Friday

10th Apr 2020

Feature

'Not climate-friendly? We won't work for your company'

  • French students wrote a manifesto to pressure companies to become more climate-friendly (Photo: Koert Debeuf)

I meet them in a coffee bar in Brussels. Five students from the so-called 'grandes écoles', the French elite institutions for higher education.

They have started a remarkable initiative to push companies to become more climate-friendly.

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In September 2018 they wrote a manifesto for climate awakening in which they commit to use their power as future employees to change the companies that will want to hire them.

"We have two goals," Inès Malot, a student engineering at Mines ParisTech, says. "Changing the way our economy works and changing the courses at our schools."

"It is unacceptable to see how ecology and climate change are not part of our curriculum. This needs to change if we want to be prepared for the future," she continues.

More revolutionary, however, is how these students want to use their power as much wanted employees.

"We know that the big and small French companies need us", Benoît Galand, another student engineering at the Ecole Polytechnique explains.

"We ask them to answer our questions about their ecological footprint. If their answers are not convincing, I am not going to work for them."

That's also what A Wake Up Call On The Environment. A Student Manifesto says:

"We want to take advantage of our power as students by turning to employers that abide by the demands set out in this manifesto. We affirm that it is possible to live decently without drowning into either overconsumption or utter destitution; that the economic system must be aware of its dependence on environment in order to be sustainable; and that solving environmental issues is key to reducing inequalities and conflict risks."

Over the past 15 months, more than 32,000 students or recent graduates have signed the manifesto, mostly - but not only - in France.

"The initiative has spread to other countries, like Sweden, Italy, Spain or Germany", says Marion Artaud who studies business at the HEC business school in Paris, "and it is also starting in many other universities around Europe."

Companies under pressure

The initiators of the manifesto sent a questionnaire to 100 large companies. With their questions they want to determine how climate-friendly these companies are.

Almost half of the companies have already responded, among which BNP Paribas, Carrefour, Groupe Rocher, Total, Renault and Suez. These responses can be found on the website.

"We noticed that the companies who responded are doing their best to be seen as very ecological," Halgand says, "but what they do is mostly scratching the surface".

"Although it is good that companies support biking to work, much more is needed. What we want is fundamental change," he added.

On the question if these companies are then blacklisted for all signatories of the manifesto, he answers negatively.

"It is the individual choice of each student for which company she or he wants to work", Halgand stresses. "What we offer is information and a strategy for each student to push his future employer", he says.

Therefore, they offer on their site also a long list of questions that each future employee can ask his or her future employer during their job interview.

One of the exampled questions is: "Are you preparing changes in your sector in the middle or long term – let's say 10 years – because of the environmental problems?"

Another question is: "Is there a reflection in your company on the circular economy and the eco-concept in order to respond to the reduction of resources?"

The students around the table in Brussels are aware that these are tough questions, but they are convinced that they have the leverage to change these companies.

"There is a war on talent going on," Youssef Salib, another engineering student at the Polytechnique in Paris says.

"If we refuse to work for climate-unfriendly companies, they have a problem. That is the force of this initiative."

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