Sustainable business as a unique opportunity
In early 2023, the EU sent a clear signal to the business community by officially introducing the much-discussed Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). This directive requires large companies to report annually on their sustainability strategy and efforts. Some consider this an obligation, others a unique opportunity. Circet Group belongs to the latter group, making sustainability a strategic focal point for the future.
Interview with Patrick Block,
Chief Transformation Officer & ESG lead at Circet Benelux
Seizing the momentum
Sustainability is becoming a key focal point - wasn't it a priority before?
Patrick Block: "We have been working on Environmental, Social and Governance topics - ESG for short - for a long time. Think energy savings, a focus on training, charities, and ethical business practices. You don't have to be an eco-pioneer for that, it just shows sound business sense. Today, however, people expect more from us: more strategy, more structure, more communication."
What makes you feel the momentum is now there for sustainable business to break through?
Patrick Block: "All our stakeholders are giving clear signals. Regulators impose stricter requirements, investors look more closely at sustainability performance, business partners ask more often about our sustainability vision, customers request more and more data, and citizens prefer to be served by a sustainable organization. And these are just a few examples. It is also something that can be felt internally. Our employees want to see our organization having a positive impact."
In short, the business case is quickly made, is it?
Patrick Block: "It’s more than that. If you want to be relevant in 10 years time, you have to go with the flow. But therein also lies a risk. If you only see sustainability as an obligation or something extra, you will fall by the wayside in the long run. As a group, we are therefore adopting a clear strategy that has sustainability as its starting point. There was immediate consensus on that. Circet needs and wants to reinvent itself to do good for people and the planet."
Central vision, decentralized implementation
How does Circet intend to bring about a turnaround?
Patrick Block: "With a sustainability vision completely embedded in our strategy. Its mainstays are determined at group level by the ESG Management and ESG Committee, which includes Circet Group's CEO and CFO as well as various region and business line representatives. For Circet Benelux, for example, this is Tom Van der Aa, who monitors the IT impact of the whole group in addition to Benelux. We created special task forces that, based on input from various internal and external stakeholders, identified within which ESG domains Circet Group can make the most impact."
What role do regions, such as Circet Benelux, play in this story?
Patrick Block: “The lead role. The group sets certain targets, but how we achieve them is the responsibility of the regions. For example: each region must reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicle fleet by 42%, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. By the way, we submitted our emission targets to the renowned Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). But how we achieve them, is entirely up to us. Each region has plenty of freedom to put its accents. Because Circet Spain is not Circet Benelux."
How does Circet Benelux determine the implementation of the group strategy, including its additional accents?
Patrick Block: “One of the things we did was engage in a process with Voka in 2023, which will hopefully lead to the UN SDG Pioneer label. We looked for action points that are close to our core business on the one hand and have a high potential impact but are achievable on the other. Some of our previously launched actions already fit this description well, and we complemented them with new initiatives. Bottom line, we created 16 action points for the next period. Ten of them have a major or significant impact, and all of them are being put to practice in the meantime."
The action plan focuses mainly on environment. Are Social and Governance getting enough attention?
Patrick Block: "Certainly - as a people-oriented organization, we do a lot for our teams anyway. For example, we are certified for the VCA** safety program, we highly value diversity and inclusion, and our Circet Academy has been bearing fruit for years. After all, our employees are the strength of Circet Benelux. Everything hinges on them. This is nothing new. We do continuously launch additional initiatives. To illustrate, we offer both our toolings and some internal training courses in different languages to make them more accessible. Another example: we reorganized our buddy system to get newcomers up to speed faster, we focus on burn-out prevention and provide coaching for healthy leadership. It is precisely the clear focus on the S of Social that sets us apart in the market."
"Regarding the Governance part, we are focusing on 'compliance', so that we are sure to comply with the increasingly stringent regulations, for ourselves but also our partners. There is also a lot of focus on our values, transparency, and a code of conduct for everyone in our network."
"It’s a good start, but there is still a lot of work to be done in all these areas. Step by step, we are turning into the best possible version of Circet."
All noses pointing in the same direction
What can we expect in the next few months?
Patrick Block: “We are currently fine-tuning our targets and KPIs. Once these are in place, we will shift up a gear and go towards cruising speed with our action plan. It goes to show that sustainability is gradually becoming an integral part of Circet Benelux. It’s Business as usual, so to speak. We are readier than ever to meet societal challenges. We want to and will do better."
Looking at these ambitions, what is your biggest challenge?
Patrick Block: “We make no secret of the fact that we, too, are still searching to some extent. Moving from non-committal initiatives to a structural and integrated ESG policy does not happen overnight. But the first hurdles have been taken. The biggest challenge is that you can only do so much. Look at our emissions. A large part is to be found in our chain. To ensure maximum impact, all noses need to be pointing in the same direction - with everyone involved in Circet Benelux from far or near. We are prepared to lead the dance."