Interest in integrating sustainability into business practices is high, judging by the number of attendees at the launch of Luxembourg’s House of Sustainability on 21 April.
Some 400 people, including Crown Prince Guillaume, attended the one-day event of talks and workshops hosted at the Chamber of Commerce in Luxembourg-Kirchberg.
“A few years ago, we would not have been able to fill a room like this with such passionate people for an event about sustainability,” said Marc Lauer, president of the national institution for sustainable development and CSR (INDR) said, adding: “15 years after the INDR was created, sustainability is in the everyday discussions, strategies and reflections of companies because stakeholders, shareholders, employees, everyone in companies thinks it’s extremely important.”
Entrepreneurs shared experiences
Among the morning highlights was a panel in which entrepreneurs and company decision-makers explained how they have implemented sustainability into their businesses. Sodexo head of CSR Laurence Graff explained that the catering chain has set itself a goal of ensuring that half of all foods served in local canteens be locally sourced by 2025. Among the challenges to achieving this goal is balancing customer expectations. “We offer more plant-based meals because flexitarianism is taking hold. We also do a lot to raise awareness in schools,” said Graff.
Debbie Kirsch, who founded the sustainable clothing brand Devi, highlighted the challenges of creating sustainable transport chains and said that is one of the reasons why she has shunned the business model of growth for growth’s sake. She said: “From the start, I didn’t want to have thousands of shops or become a billionaire. I had a simple goal: one shop in town. That’s enough.”
For Jean Clement, CEO of bus operator Josy Clement, the core challenge to sustainable development with electric buses is the lack of external charging infrastructure because of resistance from local infrastructure. While for Sébastien Jungen, manager of the construction firm Bamolux, it was challenging to convince customers that construction with sustainable materials and methods comes at a greater cost. He said: “I could develop a lot of products but the customer doesn’t ask for them. We see it as our job to help customers go in a more sustainable direction.”
Graff’s advice to companies beginning the journey to sustainability was to focus on where companies can have a real impact and make sure CSR is at the heart of the company’s activities. “If the change isn’t adopted at the highest levels of the company, you won’t succeed,” she said.
During the launch, Prof Christian Berg gave a keynote speech examining the impact of unsustainable business activities on the environment. Independent sustainability expert Valérie Arnold pointed out that the risks of failing to transition in the near future to a more sustainable way of doing business are not only environmental–firms which fail to take action to make their activities sustainable will fail. “It becomes about reputation,” she said. Arnold cited a recent PWC CEO survey that found 40% of respondents did not consider their business models would be viable in 10 years. One major barrier to change is access to information, in particular on the regulatory aspects of sustainability.
The House of Sustainability, which was created by the chamber of commerce and chamber of trades, aims to support businesses in this and other core areas.
Its platform focuses on awareness raising, streamlining solutions, supporting companies and creating trust by awarding quality labels. Its work is organised around the axis of prosperity, governance, people and planet. Among the support measures offered are €5,000 vouchers for environmental protection measures and a CSR toolbox helping people from all sectors learn more about the topic and acquire quality certification that is recognised across Europe. In future, the House of Sustainability plans to offer financial aid, specific training and legal framework guidance. Companies can create a free account on the platform sustainability.lu