"Betting on sustainable development means planning for the long term" - Trends-Tendances sur PC

“Betting on sustainable development means planning for the long term” – Trends-Tendances sur PC

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Experimentation with hybrid work, pursuit of climate neutrality, attention to diversity and inclusion, dual sourcing: Axel Smits is at the forefront of witnessing the conversion of companies into more sustainable entities.

We are the day after the official opening of the new headquarters of PwC Belgium, in Diegem. The consulting firm employs 2,400 people in Belgium. In the corridors, Axel Smits greets the many young employees who have already settled into their new offices, with their comfortable and warm furnishings. Located near Zaventem airport, the building, whose lighting sometimes conveys messages, does not go unnoticed when it is dark. “On World Environment Day, the whole building was lit green and in June, during LGBTQ Pride Month, it was displayed in the colors of the rainbow” , smiles Axel Smits. It is no coincidence that the man refers to these examples. PwC has been collaborating since this year with MolenGeek, a technological ecosystem that trains disadvantaged young people from immigrant backgrounds in IT; he is also involved in The Belgian Alliance for Climate Action and partner of the first edition of the Trends Impact Awards. With its green terraces, ecological materials and numerous charging stations, the energy-neutral and human-centric building underlines PwC’s commitment to sustainability. “We are reducing our emissions,” continues Axel Smits. millions of sheets of paper that we printed a few years ago in Belgium are reduced to almost nothing.Finally, we have the firm intention of identifying between now and 2030 between 30 and 40% of female partners and partners from other horizons.”

We are the day after the official opening of the new headquarters of PwC Belgium, in Diegem. The consulting firm employs 2,400 people in Belgium. In the corridors, Axel Smits greets the many young employees who have already settled into their new offices, with their comfortable and warm furnishings. Located near Zaventem airport, the building, whose lighting sometimes conveys messages, does not go unnoticed when it is dark. “On World Environment Day, the whole building was lit green and in June, during LGBTQ Pride Month, it was displayed in the colors of the rainbow” , smiles Axel Smits. It is no coincidence that the man refers to these examples. PwC has been collaborating since this year with MolenGeek, a technological ecosystem that trains disadvantaged young people from immigrant backgrounds in IT; he is also involved in The Belgian Alliance for Climate Action and partner of the first edition of the Trends Impact Awards. With its green terraces, ecological materials and numerous charging stations, the energy-neutral and human-centric building underlines PwC’s commitment to sustainability. “We are reducing our emissions,” continues Axel Smits. millions of sheets of paper that we printed a few years ago in Belgium are reduced to almost nothing.Finally, we have the firm intention of identifying between now and 2030 between 30 and 40% of female partners and partners from other horizons.” TRENDS-TRENDS. Personally, what motivates you to invest sustainably? AXEL SMITS. I listen a lot to what young people say. I myself have two young sons. I find it marvelous that they encourage us to improve the world even if I think that they are not always constant and that their quest is not – any more than ours – accomplished. There is no ready-made solution. It is essential to take initiatives without imagining that all the problems will be solved tomorrow. But it’s obvious that if we don’t do something, soon we’ll all be asking Elon Musk to take us to Mars. Registration for this first edition of the Trends Impact Awards closes on July 7. From there, PwC consultants will examine the socially responsible character of the organizations selected. How are they going to do it? Within the six categories in the running, we will look for innovative and creative organizations, and those whose process will be the most advanced. I’m talking in terms of spin-offs: we can obviously have developed something extremely creative but which has no or barely any effects on the company or outside of it. We will also have to be extremely attentive to companies that perform well in one area but do poorly in another. There are companies that are very well rated in terms of sustainability and yet harmful to the environment: nothing, of course, will justify retaining them. It is difficult to ask companies in the transition phase to be 100% sustainable from the outset. Where do you place the limit? When is an action no longer considered “greenwashing”? This is a difficult question. Let me give you an example… Last year, we defined a policy applicable to our 2,000 vehicles. As we want to be climate neutral by 2030, we are only going to opt for electric cars and reduce our emissions by 20% each year. This is good, but not yet sufficient in our eyes since it means that until then, we will continue to emit greenhouse gases. We pay to offset emissions from cars and planes, which is gradually becoming a form of greenwashing. Some members of staff are wondering why we don’t go electric right away, but unfortunately our power plant doesn’t allow us to do so yet. The site has 700 parking spaces but only 200 terminals can currently be installed. So companies have to do something but be aware that they can’t become fully sustainable overnight, right? I find it especially important to set realistic goals. The entity which has defined how it intends to become climate neutral and which, in the meantime, buys back its emissions does not pose a problem for me because it is a transitional measure. Quite different is the one who continues to use polluting cars and whose production generates intense emissions but who takes pride in paying for reforestation. I strongly believe in the time factor. I am convinced that we must study the spinoffs we have today, those we want to have tomorrow, and the plan, articulated around its various stages, drawn up to achieve this. What questions do your customers ask you about sustainability? As soon as we broach the subject a little, the questions start flowing. I am a tax specialist. Previously, certain groups optimized their taxation to such an extent that one had the feeling that their economic and fiscal realities did not evolve in parallel. Today, the multinational which only employs five people in Ireland but declares 90% of its profits there must have solid arguments to put forward. The solution consists in starting from the economic reality and seeing where the added value is located: at the level of production, sales, intellectual property… When we proceed in this way, taxation really derives from reality. economic. Where are the businesses? They are shortening their supply chains and regionalizing for both sustainability and health reasons. The supply is dual: the production remains in China but we make sure to have a local source as well. In addition, everything related to diversity and inclusion is on the rise. In question, in particular: the war of talents. In either case, we see that the quest for sustainability is combined with another trigger (covid for supply chains, the talent war for diversity). Many sustainability movements pick up speed when a second motivator kicks in, which is necessary if we want behavior to change. The energy transition, to which the explosion in energy prices contributes, is a third example in this sense. In the age of hybrid working, how do organizations sustainably manage their people? How does PwC do it? We are still at the experimental stage. I don’t think any company already has a 100% sustainable way to shape hybrid working. We assume that employees can work from where they want, when they want and how they want. We also try to allow people to work from abroad briefly, for example just before or just after their holiday. That said, we too often think of teleworking as a miracle solution. However, excessive use of this method loses ties with the company and prevents proper supervision of young recruits. Let’s also not forget that it is not easy for everyone to work from home. Do you train your young employees today differently than yesterday? Quality of life has become very important. We are used to training our staff in technical areas, in team management, in the constitution of client portfolios, in short, all these very traditional topics. However, we now also need to teach them to flourish, to ensure that they are physically and mentally able to cope with upheavals. Not exercising enough and being satisfied with swallowing pizzas in front of your computer is not a viable way to function. We have developed, with the collaboration of Energy Lab and Better Minds at Work, a program in 100 days, practicable by all staff. It deals with physical inactivity, food, sleep, breathing, mental resilience. For me, betting on socially responsible development means looking and planning for the long term. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. We see ourselves as a business school, whose task is to enable individuals to understand the world around them by having more assets. Teaching people to cope with change also makes better consultants. The main aspect that our customers face is change. And that is too often underestimated.

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