“CSR and sustainability initiatives are not only reserved for large companies. They also create great development opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses, as long as their approach is based on true values and structured. We are very proud and happy to have received the EcoVadis Gold Medal."
More than 7,000 companies have opted for independent sustainability ratings in France alone. As much as 88% of these are small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) and 16% are very small enterprises.
One of them, Gestion Credit Expert (GCE), an EcoVadis gold medal recipient in 2019 for its sustainability performance with an overall score of 72/100 has shared its story.
Dealing with late and outstanding payments is tough for any company, and especially for an SME. Unpaid dues can be blamed for 13,000 business bankruptcies and the loss of 43,000 jobs in 2019. And this is the niche that GCE occupies. Created in 1970, the company defines itself as an “economic facilitator who helps companies of all sizes and sectors increase cash flows and reduce credit risk. It does so through a three-pronged approach:
- Advisory and training services focused on operational credit management, i.e., order-to-cash process and working capital optimization;
- Third-party debt collection -- from individuals and businesses in France and around the world;
- Tailor-made financial investigations helping clients assess their trade credit risk before they deliver any goods or services to new customers.
GCE has 52 employees across three locations in France as well as an international network of 300 partners, including lawyers, bailiffs, mediators, detectives and debt collection experts, who help reach debtors in other countries.
A Strong Management Duo
Geraldine Brehon, Quality management
and Mélanie Leonetti, Head of Communication and Marketing
GCE based its sustainability/CSR policy management on the ISO9001 quality management system. At GCE, sustainability issues are managed jointly by the Marketing Communications and CSR as well as Quality Insurance departments. Structured Quality and sustainability policies form a winning duo that help the company adapt to any market changes. Internally, CSR and Quality contribute to the continuous improvement process, with the contribution of every and each employee, for whom “contribution to CSR policy implementation” is one of the criteria of their annual evaluation”, just as any other hard or soft skills assessment.
GCE’s sustainability/CSR policy was originally put together in 2016 following a request from one of the customers in the finance industry, who wanted to make sure GCE’s practices were in line with their own responsible purchasing policy.
Three questions to Mélanie Léonetti, Marketing, Communication and CSR Manager at GESTION CREDIT EXPERT (GCE)
Can you tell us about your initial reaction to your first invitation for an EcoVadis rating? And how did you feel about having to pay for it?
We immediately saw it as a great opportunity to assert our foundations and make the most of our non-financial data with all of our stakeholders. Our CSR approach is voluntary in the development of our activities, and this has been the case right from the start of the company in 1970.
We defined our vision and mission before the PACTE Law (Loi PACTE) came in, which urges French companies to take into consideration social and environmental issues. And this vision and mission guides our daily decisions, actions and relationships. Our sustainability/CSR policy is deployed alongside our quality management systems, which means that our company’s strategy and operating model are planned in a holistic way, which involves the organization, management system, product/solution offer, our relationship with stakeholders as well as our social and societal impact.
Together, our mission, vision, values and ambition constitute the true foundations of our group and help us stay on track. Our CSR and quality policies are what binedes these foundations together.
So, in fact, the EcoVadis invitation was very timely.
Having had CSR/sustainability practices in place for a number of years, it was time to get them evaluated. The question was should we do it through a self-assessment or ask an external organization to do it for us?
Our customer’s suggestion to go for an EcoVadis rating was very pertinent. We felt it was best to be rated by an independent third party, who could adapt its approach to our sector, size, location -- and one whose values are close to ours. Yes, CSR requires time and money, but we see it as a real investment that enables us to strengthen ourselves sustainably, as well as to create or scale development opportunities for our company.
As for the EcoVadis Supplier Assessment Solution, although it is not for free, it’s quite affordable and has many benefits: It is internationally recognized; it helps you identify improvement areas; and you can quickly and efficiently share this information with customers and partners around the globe.
Given your three years of experience with EcoVadis, other than using the rating as proof of your sustainability performance, has it helped you address your CSR challenges?
Yes, definitely yes. This year, we have progressed from apprentices to recognized and respected professionals with regard to our CSR practices.
We have conducted more than 17 specific actions, the largest one being to formalize our sustainability/CSR policy around four themes: Environment; Labor and Human Rights, Ethics and Sustainable Procurement. We drew up four charters around IT, HR, sustainable procurement and ethics, and distributed them to our stakeholders in 2019. These four charters now formally make our principles of actions clear to our employees and other stakeholders, as well as our standards or the associated tools that are available.
And our efforts paid off. After being certified Silver for the first three years, in September 2019 we received a gold medal, reaching a score of 72/100, which ranks us among the top 1% of the 60,000 companies worldwide that are most successful in terms of CSR. We are very proud of this result. We also received an award during the 2019 CSR and Global Performance Trophies organized by France National Council of Public Accountants (CSOEC): This trophy is "Best Governance" in the "Best CSR approach" category.
These distinctions obviously help us strengthen the trust we inspire in our stakeholders and support our corporate vision: To be the most recognized and respected partner in our industry.
And why did you choose our Premium Plan?
The added value of the EcoVadis Premium Plan lies first in the delivery of a detailed report, which helps us understand and improve our sustainability performance. This report includes a benchmark of our market and suggestions for realistic improvements in our specific context.
And, above all, it allows us to communicate efficiently our progress to our customers as well as potentially to more than 450 multinationals (including 70% of the French CAC 40 Index) who rely on EcoVadis assessments of their suppliers to improve their own CSR performance. With the Premium Plan, we can also benchmark ourselves effectively against major accounts, including on the international scene.
Last, having a CSR approach is essential if we are aiming at sustainable business growth; regular CSR policy assessment by a competent third party is even better, more relevant and more credible.
What advice would you give to another leader of a small or medium-size enterprise with regard to sustainability ratings?
Go for it, at the right time!
"Before taking the step of the evaluation, we must make sure that the process is clearly initiated and carried out by the leader."
Mélanie Léonetti, Marketing, Communication and CSR Manager, GCE
Having a sustainability program is essential if we are aiming at sustainable business growth and regular assessments by a competent third party are even better, more relevant and more credible.
EcoVadis Rating energizes the approach because it also makes it possible to plan different types of actions strategically. It is not necessarily a question of deploying all of them at the same time, but working on those that respond to the challenges of the company most, as well as of its stakeholders, market and territory.
An effective and relevant sustainability initiative requires a structured approach. Before taking the step of the evaluation, it is therefore necessary to ensure that the process is clearly initiated and well formalized. First of all, it is necessary to initiate a dialogue with the stakeholders: Identify all the key stakeholders; understand their expectations and needs in terms of CSR and take them into account. Then, the company must detect and prioritize the CSR topics that are specific to its activity.
It is only after these steps have been taken that it becomes relevant to enter into a documented CSR assessment process. The objective of such will then be to get an objective and comparable measure to define the improvement objectives, the relevant indicators against which they will be measured, analyze the company situation and its social and environmental impacts. Then comes the review of results and continuous improvement across all areas covered by CSR.
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