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As part of the series of Humanities conferences, initiated by Michel-Edouard Leclerc, President of NEOMA Business School, the students are invited to attend a series of lectures by leading personalities. The aim of these conferences is for students to discuss the major social issues with experts to help them understand their future responsibilities. The latest guest speaker is Jean-François Julliard, Executive Director of the NGO, Greenpeace France.

The auditorium on the Rouen campus is packed with students and High School pupils involved in the "Cordées de la Réussite" equal opportunity project, all eager to listen to the evening's lecture..
"NEOMA wishes to go one step further concerning the questions we are all asking ourselves and faced with the awakening of the collective conscience, we strongly encourage the call for action," declares Delphine Manceau, Dean, NEOMA BS, in her introduction before leaving the stage to Jean-François Julliard.

I always wanted a job that was useful and engaging

The Executive Director of Greenpeace France begins by talking about his career and how his engagement started. "I have always wanted to do a job that was useful and I felt committed to," he says. A native of Bordeaux and a scuba-diving enthusiast, even as a youngster he understood that the oceans were suffering.
After studying cinema and journalism, he joined Reporters Without Borders as a conscientious objector before joining Greenpeace.

The Head of the NGO then spoke about how the association is run. "Our actions are based on a set of very strong values. We enjoy total political and financial independence because we are funded 100% by private donations. This gives us incredible strength, but to be in a position to pursue our commitment also requires a lot of work in terms of fundraising." Jean-François Julliard also stresses the importance of Greenpeace's policy of non-violence.

Reconciling ecological transition and social action

conf greenpeace jfjToday, Greenpeace France focuses its actions on priority areas such as the protection of the oceans, the fight against deforestation and the promotion of new agricultural and food models. "However, our top priority is the creation of a world that is free of fossil fuels," says Jean-François Julliard. "To do this, Greenpeace is trying to be an organisation that combines social and ecological dimensions." As such, the NGO does not implement measures that would favour one dimension and disadvantage the other. "This has brought us to establish unprecedented alliances with other ecological associations and also with trade unions," explains the Executive Director

"Greenpeace is a political but non-partisan organisation"

When asked about Greenpeace's positioning vis-à-vis political and economic spheres, Jean-François Julliard's response is totally unambiguous.
"Greenpeace is a non-partisan organisation. We do not have any political allegiance and we do not tell people how to vote. Greenpeace, on the other hand, is a highly political organisation,” he states.

"Citizens cannot solve the problem of climate change on their own. Such issues are resolved politically, and it is our duty to engage the government in dialogue. We are working alongside the government to provide genuine support to the ecological cause. We have an advisory role and we give our opinion on legislative proposals when consulted."
When asked about Greenpeace France's position towards business, the association's Executive Director explains the position of an NGO: "We cannot position ourselves as a business consulting agency. It is up to the company to choose their own consulting firm. There are many out there and some are very good."

An optimism for action that brings about solutions

The NGO calls for systemic change. "We all need to change our lifestyles, ecological models and consumer habits. I understand that this can be a cause for concern," concedes Jean-François Julliard.

conf greenpeace table
"In a period where feelings of eco-anxiety and ideas of collapsology are on the rise, we try to allow ourselves be guided by a form of optimism. Not particularly concerning the current situation, but rather concerning the potential of our action, without beatitude or naivety. We remain lucid: our ecosystems have faced so much danger. But there is still time to take action to combat climate change and mass extinctions. The 1.5 degree bar will be difficult to maintain, but every one tenth of a degree gained changes EVERYTHING."

Such a viewpoint requires the association to adopt a sense of responsibility in its discourse that goes beyond making mere accusations. "Of course we will continue to denounce! "exclaims Jean-François Julliard, "But, first and foremost, we put forward solutions!"

Practical advice for the students

The audience was also looking to the Greenpeace Director for some advice. "It's difficult to give you any advice," says Jean-François Julliard. "Your generation is certainly the most aware when it comes to climate issues, and is certainly the one that will try to change the system from within. You are going to join companies that will have to work differently. You will have to invent new ways. You're going to have to deal with conflicting demands that you will have to deal with fearlessly."

Nonetheless, the Greenpeace France Executive Director did offer some suggestions on how to reduce carbon footprints individually. "As students, it is worthwhile questioning your own choice of bank and energy supplier. You should also be vigilant when it comes to choosing your means of transport and clothing. Then, if you want to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, consider how much meat you eat! Beyond the cause for animal welfare, becoming vegetarian has a truly positive impact on the environment. Deciding to act is a simple question of desire and motivation," he declares.
"Personally, I also took part in an experience that I would recommend to everyone: the 'Nothing New' challenge, which involves not buying anything new for a year. It's a very interesting exercise that raises the question of our consumer habits and forces us to look for alternatives".

conf greenpeace question
The exchange between the students and Jean-François Julliard continued and provided an opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics. Many of the questions asked pointed to the extreme difficulty of carrying out ecological actions, which very often requires dealing with conflicting demands.