Around 20 sites from both countries sent delegates to the Oberhausen event, which followed the global launch of CSR in Detroit, United States, held two days earlier on June 29. The rationale behind both events was to highlight the company’s CSR efforts, raise awareness and encourage the development of CSR activities at all sites.
To bring CSR closer to home, the program started with an exhibition of CSR-related projects already up and running in Germany, the Netherlands, and worldwide. The delegates were able to see the impact a balanced attitude to people, planet and profit can have on everyday working life.
John Jennings, Akzo Nobel’s head of financial communications, started the program with an option finder audience polling session. The results of which were immediately flashed onto a multimedia board. The audience was polled on questions ranging from CSR’s importance to the company; did they identify with the company to matters such as when they thought the world’s oil reserves would run out. The overall impression left after the first session was that the majority of the audience was skeptical about CSR and did not regard it as fundamental to the company’s future.
Responsible business practices
In his presentation, leading Dutch environmentalist and member of the Club of Rome Wouter van Dieren argued that big business had no option than to embrace corporate social responsibility. Already warning of the dangers of unlimited economic growth in the early seventies, Van Dieren applauded the high priority given to Triple P by Akzo Nobel and said that global problems such as climate change, overpopulation, water shortages, and the depletion of natural resources could only be resolved when the business world seriously embraced sustainable and responsible business practices.
Director of CSR at Akzo Nobel André Veneman explained the implications of the CSR program for the future of the company and for employees. He called for engagement and enthusiasm from employees to embrace CSR and said that Akzo Nobel would only be counted as “best in class” if it was fully committed to sustainability, high environmental standards and responsible business practice.
Such an emphasis was fundamental to the company’s future success, he said, and was also why CEO Hans Wijers had put CSR so high on the agenda. In a recent interview, Wijers emphasized that CSR was not a PR exercise aimed at polishing the company’s image but was integral to the company’s economic future. He said he was convinced that the attractiveness of a company for shareholders, customers and employees will, in future, not only be determined by profits earned, but increasingly how it is valued for its responsibility towards the environment and mankind.
Sustainable funds boom
Tessa Tenant, a British financial executive who helped set up the first European Sustainability Fund in 1988, said that financial markets and shareholders are increasingly taking “soft” social, ecological and ethical issues into account. The market for sustainable funds is booming, she said, whereas old-style funds showed a clear outflow of capital.
Tenant said this is one of the main reasons why compliance with mandatory CSR guidelines is of such importance to Akzo Nobel. It will enable the company to maneuver itself into position for a positive valuation on the financial markets, where investors increasingly prefer to invest in companies that meet social and ecological criteria.
Closing the event, André Veneman said it was important to explain CSR in depth to all employees and to give employees at all sites the opportunity to familiarize and understand why the company wanted to integrate sustainable practices into daily business practice. This, he said, could be done in small satellite meetings which would focus on planning and executing real projects.
Presentations as well as information and help for planning a satellite conference can be found on Akzo Nobel’s website.