Vietnamese version published in Forbes Vietnam, July 2021 –
By Felicitas Huong Friedrich, CSR & IC Manager Schneider Electric –
A couple of years back I was in Jakarta, anxious to meet my new colleagues, whom I have never met before. They all seemed very nice and enthusiastic but over dinner, I was finding myself trying to keep up with the conversation. This was not a language barrier. A whole new world of strategic sustainability efforts opened to me while listening to my colleagues from Schneider Electric.
In my role as CSR Delegate of the Schneider Electric Foundation I am localizing global programs or create local ones. All of them have a strong community building aspect through empowerment and education. I realized fast that I am not doing only “nice to have” CSR activities for marketing purposes but that these activities were embedded into a holistic corporate sustainability strategy. This covers everything from Schneiders mission, people values to the core of their business and the incentives to employees. The Sustainability Impact (SSI) report details the progress Schneider makes towards every commitment.
SDGs – a global blueprint for businesses
Sustainability seeks to demonstrate that there is a way for society to progress and prosper in harmony with the planet. One way to find guidance on how we can bridge progress and sustainability is to place importance on reaching the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by implementing them into the sustainability strategy. In the last years more and more companies, organizations as well as the government in Vietnam are aligning their development along the SDGs to ensure that no one is left behind.
Schneider is contributing to the SDGs by its core business including it six commitments:
- Act for a climate positive world by continuously investing in and developing innovative solutions that deliver immediate and lasting decarbonization.
- Be efficient with resources by behaving responsibly and making the most of digital technology to preserve our planet.
- Live up to the Principles of Trust by upholding ourselves and all around us to high social, governance and ethical standards.
- Create equal opportunities by ensuring all employees are uniquely valued and work in an inclusive environment to develop and contribute their best.
- Harness the power of all generations by fostering learning, upskilling and development for each generation, paving the way for the next.
- Empower local communities by promoting local initiatives and enabling individuals and partners to make sustainability a reality for all.
Each commitment has clear long -term and short- term targets. My work focuses especially on implementing programs under the commitment of “generations” and “local communities”.
Making sustainability a reality for all requires a holistic approach and concrete goals
I realize that here and elsewhere different concepts like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Creating Shared Value (CSV), and Environment & Social Governance (ESG) were used interchangeably and brought a lot of confusion. Until today these guiding principles create heated discussions even among experts. Practices and definitions vary and at the end they are interrelated and overlapping. As social expectations of corporate behaviour changed, concepts continue to evolve.
CSR refers in general to a company’s responsibility for its impact on society including social, environmental, and economic aspects. CSR practices are not mandatory and usually include volunteering, awareness days and charity events. ESG policies are criteria to measure an organizations impact. While CSR aims to make a business accountable, ESG criteria make its efforts measurable.
In the past few years, I have seen the importance of Creating Shared Value not just for our partner beneficiaries but for the organization as well. CSV allows us to have a more cyclical approach in supporting each other in the needs we see in the communities. For me, Schneider’s Access to Energy program (A2E) is a clear manifestation of how this concept is being applied. The A2E program aims at achieving universal energy access through training, innovative solutions, and impact investment. All activities are based on our core business and are woven into our sustainability story. I find pride that my organization is a part of this movement, like many other businesses, by creating shared value for all. Now, while CSV is a business concept, I think other groups would find merit in applying this same principle in their own sustainability practice.
All these concepts are a great way to start and needed to build on them and then evolve further. But, implementing these principles doesn’t mean that businesses have a sustainable strategy in place, which in my opinion is crucial to survive in the long run.
Great examples of sustainable local and international businesses in Vietnam are Marou Chocolate, Les Verges du Mekong, Heineken, and many more who prove that a sustainable strategy leads to success and that it just makes the most business sense. For numerous businesses, unfortunately, CSR practices never become more than a “nice to have”, which I see as a missed opportunity for a more long-term show of commitment.
I feel that that Vietnamese people are very generous and always eager to help. Charity seems to be an integral part of the culture. This tradition mostly results in short-term giving, like donations, without looking at the root of the problem. I see great potential but as well a challenge to channel this positive- giving- energy into a more sustainable approach. At Schneider we raise awareness that teaching “how to fish” is the way forward to empower people but as well we walk the talk by how we run our community programs.
Access to Energy and digital is a basic human right
My job allows me to travel and I believe that traveling is the best teacher. We get to see how communities get by and more than anything, it allows us to be reminded not to take basics like electricity, sanitation, housing, clean water, education etc., for granted.
Under our A2E Program we open training programs for electricity and automation in schools of different sizes and seeing students heavily engaged in the electrical trade gives me pride that I could really change things for the better as these programs invest in education and skills building. So far through our A2E program, we have trained since 2009, 287,601 students and 5,243 trainers, globally. 5,137 students and 397 trainers alone in Vietnam. By 2025 we aim to train 1 million students, 10.000 teachers, and entrepreneurs worldwide.
Apart from vocational training activities, low-cost solar solutions to off-grid communities and impact investment in energy start- ups are as well part of the A2E program. Every year we distribute Mobiya Solar lamps across the region to communities in need. I remember the first time I held a Mobiya lamp. It looked like a typical flashlight, but little did I know that the little thing I held in my hand, held the power to keep livelihoods afloat. I saw first-hand how this lamp allowed young children to study and women to earn livelihoods in their remote tribal communities in Sapa or An Giang and Ca Mau.
With this program we create social, environmental, and economic shared value for all. This is a strategic move to ensure that local economies would power through and I am happy to see that we are not the only one doing this.
Partners in crime
By meeting many local and international business communities I learned how other organizations did their bit to build resilient communities. The sustainability movement in Vietnam seems to me more advanced compared to some of our neighbouring countries not only in how businesses are taking responsibility but as well the commitments of other stakeholders.
There are numerous organizations and sustainability advocates that have left their mark in the world of development and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with them closely and to learn from them, as we try to hit our sustainability ambitions. Some of the people leading our partner organizations have been recognized even at a global stage, like Green ID Executive Director Nguyen Thi Khanh, who was named in 2019 by apolitical as one of the 100 world’s most influential climate activists.
Sustainability Advisory like Ameln & Co is shaping greatly the sustainability landscape in Vietnam through their focus on impact and partnerships. ASSIST, the LIN center and IECD are examples of organization that have a great influence on the community development and there are many more.
From the business side the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD) and the foreign chambers of commerce and their sustainable committees (French Chamber of Commerce/Green Growth Sector of Eurocham) are proof that businesses have understood the need for sustainable development. They engage in advocacy through awareness raising, exchanging best practises and interact and advise local government policy.
A great source of information regarding the sustainability landscape in Vietnam is Sustainablevietnam.com, a gathering point for those looking to know and be inspired by sustainability, partnerships, and impact.
Looking back at the past 1,5 years I can see the world in crisis but as well that we are cooperating against a global threat. Covid-19 has shown clearly that we are interconnected, sustainability is on the rise and it is imperative that we must act now if we want to create a better future. I believe that:
- The path forward must include greater care for the integrity of ecosystems.
- We need to take learnings from the pandemic so that we can address larger challenges like climate change.
- The monumental coordinated effort is proof that things can be changed in a short time.
Thanks to its continuous efforts Schneider Electric was announced in 2021, during the annual ranking of Corporate Knights 100 Index, as the most sustainable company in the world. We are not only having a clear sustainable strategy in place but we help as well others on their sustainability journey.
I believe that this success wouldn’t be possible without:
- A broad and trust-based partnership among all stakeholders. As we not only look inwards but as well outwards, we invest in partnerships which can only work if they are based on a mutual vison, respect and understanding.
- A holistic approach of our sustainability strategy which enables us to drive our actions, not just through ourselves and our partners, but also for our customers and our local communities.
Surely this achievement is something to be proud of, but this is as well an immense opportunity and a crucial responsibility.
My mother constantly in so many words and actions reminded me to be proud of my heritage and to see the importance of giving back when we can, where we can, and to whom we can. Being a sustainability advocate allows me to live up to my mother’s legacy for me and the future.
I have come a long way with Schneider Electric since that first dinner with my colleagues in Jakarta. I remain optimistic that the world can indeed be a better place, as long as we are united in protecting our world for future generations.
To read more from Forbes Vietnam’s July Issue, go to –
A Chat with Forbes Vietnam:
- CHRISTINA AMELN ON THE TRANSITION TO STRATEGIC SUSTAINABILITY
- GIANG TRAN ON CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE TRANSFORMATION
All views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the individual authors and comments on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual contributor.