How to build a sustainable business — a community event in Paris

APR 26, 2022

In March of this year, we welcomed a room full of startups and investors from across the French ecosystem to Aircall’s HQ for an evening about building sustainable startups.

Rachel Delacour, co-founder and CEO of Sweep, a carbon management Saas platform founded to help enterprises measure and reduce carbon emissions in their business and value chain.

Emmanuel Faber, partner at Astanor Ventures and chair of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). Former chair and CEO of Danone.

Kat Borlongan, recently appointed chief impact officer of Contentsquare, a UX analytics company. Previously director of La French Tech under the Macron administration.

Each of the panellists brought a different perspective to the discussion. Rachel is building a company that has been a B-Corp from the outset; Kat is transforming a less obviously mission-led company; Emmanuel spent 20 years of his career putting sustainability at the heart of Danon, a listed multinational.

Balderton's Bernard Liautuad with panellists, Rachel Delacour, Kat Borlongan and Emmanuel Faber.

“I knew that the longer I waited, the more difficult things would get”

Everything is a challenge when you are starting out, but the longer you wait, the more complex it becomes, which is why Rachel wanted to be sure that Sweep was a B-Corp from day one. Achieving this required effort and resources, but startups can be incredibly creative under constraint. As Emmanuel experienced, transforming a company with thousands of stakeholders and an existing customer base is much more challenging.

“Don’t indulge yourself with something that does not have true impact”

One of the first questions that you need to ask yourself is “what does impact mean to you”? Impact is about being true to the type of business that is being built and the changes that you want to see in the world. The situation we find ourselves in is far more urgent than sending a team out litter picking for the day.

“The magic of impact happens when the impact of the company connects with its people”

Everyone needs to be clear why they’re doing their job and own the impact they want to have. While most genuinely want to have a positive impact on climate and other important topics, this behaviour should be incentivised. By 2010, all 15,000 managers at Danon had incentives against carbon footprint reduction.

“As a CEO it is your responsibility to ensure your company still performs in the centuries to come”

It is the responsibility of a CEO to create a company that is resilient to evolving values and trends so that it will still be around in 100 years time. When you think about impact you look at things from 360 degrees, not just through dollar lenses, so for Kat in her role as CIO this means having no revenue KPIs.

“There is an understanding that in this increasingly volatile world, the B-Corp framework instils elements of stability and resilience.”

Frameworks such as the B-Corp already exist and are proven to generate more valuable companies. It isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel, apply what’s already out there, and expect a very different journey as a result.

Watch a full recording of the event here:

Full recording of the event

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