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The power of collective action on sustainability issues to drive carbon reduction

James Robey

I was presented the challenge to lead Capgemini’s effort to reduce carbon emissions over 10 years ago.  In 2015 we set new targets to reduce emissions per employee by 20% by 2020. I am proud to report that not only have we achieved our targets set for 2020, but we’ve done so two years ahead of schedule.  With the 21% reduction in emissions per employee already achieved, we are now over two thirds of the way to meeting our science-based target to reduce our carbon emissions by 30% per employee by 2030.

This sustained progress as set out in our latest Environmental Sustainability Report, is the culmination of innovative approaches and efforts from across the entire Capgemini Group to embed sustainability into our operations, behaviours and business practices.

Reflecting on how we have achieved this, I recalled a comment from Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, and vice-chair of the UN Global Compact, when receiving an award for his work on sustainability earlier this year. He said, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible – we all make a difference. Ultimately, it is the collective efforts of all of us individually that will change the world. Nothing has ever changed because of an organisation. It is because an individual stood up.”

As a business our success is down to the actions of our people. And so the critical question is how do we create a culture where individual sustainable actions are normalised, and people are empowered to make a difference and help us meet our sustainability challenges?

A three-pronged approach makes a long-lasting culture change

At Capgemini, we engage our leadership in a ‘top down approach’, creating a system that frames our sustainable actions. Examples include setting the framework through our ambitious carbon impact targets, agreeing funding for new technology to reduce travel, or simply setting new policy.

We engage our different business units to align our sustainable strategy with their agendas to ensure we embed sustainability into our operations.

Most critically, we strive to engage our key audience, our colleagues, by creating an environment where they can make sustainable choices at work every day, through an integrated approach, comprising of education, engagement and empowerment.

At the end of last year, we made a commitment to leverage our technology and change capabilities to help our clients save 10 million tonnes of carbon emissions.  This requires a complete step-change in our business, embedding sustainable thinking into our services. We have applied exactly this three-pronged approach. Getting our board to commit to make technology for sustainability a business priority has paved the way for us to align country heads and sector leads and galvanise support from our internal functions like our university. This is turn has seen us accelerate our education and engagement process. While, in its early phase, signs are promising with nearly 2,000 people trained, rising participation in engagement activities like hackathons4good and more than 30 client carbon conversations.

To create change, we follow several paths to tap into personal motivation

  • We make it personal: People want to make a difference.  We’ve reduced our office waste by focusing on the waste generated through individual actions, encouraging people to rethink where waste comes from, and promoting personal actions to reduce it.
  • We incentivise behavior change: Travel is our biggest impact area, and we offer a number of incentives to make it attractive to use low carbon alternatives. We also focus on the health and wellbeing benefits of reducing travel.
  • We make change unavoidable: Alongside our ‘nudge’ campaigns, we also have a number of initiatives that make change inevitable, from centralising control of lighting and heating in some offices, to embedding carbon reduction targets into some of our client contracts.
  • We strive to normalise sustainable behaviour: We apply a ‘360-degree’ approach to our programs considering policies, infrastructure and information to enable, and encourage people to make sustainable choices that later become normalised actions.

Across all we do, education remains a critical focus for us. We have invested in raising awareness on the environmental impacts of our travel, energy and waste usage, highlighting the issues as well as alternative approaches.  We also work hard to make sustainability an engaging, community-building issue, through discussions, hackathons and events. Our sustainability programme started with a few individuals from across Capgemini coming together to address climate change and other sustainability issues. Ten years later, the need to continually challenge our thinking and engage with our colleagues is more critical than ever. Our ambition remains to ensure that sustainable thinking is embedded into all actions, and is just the “way we do business”.

Find out more:

Read our latest Environmental Sustainability Report to find out more about our actions to reduce our environmental impacts across energy and travel

To find out more about our wider commitment to being Architects of Positive Futures, visit our website.