Dassault Systèmes is a multinational technology company that develops software for 3D product design, simulation and manufacturing. Headquartered in France, with operations in the UK, it has approximately 24,000 staff in 140 countries. 

The aim

On its website, Dassault Systèmes describes itself as ‘a sustainable innovation leader’. The French multinational technology firm also publicly lists its climate commitments and science-based targets (part of the Science-Based Target Initiative to help meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, aimed at keeping global warming below 1.5°C). For Aneta Jajkowska, Senior Director, People and Organisational Partner, EuroNorth, her team’s role is to make these ambitious targets and commitments real for people on the ground, part of everyone’s job, every day.

“It’s fundamentally connected to employee experience and company purpose,” she says. “It’s making sure we have the right narrative and the right information, commitment and articulation of what we stand for as a business. And then making sure we’re walking the talk, enabling everything that surrounds that: the behaviours we expect, the initiatives we are driving, how we communicate with people.”

How was change achieved?

Committing to science-based targets and creating the new role of chief sustainability officer signal to employees, customers and other stakeholders that the company is serious about investing in sustainability. But Jajkowska is focused on translating these big statements into something meaningful and tangible for employees at all levels and in all types of roles. “We need to make sure our employees understand the story around sustainability, and can tell it themselves,” she explains. “It’s making sustainability more than a buzzword.” 

Four years ago, Dassault Systèmes launched its Leaders in Business Sustainability programme, bringing its customers and partners together to discuss what sustainability means to them and their business. Through this, says Jajkowska, it became clear that the company itself still had a lot to learn about sustainability, and the people team developed a learning programme to address this. “We started with storytelling,” she explains. “How do we tell compelling stories and have confident conversations at a senior level around sustainability?” 

Via its e-learning platform 3DEXPERIENCE University and LinkedIn Learning, employees are able to access programmes including Sustainability for SwYmers, offering a grounding for beginners in understanding some of the most pressing sustainability challenges we face today and how to address them. Sustainability for Marketing and Communication explores how to limit the impact of campaigns, among other things, while Sustainability Strategy teaches how sustainability can drive financial performance and aid attraction and retention. 

Jajkowska adds that, while it’s great to learn the theory, showcasing and sharing good practice is just as impactful. “It’s about setting the standard and demanding a certain narrative and the right conversations,” she explains. This means, for example, that when preparing for a customer meeting, a senior sponsor will reiterate how important it is to make sustainability a core part of the message. “We talk about our sustainability story and how to pitch it to customers,” Jajkowska says. “How are you going to use those skills we have invested in? This is the story we must talk about, and we ask everyone to articulate it at every opportunity they have.” 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this approach, she says, is getting people to see that this is not ‘marketing talk’ but an integral part of everyone’s job, from juniors to senior managers, which should be embedded into the onboarding process so it becomes ingrained from day one. Another learning has been that less can sometimes be more when it comes to content: “We were creating so much, but then we switched to focus on making sure people used the content we already have.”

How has change affected the organisation?

For senior executives, compensation is tied to sustainability targets. And beyond the senior team, everyone is encouraged to include one objective linked to leadership in business sustainability per year, with an ‘appropriate’ financial weighting. “Everyone had to define what it means to them and what it means to their role,” says Jajkowska, although she adds that HR is “not policing it” as that would miss the point. Managers have sustainability and how they drive it within their teams written into their objectives, which then impacts variable pay depending on the weighting. 

There are plenty of other people-related areas Jajkowska observes as being linked to sustainability, whether that’s re-examining company car and travel policies, looking at where benefits and pensions are invested or moving to paperless where possible, such as using DocuSign for employment contracts. Dassault Systèmes’ science-based targets specifically mention reducing emissions linked to business travel and employee commuting. But there are other, perhaps less obvious, areas for HR to think about, she adds – hiring for instance. “It’s about who we hire, the skills they bring but also how they impact the company culture [around sustainability]. Thinking about EDI, research shows that having more women in leadership positions has a direct impact on a company’s focus on sustainability.” According to an article published by the World Economic Forum, there is a “clear linkage between women’s leadership and pro-environmental outcomes.”

And sometimes the best ideas come from the ‘people on the ground’, such as Dassault Système’s Dutch team pitching a move to a cycle courier service, or the London office campaigning for their serviced office to move away from single-use plastic water bottles. “That one [having plastic bottles] really bothered me because it was not what we stand for,” says Jajkowska. 

Top tips

  • Clearly communicate the importance of sustainability to the business, internally and externally.
  • Public commitments are great, but think about how to make them real for your people.
  • Holding people accountable for sustainability at all levels drives change.

 As Jajkowska says, “If you want to be more sustainable as a company, listen to your team and they can tell you what to do.” 

The full series

Embedding environmental sustainability initiatives in your organisation:
Case studies

How companies are implementing strategies from the top-down and engaging the whole workforce

Callout Image