An interview with Karine Hillaireau, Head of Sustainability for Groupe PSA
Karine Hillaireau, Groupe PSA’s Head of Sustainability, is leading an unprecedented initiative to make corporate social responsibility (CSR) central to all of the company’s operations.
What are Groupe PSA’s CSR challenges?
We’ve identified 23 challenges ranging from customer satisfaction and employee diversity to social dialogue and efficient use of natural resources. They have been ranked according to two criteria: stakeholder expectations and impact on the company’s financial performance. Based on this methodology, CO2 emissions, vehicle safety and customer satisfaction have emerged as our top three CSR challenges.
How is the Group’s CSR initiative structured?
We have CSR correspondents in each of our businesses. There’s no separate team or special budget, because corporate social responsibility is deeply ingrained in all of our activities, be it in eco-design, waste recycling, emissions reduction, ethical corporate governance or employee diversity.
Each of our 23 challenges is headed up by a member of the Executive Committee, who is responsible for putting the necessary resources in place to achieve our objectives.
We have taken this integrated approach, which is fully embraced by frontline teams, since the very beginning. It’s still an unorthodox way of doing things within major corporations, but some of my counterparts are beginning to see the benefits of “infusing” CSR into all of the company’s decision-making processes.
How do you measure results?
We are committed to continuous improvement. Each year, we publish both our achievements and our areas for improvement in our Group CSR report, because responsible corporate citizenship is, first and foremost, about full transparency. Providing reliable information is crucial in maintaining a relationship of trust with our stakeholders and thereby guiding their decisions, whether they are purchasing a vehicle, joining us as an employee or investing in the company.
How can growth and corporate social responsibility be reconciled?
As we see it, the aim is not to pass moral judgement on our actions but to take a pragmatic approach; in other words, it’s about identifying the level of risk involved for the company for every decision we make. Take climate change, for example. It represents tremendous risks for investors, who hold us responsible for securing their capital. The financial community is turning to industries with the lowest possible environmental risk.
Customers are also putting enormous pressure on companies in this regard. They are no longer interested in buying means of transport or services that are not compatible with their values.
Companies are part of an ecosystem, so they need to consider the reactions of customers, suppliers, talent they may want to employ, everyday people and even elected officials. This 360° approach to corporate impacts brings us closer to a more responsible society – and that’s a good thing. Companies need to be trailblazers in this respect.
What responsibilities do companies have with regard to societal challenges?
A company’s first responsibility is to ensure its long-term viability by being useful to its customers. That’s impossible without taking social and environmental challenges into account. Every ecosystem the company is part of has already integrated this challenge of sustainability. It would be counterproductive to ignore it.
France’s mobility strategy bill provides for a ban on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles from 2040. Is the Group prepared for this shift?
The impact that fossil fuels have on the environment has led us to develop increasingly clean technology. The Group is a leader in CO2 and NOx emissions reduction. It is in PSA’s DNA to continuously innovate and drive progress; in other words, to spur useful innovation.
However, the most important aspect of the ban on fossil-fuel vehicles will likely be whether consumers can accept the change. Mobility has a price. If people are no longer able to drive to work, and public transport options are already saturated or non-existent, our entire lifestyle will have to be rethought, starting with the issue of urban sprawl.
This is part of a much larger societal debate about making a less resource-intensive future desirable. Everything, including mobility, water access and products imported from the other side of the world, will have to be reconsidered. We can’t go about things the wrong way around. By starting with bans, we will only meet with opposition.
Will mobility become a luxury?
That would be very dangerous for social stability. We don’t have a comprehensive vision of the lifestyle we’re aiming for. There has been a succession of laws on the circular economy, food waste, carbon taxes and so on. But people experience this legislation as an ever growing list of restrictions.
It’s important that thinkers and artists take on this question and help us to envisage a new and desirable world, one that makes each person say, “Yes, that’s the direction I want to move in,” and allows them to better understand the constraints being placed on them and the need to work together to find solutions.