Five Questions on Sustainable Leadership
Feedback from Deborah Bellangé, participant of the BNP Paribas Wealth Management ‘Sustainability Leadership Programme’ at the University of Cambridge.
“Sustainability is a critical topic for all of us. Inevitably, though, real life gets in the way… That’s where the BNP Paribas programme at Cambridge helped – it cleared away some of the noise and helped us zone in on the key issues.”
I’m Chief Financial Officer and Vice-President of Focus Home Interactive, a fast-growing video game publisher, which went public in 2015. I have spent most of my career in France and have 25 years’ experience in Entertainment and Licensing.
What positive impact do you aspire to have through your business activities?
Sustainability is a subject that is close to my heart and one that I know is important to our employees. We have a company that is relatively young, average age is only 34, so it’s our aspiration to give our staff (many of whom are in their first job) a good example of what a positive working environment can be. Hopefully, our firm will be the example they return to as they go through their careers.
I definitely think the BNP Paribas leadership programme opened my eyes to the impact businesses can have in this area. I was under-estimating the responsibility we have and the scope of the changes we can make. Initially, my outlook was to think of sustainability “on the margins” – so, get rid of plastics, encourage eco-responsible behaviour, and so on. The programme opened my eyes to companies taking a much more aggressive role.
Why did you want to participate in the BNP Paribas Sustainable Leadership programme at Cambridge University?
I was very pleased to be invited to the BNP Paribas programme at Cambridge. For me, personally, sustainability just makes sense. I can remember back to a time in the 1990s when aerosol sprays were a danger, the ozone layer was depleting, and a real ecological disaster was imminent. Governments and people mobilised, solutions were implemented, which mitigated the problem.
That’s relevant to today’s issues because it shows these challenges can be overcome if they are taken seriously enough and if we commit to meaningful action.
My interest in sustainability was probably with me from childhood. I grew up in Alaska, so very close to nature and always very aware of the environment. I remember vividly the damage that was caused during the Exxon oil spill – in fact, I was out there cleaning the beaches and I remember thinking how vast the area was that the oil spill covered, which you simply didn’t get a sense of through watching the news.
Sustainability is a critical topic for all of us. Inevitably, though, real life gets in the way and the question becomes what kind of compromises should we make day-to-day? That’s where the BNP Paribas programme at Cambridge helped – it cleared away some of the noise and helped us zone in on the key issues.
Were there any “eureka” moments during the course?
One of the things that stuck with me most was a slide that showed the ecological impact of electric cars in different scenarios. I’d never actually seen data of the overall impact of electrical versus conventional cars. It helped crystallise in my mind that just because something’s not a perfect solution, doesn’t mean it can’t help. We must choose a priority and go for it, where we take the best of what we have, add that to what technology can offer us, and make steps towards finding a solution. We can’t wait for there to be a perfect technological solution before we take decisions.
We also heard about new emerging technologies that entrepreneurs are working on to capture CO2 into solid bricks. I found that very interesting. In fact, since Cambridge I’ve been reading a little bit more about negative CO2 technology – I see that as a way for companies like ours to reach their goals of reducing carbon emissions.
Has the course inspired any change?
We have a collegiate approach to decision-making in our firm, which means subjects like sustainability are decisions we make together as a team. I came back and spoke to our Management Board and we are ready to make some bigger changes on how we run our company. The next step is to come up with an action plan. We want to be very ambitious about how we manage sustainability, mostly focussed on CO2 emissions for now, because that seems to be the more urgent problem. We want to focus on CO2 neutrality for our company.
There aren’t any silver bullets to this problem and it takes a lot of time and energy to get the information to know how to address it. Our first step is building our sustainability expertise in-house to implement the changes we know we want to make. It’s easy to make symbolic gestures but we are determined to get serious and move past the low hanging-fruit.
Tell us about your background.