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CSR is no longer a challenge, but an increasingly important reality for companies and, more generally, any kind of organisation, whether NGOs or multinationals.
Training the next generation of managers must involve teaching the students the skills they will need to act responsibly. Jean-Claude Lopez, research professor and company director, explains how this is done on the CESEM CSR course.

Why would a Business School make such a course available?

JCLopez2It is essential. Responsibility has always been a question of engagement, but today it has become a strategy.
When you are destined to hold the highest positions in a company, CSR is essential, in both human and business terms, because it is a key factor of success. There needs to be a correlation between the company and the environment by considering all the stakeholders and weighing up all the potential impacts as clearly as possible. This applies as much to car manufacturing as vegetable growing…

What are the main features of the course?

One of the main features of this course is that we view the issues from a 360° perspective: governance, environment, stakeholders, impacts, etc.
The course is designed to help students develop sustainable and responsible CSR thinking. To do this, we provide resources such as ISO 26000 and the "Virtue matrix" through which they develop their analytical skills, particularly with regard to impact transfer.
If we take the example of the electric car, on first sight, it suggests green mobility. But suppose I'm a German citizen. My car is therefore run on coal when being used. Once the battery is no longer efficient, how can it be replaced? And what about the design phase in terms of economies or resource management? When viewed from this perspective, is the life-cycle analysis really an improvement on a small petrol car?

It is crucial that students view all situations in this way. Just because we think we are doing something good for the environment does not necessarily mean it is justified. Taking coherent CSR action is extremely complicated.
As professors, there is no need to take an ecological stance, but we pass on to the students the ability to advise the companies they are going to join, based on objective rather than subjective criteria and reflection. We teach them to view CSR analytically.

How do the students react to such a teaching approach?

Students attend the course because the issues dealt with are central to the current debate and because in today's world they need conceptual means to take action. They are well aware that this knowledge will be useful to them throughout their careers.
When you really get to the heart of the issue, things become slightly more complex. In effect, the students are often taught to go against their common sense. We all have a hummingbird mentality we need to overcome.

How do you assess the students' level of awareness and understanding?

Many of them already have a certain amount of knowledge. This is an advantage because the level of the course is relatively high.
Over the last 4 years, a turning point has clearly been reached. Before, they wanted to follow the course to have an understanding of CSR in a professional context. Today, the students attend this course more with a desire to follow a career in CSR. Some of them have come to a point where they are questioning how they can continue to lead ethical lives because it is important for them to feel proud about what they will be doing in the future. Many of them are thinking hard about this and it doesn't all come down to money.

In your opinion, what role should Business Schools be playing in the development of a new sustainable economy?

Business schools have a huge role to play because it is a question of rethinking sustainability: in terms of greater product sustainability and employee relations. These two aspects are closely intertwined, in fact.

Today, companies have considerable weapons at their disposal to connect with their customers, such as marketing. But the dimension of respect for the environment is becoming extremely strategic. When we look at how nomadic careers are developing today, it is clear that values and CSR questions are a key factor when it comes to choosing a company. For the young students we are training, this really is their main concern. With courses like the ones we provide, the students can analyse the authenticity of their employees' engagement in the field. Those companies that go beyond mere regulatory compliance, and even cross some kind of militant frontier, gain a strategic advantage.
The course also addresses the problem of green washing. We also discuss issues of transparency, the dangers of lying or leaving out certain aspects of your economic activity or how one individual's actions can lead to penalties for everyone.