce our residual emissions.

We are also actively seeking co-innovation opportunities with partners and customers built on our environmental objectives. In France, for example, we have helped a utility company deploy a smart meter solution that has reduced water leakage by one million cubic meters per annum, significantly reducing water wastage.

Bridging the digital divide

For B2B, this first and foremost means addressing our customers’ concerns about trust and security in using digital technologies and how the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will impact society. It also includes answering questions around the skills gap and competencies required in adopting a new digital way of working.

Our Business & Decision subsidiary has engaged a Chief Ethics Officer to develop and distribute codes of ethics and monitor and audit compliance around these very topics. It has also just signed the charter on ethical and responsible AI, created by the Orange Group with Arborus, a not-for-profit organization.

Underscoring employee engagement and diversity

A recent Gartner survey revealed that only 12% of HR leaders believe their organizations are effective in increasing diversity representation. Unclear career paths, too little exposure to senior leaders and lack of mentors all appear to be significant issues, according to the analyst firm.

We have long seen the link between employee engagement, diversity and innovation. A study by the Boston Consulting Group, for example, found that diverse companies are more innovative and produce 19% more revenue.

We now have certification from the Gender Equality European and International Standard (GEEIS) in 20 countries. It is our firm belief that our commitment to driving sustainability in business, combined with engaging employees both at work and in their local communities, will create a culture of openness and inclusion.

The next phase of business sustainability

There is little doubt that COVID-19 has given us all time to reflect. Health and safety, social inequality and the health of our planet have become priorities. We can all play our part in building a better, more resilient world.

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 its CSR strategy.

Jean-François Cognet
Jean-François Cognet

Jean-François Cognet has been Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Orange Business Services since 2018. He has a mix of consulting and industry experience, for the most part gained in operations. Based in Paris, he is a keen tennis player and a wine enthusiast.