CSR, a quest for meaning and values in the workplaceThe ecological issue has never been as hot as it is today. Following the publication of the Student Manifesto for Ecological Awareness a few months ago, 4 NEOMA BS students give their opinion on how they plan to reconcile their personal values with life at work.
Signed by nearly 30,000 students from more than 300 different institutions, an environmental wake-up-call manifesto has sparked a number of reactions this winter. Mindful of the major climate issues facing our societies today, the supporters of the student manifesto point to an inadequate commitment from States and major economic organisations to face up to these challenges.
As they get closer to their first job, these young people fully appreciate the inconceivable contradictions that they will be asked to overcome “What is the point of travelling by bike when you also work for a company whose activity contributes to the acceleration of climate change?”
This manifesto gathered no less than 157 NEOMA Business School signatures. 4 Neomians express themselves on this subject and share their commitments to the environment and where they stand with regard to the manifesto, irrespective of whether they signed it or not.
Awareness of the environmental urgency
One thing all these young people have in common is that the environment is an integral part of their daily lives. “For my part, I pay great attention to water,” explains Cécile Coin, a first-year Master in Management student.
“I consider myself to have a simple lifestyle,” says Paul Berthier, President of the NEOMA Junior Enterprise on the Reims campus. “I don’t spend my days changing what is in my wardrobe, and I take care to wear (sometimes over-wear according to some!) what I buy.”
Such actions sometimes find their way into the student societies. This is the case, for example, of Cyril Kleinman, Oikos communication manager, a student society that promotes sustainable development on the Reims campus. “I started by sorting my waste,[…] then I wanted to go even further. I joined the Oikos student society at NEOMA BS. What I like is the fact that I can organise highly realistic actions that have real meaning.”
There is a consensus among the students interviewed that there is a need for all kinds of action and they share this perception of urgency. “Today, it is really urgent,” adds Cyril, who is not fooled by the poster campaigns and greenwashing that are sometimes put in place.
For many, this call for action is the result of a desire to be heard and to influence today’s scenario. “As students, we are trying to make our message heard, which is not always possible, so we can say in which economic world we want to evolve,” explains Ralia Bajwa, a student on the Paris campus.
Taking responsibility for change
The students interviewed are aware of the vital role their generation has to play. As future young graduates, they feel empowered and have a sense of responsibility to change things. “My generation will no longer accept certain things from companies and will no longer accept to work for just anybody,” says Cyril. “It seems to me that Business Schools are there to train the engineers and managers of tomorrow. And just like digital transformation, the environment has to be taken into account in the strategic choices companies and industries make.” adds Ralia.
Far from looking to overcome the difficulties inherent in the change they are calling for, they share a complementary vision of company life and the role they have to play in it.
“Small companies and start-ups, can initiate change in Social and Environmental Responsibility much more easily,” says Paul, who goes on to explain his point of view. “They are more flexible, more responsive, more horizontal, more free. Whether they have jumped on the CSR bandwagon out of conviction or interest is irrelevant. For many, their ideas are great. In large companies, on the other hand, because of the procedures, the hierarchy, the number of different parties, stakeholders, lobbies, it is very difficult to change direction.”
“Beyond the professional objectives assigned to us, we cannot be two different people from 8am to 6pm and from 7pm to 7am. It doesn’t make any sense to me. You can’t sort your waste in the evening and use plastic cups from the coffee machine at work during the day. For me, taking responsibility is personal and does not depend on the company where you work, it is the company’s intention that is important and its capacity to evolve that is interesting. The environment is first and foremost a question of awareness,” declares Ralia, whose remarks are completed by Paul:
Being a manager no longer means just being productive. A manager has to think about the team as well, their ecological footprint, and have a global vision. Companies are looking for responsible managers. The awareness is there. Isn’t it said that being aware of a problem is the first step towards solving it?
Boycott or not Boycott
On the boycott issue raised by the manifesto, which calls on future graduates to deprive companies of their talents and skills if they do not invest honestly in a change towards the preservation of the planet, the position of the Neomians interviewed is not so straightforward.
To the question: Would you be ready to turn down a position offered to you by a company that does not share your values? The answers sometimes open the door to a form of compromise because the choice is highly complex and implies commitment. However, they remain uncompromised on the need for a shared vision of a more sustainable future.
“I would be more for trying to develop the environmental aspect of the company that hires me,” explains Cécile.
Cyril’s point of view is completely different: “In my opinion, you can only be fully committed to a job if it is in tune with your own values. Working for the tobacco industry would be impossible for me, for example… .” For Paul, it depends on the options, “Would I work for Monsanto, for example? For me, that is out of the question. Then again, working for a company that isn’t really doing a lot in terms of CSR, but which is a great opportunity, maybe I would take the job.”
For Ralia, the employer values parameter comes into play when a choice has to be made, “But giving up a job opportunity is maybe a bit extreme… .”
Questioning the meaning
The question of meaning is indeed implicitly raised. This concern is all the more significant today as the notion of success, accomplishment and fulfilment at work are shifting. Do we want to have a successful career more than a successful life?
For Cyril, “What I like is to feel useful and to contribute in a way that is positive for society.”
“For sure, one petition is not going to change things,” concludes Ralia.
For sure, one petition is not going to change things,” concludes Ralia. “But it is by expressing our opinions and taking small steps that we can start the ball rolling. It is very important to find meaning in what we do every day at work. And I think that caring for the environment can contribute to providing this meaning.