Q&A with Valérie Ferret, Director Public Affairs & Sustainability, Dassault Systèmes
In 2014, for the first time, carbon emissions decreased over the previous year while the economy grew. Valérie Ferret, Director Public Affairs & Sustainability, Dassault Systèmes, offered her thoughts on this milestone and on the evolution of corporate sustainability. Valerie joined the company in 2008 to develop the influencer network and promote our vision of providing businesses and people
with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. This is the third part in our “Sustainability Series,” aimed to shed light on the importance of positive contributions to preserve the earth’s resources for future generations.
3DS: Ten years ago, how would you define the role of sustainability in the enterprise? What evolution have you witnessed over the past decade?
VF: Ten years ago, sustainability meant corporate responsibility. Companies had not truly embraced the concept of product innovation as part of their sustainability strategies. This has since changed, yet there is still progress to be made, as it is rare to find an enterprise that has defined an end-to-end sustainability model.
3DS: In 2014, for the first time, carbon emissions decreased over the previous year while the economy grew. Can it be said that advances in corporate sustainability are responsible?
VF: Global carbon emissions come mainly from the energy, transportation, agriculture and forestry sectors. There have been great strides made by companies to integrate sustainability into their operations, and we are now witnessing the fruit of these efforts. For example, alternative powertrain development is rising in the way of electric vehicles and hybrids, or more efficient turbo-charged internal combustion engines. Better equipment and infrastructure investment over the last 30 years has doubled fuel efficiency of freight railroads. Now we definitely need to accelerate and develop new business models to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions and resources use.
3DS: Is sustainability top-of-mind at corporations now, or is there still progress to be made?
VF: Sustainability is an important aspect of a company’s reputation, and it has become an important topic at the CEO level. Yet the sustainability function is not yet integrated into all aspects of an organization, from marketing, communication and operations, to product development. Sustainable decisions go beyond the concept of carbon emissions. They involve resource efficiency and a product lifecycle approach. Businesses that understand upfront the resources consumption involved in production and in a final product, and how these will benefit nature and life, have a greater chance of succeeding in the marketplace in the longer term.
3DS: How exactly is corporate sustainability measured?
VF: Sustainability methodologies and science have been well developed over the past two decades. These include lifecycle assessment methodologies at the product level, a balanced combination of environmental, social, governance, financial and innovation indicators at the corporate level, as well as carbon footprinting methodologies both at the product and the enterprise level. A number of notation agencies measure sustainability and recognize corporations that engage in sustainability programs based on their improvement rate rather than on performance, meaning that companies with an excellent performance and lower lever of improvement are not recognized as they should be. In order to provide a better sustainability assessment, there are more and more standardization and sectorial approaches, which will allow for more accurate comparison between corporations. In addition, we need to progress on real data reporting. Most methodologies such as carbon footprinting still rely on estimations and average data, which makes it difficult to create a competition market for sustainability. Lastly, product innovation should be at the heart of the assessment in order to create a sustainable economy.
3DS: What kind of influence do consumers have on corporate sustainability strategies?
VF: Sustainability isn’t just about the product and how the consumer uses it, it’s the entire process behind making that happen. However, consumers are powerful industry drivers. Public opinion provides valuable feedback—and often pressures—that can extend the corporate innovation system. For example, consumer desires for alternative and greener transportation methods have inspired large cities like Paris and New York to install short-term bike rentals. However, many companies are still finding that sustainability is not yet a large market driver.
3DS: Technology trends are influencing the types of products that are developed. Which ones are impacting sustainability and how?
VF: There are some technology trends which will help companies to have more integrated and ambitious sustainability strategies:
- Cloud computing will enhance what we call the social industry. Companies will be able to work with an even more extended ecosystem to include not only the supply chain, but also research institutes, partners and consumers, in the innovation process. This will allow for systemic innovation which is key to achieving sustainability.
- Big data and the Internet of Things will target end-to-end product experiences, from design to usage, for more delightful and efficient experiences.
- Fablabs are changing production models towards more localized supply and demand.
Technology that can decipher consumer needs and wants and influence subsequent product development can later define new consumer uses, behaviors and experiences.
3DS: In 2050, the world’s population is estimated to surpass 9 billion. What will be critical to meet the needs of such a large population?
VF: We will need both scientific and economic innovation to define new business models which decouple resource use and carbon emissions from economic growth. The world needs to think bigger in order to define targeted strategies. Take urban infrastructure, for example. How will a city that was built for a population half its size be able to manage waste? With social and environmental pressures so great, virtual technology and process management are effective ways to understand, react to, and drive new initiatives.
3DS: In 2012, you launched Dassault Systèmes’ “sustainable innovation lab” to develop partnerships with customers and industry groups to share ideas and best practices on science, technology and business models for sustainability. What was the inspiration for this?
VF: Sustainable innovation can be achieved by combining new design and manufacturing processes with new business and marketing strategies to create a sustainable and flourishing marketplace. Our business experience platform, which is used by many businesses today for this, served as the inspiration for our sustainable innovation lab, in order to offer proof points of innovation and sustainability in industry.
3DS: Since joining Dassault Systèmes, what has been the most satisfying achievement in terms of sustainability?
VF: From a corporate sustainability perspective, we’re proud to say that we have been included in the Corporate Knights Global 100 ranking of the most sustainable companies for four consecutive years, and we lead amongst software companies. This is testimony to our dedication, and reinforces our mission of harmonizing product, nature and life. Our focus remains on innovation for solutions to help the industry become more sustainable. We are proud of every achievement: from helping a company reduce materials use through eco-design and simulation, and allowing a company be compliant with environmental regulations, to making its supply chain or its operations more sustainable. Overall, we are committed to helping the industry define the best consumer experiences based on sustainable innovation.