CSR as a Business Strategy: a talk with Daan Elffers (CEO, EMG-CSR)

Leadership interview: CSR as a Business Strategy

In November 2013 Pi Slice was Silver Sponsor of CSR Saudi Arabia 2013, the prominent sustainability summit held in Jeddah. Founder and CEO of Pi Slice Genny Ghanimeh, presented her mission and vision for the organization and moderated a roundtable discussion on monetizing CSR. The inspiring post-conference workshop on integrating CSR into the business model was led by Drs Daan Elffers, founder and CEO of EMG CSR Consultancy (www.emg-csr.com).

Founded in the Netherlands in 2004, EMG is a leading international CSR and sustainability management consultancy that works with businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity through CSR. Today, EMG has consultants in Amsterdam, Belgrade, Cambridge, London and New York. The firm is the first sustainability consultancy to be a full member of the European Sustainable Investment Forum (EUROSIF).

Personally a passionate believer in the circular economy model, Drs Elffers has been a certified Cradle to Cradle consultant since 2008 and is also an advisor with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in California (USA). He was Chairman of the sustainability summit CSR Qatar 2013 held in Doha.

The following short interview with Drs Elffers was conducted by Genny Ghanimeh.

How do you regard Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and its role in business and society?

To me sustainability and corporate responsibility really mean abundance and reaching full potential. To do well by doing good – and to realise the stewardship role that comes with being successful.

Today we face a whole range of sustainability challenges. To name just a few, we have natural resource degradation, food security, material and water scarcity, social aspects… and obviously as these sustainability threats expand further, they can result in environments which become unstable, and as a result of that societies can become unstable.

I firmly believe that the organizations which can embrace their responsibilities and create solutions to these challenges will create true legacies, and be the global leaders of tomorrow.

So in essence it is all about creating a sustainability agenda that works hand in glove with the strategic objectives of the organization in a way that stimulates growth and success, not only for an individual organisation but also for the environment and society as a whole.

What is a ‘circular economy’ or ‘Cradle to Cradle’ model, and how is this a business opportunity?

circular-economy-model-emg-csr-consultancyInspired by nature, the circular economy model is a generic term for an industrial economy where materials flow in continuous cycles: either a biological cycle (via composting) or a technical cycle, where materials retain their high quality for the manufacturing of new (upgraded) products over and over again. Essentially eliminating the concept of waste, it’s the opposite of the linear process of ‘take, make, dispose’.

As finite resources become increasingly scarce, the price of new materials will have more and more effect on the business bottom line. Businesses that are able to innovate their processes to take back what they sell and keep their materials in closed loops are able to turn material scarcity into a significant competitive advantage. To put a figure to it, 2012 research by McKinsey estimated that the EU manufacturing sector alone could realize net materials cost savings worth up to 630 billion USD annually.

The essence of Cradle to Cradle is that product manufacturing can be a positive force for society, the economy, and the planet, and it encompasses standards far beyond ‘just’ the circular economy model with regard to water usage, social fairness, the protection of ecosystems and the maximum phase-out of toxic materials. The Cradle to Cradle Product Standard is administered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

What is your view on sustainability and CSR in the MENA region?

I strongly believe that the core principles and values that we would today use to describe CSR, such as honesty, transparency, and respect, are inherently the values at the core of the Arab traditions and cultures throughout the MENA. Furthermore, of course, reputation and trust are elements that are deeply woven into the culture of doing business in the region, which are also powerful outcomes of an effective CSR strategy. Businesses and other organizations in the MENA should therefore have a head start when it comes to integrating CSR into the corporate culture and DNA.

When organizations not only treat their customers, but also their partners, suppliers and employees with respect and care, these organizations are not only more effective as an operation, but will ultimately enhance their corporate reputation. It is becoming increasingly evident that companies with strong CSR credentials are thus able to compete more successfully in international markets, are able to more easily attract – and retain – skilled staff, who in turn will manage the company’s resources better – and ultimately produce better results. Not just financially, but also for society and for the environment (the so-called ‘triple bottom line’).

Integrating CSR into the business model is in my opinion without a doubt the biggest business opportunity of the century – and I believe the MENA region has all the potential to take the lead.

Taking action

EMG offers consulting services and a variety of training courses in the MENA relating to for example developing and implementing an effective sustainability mission and vision, strategizing CSR, engaging employees and other stakeholders, and sustainability reporting. For more information please email info@emg-csr.com.
For more information on CSR Saudi Arabia please visit www.iirme.com/csrsaudi

This article was first published by Pi-Slice on January 16, 2014