Bridging the gap: How Capgemini’s new CSR head has gained valuable insight into boardroom buy-in

EXCLUSIVE: Global IT consultancy Capgemini has appointed its former chief financial officer, Christine Hodgson, as its head of group corporate social responsibility. edie took the opportunity to sit down with the new promotee to discuss the key challenge of securing funding for sustainability projects.

Hodgson was appointed head of CSR for Capgemini in March, becoming a member of the group executive committee charged with leading the vision and direction of the company to achieve its overall ambitions.

The move formed part of an executive shake-up at Capgemini which also saw new global heads announced for the consumer products and distribution, strategic business and digital services departments.

Having worked at Capgemini for 19 years, Hodgson has developed an aptitude for integrating practices across the company. Her Capgemini career started as a finance director – she is a chartered accountant by background – and she later took up various roles across the business ranging from chief executive for technology services in North West Europe through to the chief financial officer of Capgemini UK and its global outsourcing division, which represents around 40% of the group.

With additional job roles as a non-executive director of banking services firm Standard Chartered and a board member of both the Tech Partnership and the Professional Business Services Council, it is clear that Hodgson’s finance-orientated career has captured wider business interests over time.

As Hodgson developed at Capgemini, so did her understanding of sustainability – and the economic benefits that it can bring.

“CSR is not a discretionary activity, it is a business imperative,” Hodgson tells edie. “It is critical that people understand this, not only from a leadership point of view within their own team, but also with conversations with partners, clients and suppliers.

“When you look at sustainability topics, sitting around the CSR table, you talk about things that are essential for a thriving business.”

Decade of disruption

Capgemini, which employs more than 180,000 people across more than 40 countries, created its CSR board around a decade ago. In a similar timeframe, the company has reduced carbon emissions by 21%, and an ambitious new science-based target was set in December 2016 which outlines a plan to reduce carbon emissions per employee by 40% by 2030. Capgemini is the first IT services and consulting company in the UK to have science-based goals approved.

The company embedded its original sustainability targets into a contract it penned with the Environment Agency. The firm was chosen to provide the partial outsourcing of IT services under a seven-year IT service contract in 2009, claimed to be the greenest in the government.

“That contract was a real milestone” Hodgson notes. “We put our own environmental targets in as a condition of the contract. We were so serious about the targets that, not only did we put them on a wall, we put them in a contract. We started to get everyone to think about their own footprint, and we started to think of carbon as well as cost, and the carbon budget as well as the pound budget.”

More recently, the company achieved a global ISO 14001 certificate for its Environmental Management Systems in eight countries; India, the US, Canada, the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Finland. This includes the Merlin data centre in Swindon, which delivers power savings of 91% compared to the industry average and uses a fresh air cooling system that delivers 80% savings to run costs and produces up to 50% less carbon emissions.

Hodgson has been heavily involved with the ongoing decarbonisation programme at Capgemini, to the point where she feels that the business case for sustainability has evolved from showcasing the financial opportunities of a project to horizon-scanning as a means to ensure that the company doesn’t just survive in the low-carbon economy, it thrives.

“Of course, you have to bring the business case for any project,” she adds. “You need the environmental piece, but you also have to show why it’s good for the business and show the cost savings. For energy, those projects are generally straight-forward for the business case and the financial impact is usually pretty clear.

“Sustainability has two aspects: one is that environmental piece, with firm targets and huge business benefits; but the aspect that fascinates me at the moment is, what does the future workforce look like? Automation is taking an ever-increasing role in what we do with our clients. We have to be forward-looking, to train our people and make sure to stay relevant for the future.”

Beyond business

As a former chief financial officer, Hodgson has helped to strengthen the ties between the sustainability team and and the boardroom. In June 2015, Capgemini completed the installation of solar photovoltaics on the roof of its Aston office. The panels have already saved more than £5,700 in electricity costs, highlighting Hodgson’s point that energy projects do have a relatively straightforward business case, but that case must be made compelling.

Getting approval for concepts such as science based targets is, however, a bit more difficult. Hodgson explained that the targets had created a “story of transparency and authenticity” which proves how serious Capgemini takes it’s CSR strategy.

The three core pillars of Capgemini’s corporate strategy focus on the environment, the community and ‘people culture‘. Hodgson stresses the importance of social sustainability for the company. Bringing in a diverse workforce opens up a new dialogue and new ways to translate sustainability to companies or individuals that are yet to be persuaded by it, she says.

“We would not win business if we put forward teams that all look, sound and think the same. If we ignored diversity, we would cut ourselves off from a massive source of talent. Our main aspect is people. In everything we do, it is essential that we have a diversity of perspectives and talents that can translate different messages, in different ways, to different clients.”

The community aspect of Capgemini’s CSR is equally tailored towards sustainability. As technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) continue to gain a foothold across sectors, companies need to be able arm new staff and generation with digital skills, which is what Capgemini does with its training schemes.

Strengthening business ties to academia is key if this vision is to become reality. Hodgson has spent the past 20 years on the board of Business in the Community (BITC) and was hand-picked by former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to chair Careers and Enterprise, a Government-backed initiative to connect businesses and schools in a way that is “more impactful” – to date, around half of England’s secondary schools are working with the the scheme.

But as this new workforce enters the sustainability sector, their ability to interact with boards and other areas of the company will be critical. Hodgson, who has had to both present and listen to the business case for sustainability projects, suggests that appealing to the interests of the chief executive in a focused manner is ultimately key to “opening the eyes” of the boardroom.

“People will always want to do their own pet projects, and you can end up with a set of dispersed initiatives,” she adds. “My confidence in a project is based on the fact that it is focused and impactful. When it isn’t consistent with our overarching aims it’s unlikely to gain traction.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t be any less ambitious, but it’s important that we try to get an overarching theme, otherwise it becomes chaotic.

“Ultimately, I would try and open the eyes of the chief executive. If you ask them to take it seriously, they might not listen, but if you show them how serious it is they can begin to set the right tone. If you can’t get anywhere, drag the chief executive out and introduce them to thought-leaders.”

Matt Mace

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