MEETING WITH VALERIE TOUCHON, CHIEF IMPACT OFFICER AT ECOVADIS, THE LEADING PROVIDER OF BUSINESS SUSTAINABILITY RATINGS.
by French Tech SF
EcoVadis’ mission is to provide reliable, globally recognized sustainability ratings and insights, enabling all companies to reduce risk, drive improvement and accelerate positive impact on our planet and society. EcoVadis’ global platform is used by 800 multinationals to monitor the sustainability performance of 100,000 trading partners of all sizes in 175 countries and 200 industry sectors. Businesses rely on EcoVadis’ expert intelligence and evidence-based ratings to monitor and improve the sustainability performance of their trading partners and accelerate impact.
Valérie has more than 30 years of international experience in sales development and management across multiple sectors. She thrives in purpose-driven, fast-moving & innovative environments. An optimist by nature, she believes in business for good, and she sees a unique opportunity, right now, for businesses to accelerate positive environmental and social impacts through their investment decisions. She joined EcoVadis from its creation and now holds the position of Chief Impact Officer. She also joined the French Tech San Francisco ambassadors group to share her experience, advise and support the projects of entrepreneurs and professionals in the region.
« Life is short, let's enjoy it. Let’s be able to challenge what we are doing today to do it better tomorrow and make an impact »
French Tech San Francisco: Can you present to us your career path and your different professional experiences?
Valerie Touchon: I had three professional lives. The first one was in Tech. I was selling and promoting Tech products, services, and leasing solutions. That was my first professional life. Then I welcomed my first child. I moved to Poland and I joined an Executive Search firm as a Technology consultant. That was my second professional life. Still linked with Technology, but from a different perspective, recruiting in Technology for companies like Cisco, Microsoft, …, in Poland and Eastern Europe at large (Russia, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, …). Then I had two other beautiful babies, and I took a three years break to take care of them and enjoy parenting. I started my third professional life 15 years ago with EcoVadis, when the company was established, as the first salesperson in France.
My takeaway is that one can have more than one professional life. When young adults are worried about making the right decision about their studies and career at 18 yrs old, because they feel they will be committed to that path forever, it is no longer true! One’s professional life is an evolving journey that one feeds with their experience, expectations, desires, and learning goals.
FTSF: Why did you move to Poland?
VT: Because of/or thanks to my husband! I don't know exactly how to put it:) We moved to Poland and It was a great opportunity to discover an incredible country that was just moving away from a very different political system. It was really fascinating, with lots of optimism and opportunities. I was recruiting senior positions for companies like Cisco, and Microsoft. The candidates were just 30 years old and the sky was their limit. Smart, ambitious, and willing to participate in the development of their country and make an impact. It was amazing.
FTSF: How long did you stay in Poland?
VT: A bit over two years. Then we moved back to France and, after a 3 years break, I started a new job as a salesperson at EcoVadis. For the first 18 months, I didn't close any deals! For a salesperson, it's very frustrating! Hopefully, after 18 months, we started to onboard customers. It seems that the market was not yet ready for the product and the service we were offering and that's why it took some time.
FTSF: So tell us more about the vision of EcoVadis at the beginning.
VT: EcoVadis was founded by Pierre-François Thaler, and Frédéric Trinel, soon to be joined by Sylvain Guyoton, our Head of Ratings, with the vision that all companies would integrate sustainability criteria in their business decisions, thus contributing to the development of sustainable economies, for the well-being of people and the protection of our planet.
Fifteen years after the creation of the company, we proudly became a purpose-led company, “Entreprise à Mission” in French, following the requirements of the French Loi Pacte. The first step was to define our purpose, which is “to guide all companies toward a sustainable world” which has been added to the company bylaws. In a context of strong growth, becoming a mission-driven company has consolidated our common ambition and vision for EcoVadis, ensuring that our growth is correlated with a positive impact on the planet and society.
Sustainability is now a mainstream concern, and businesses understand that the main risks are in their supply chain. Our mission is to provide the transparency they need while pushing their trading partners to improve.
In the beginning, our mission was mostly educational as the market was not really mature. Nowadays, we can see that sustainability criteria are more and more included in purchasing decisions. EcoVadis 2022 network Impact report shows that €1.7 ($2) trillion of spend is screened by EcoVadis Ratings. This is equivalent to screening more than 15% of the total supply chain spend of the Global 500, €11.5 ($13) trillion. That's exactly what we wanted to do, to systematically consider sustainability when buying a new product or service. And this is happening now!
FTSF: Who are your clients?
VT: We have two typologies of customers. On one hand, the companies that are using us to evaluate the sustainability performance of their trading partners. And these are big firms. We are working with 75% of CAC 40 index companies. Altogether, more than 800 international companies worldwide are asking us to monitor the sustainability performance of their suppliers. Industry leaders such as Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Unilever, LVMH, Salesforce, Bridgestone, and Henkel… to name a few. On the other hand, the companies we evaluate and assess. We are talking about 100,000 businesses that collaborate with us to drive resilience, sustainable growth, and positive impact worldwide, across 200 industry sectors and 175 countries.
FTSF: What was the most challenging in the growth of EcoVadis?
VT: Change Management was the most difficult. Communicating, understanding the maturity of the market, and delivering processes and tools adapted to its maturity so that customers can get the most value out of the products and services. Second is the company’s hyper-growth which is very exciting but challenging at the same time. Starting from scratch 15 years ago, we are approaching the 1500 employees mark!!
FTSF: How do you adapt to the market, with the different governments? Are some countries easier than others?
VT: The idea from the very beginning was to offer the same product (combination of powerful technology and human expertise) for all markets. We want to be able to scale up to “guide all companies toward a sustainable world” as our purpose says. We are customizing the evaluation to fit the sector, country of operations, and size of the company we are assessing. Once it's done, it's a repetitive process because we are proposing companies update their scorecard every year. Sustainability is a journey. The scorecard can be shared with all customers, which is a value proposition for the suppliers because they don't need to do and redo it for each customer.
FTSF: Do you think that companies today have evolved and are ready for sustainable changes?
VT: I think it has changed tremendously in terms of maturity. Nowadays, in every newspaper you read, you see articles about sustainability or more frequently ESG, which is sustainability for investors. And it has changed a lot. It's getting more mainstream, more regulated, and more mature. Of course, some companies are implementing sustainability because they are forced to do it by regulation or compliance issues. But more and more are doing it because they think it will bring business value to them, which is probably the best way to do it. We see, from our perspective, a correlation between companies that are performing on the sustainability side and the quality of their product, level of innovation, and business performance.
FTSF: Are all countries the same? or are some regions better than others?
VT: When we started the company, the most advanced countries were Scandinavia and Northern Europe at large. Today, we can observe that the maturity of sustainability issues in general and supply chain sustainability in particular, has increased a lot. First, lots of regulations are flourishing, especially in Europe but not only, to push companies to identify, disclose and report on the sustainability impacts of their own operations, but also on their supply chain. Then, corporations are more and more proactive in sustainable innovation. Last, consumers are changing their behavior to buy more sustainably.
A few years ago, the US market was a bit less mature than the European one, because of a different approach to sustainability. What we can observe now, is that while there is still a maturity gap between Europe and the US, especially as far as regulations are concerned, the best-performing companies (according to our rating methodology) are often US companies. The US market is picking up very fast on sustainability!
FTSF: Last June, EcoVadis became a French GreenTech Unicorn, raising $500 million. What will this change for you and your market? How do you manage this?
VT: This exceptional round of financing - which brings EcoVadis' total capital raised to more than $725 million - was led by Astorg, a European private equity firm, and BeyondNetZero, General Atlantic's climate investment company, with participation from Singapore-based GIC Private Limited and Princeville Capital. We are very happy with the quality, and the long-term engagement of those funds towards a sustainable world! Thanks to this additional funding, we plan to finance our continuous international development, strengthen our technology, make strategic acquisitions and realize our vision as a purpose-driven company.
FTSF: Speaking about acquisition, you just acquired the company Ecotrek in Germany
VT: Yes, we want to invest in innovative companies that have the potential to complement our offer, in particular by addressing climate change on a large scale. Ecotrek is our very first acquisition and we are very excited about it. A sustainability data mining company, Ecotrek is bringing a great addition to our current offer (IQ), bringing an additional layer of transparency on sustainability risks in the supply chain.
It is important to note as well that the team is great, passionate, young, and with a very strong culture that fits with ours.
It's our first acquisition, but we will most probably have more.
FTSF: Can you explain your mission as Chief Impact Officer, and what « Impact » means?
VT: For us, Impact means two things:
- Walking the talk on our own sustainability commitments. As an example, we have set science-based targets to reduce our carbon footprint in line with the Paris agreement by reducing our business travel footprint and moving to renewable energy wherever it is possible.
- The second important piece is to help our customers accelerate their impact, and that's more connected with business. We have a network of 100,000 companies we are rating on their sustainability practices. What can we do in terms of additional services or additional products to help our customers accelerate their impact?
FTSF: Many companies are starting to create this new position. Do you share and learn from each other?
VT: Yes, you are right. We see more and more Chief Impact Officers being appointed. And indeed, as the role is new, we see the development of local communities, in particular in France, which are pretty active, organizing podcasts, and conferences so that people are sharing information.
The most difficult thing about impact is identifying the right metrics to measure impact.
FTSF: Tell us more about being a purpose-driven company.
VT: At the very same time EcoVadis concluded the last fundraising, the company became a purpose-led company (Entreprise à mission in French).
What is this? It is a setup proposed by Loi Pacte, a French law that was promulgated in 2019. To comply with the law, you have to define your purpose (for EcoVadis, it is to “guide all companies toward a sustainable world”) and several objectives to fulfill this purpose. Then you need to appoint an independent purpose committee that will monitor the implementation of the purpose and the objectives. Last, the purpose committee is in charge of approving a yearly report that will be audited by a third party.
It was really important for us to be under external scrutiny, to monitor what we are doing regarding our purpose, and to officially balance profit and purpose. So that's the way we thought was the most efficient way to become a purpose-led company. For us, it's a way of being accountable.
FTSF: You are one of the ambassadors of French Tech San Francisco. What were your motivations and what could be the common axis of development or sharing?
VT: EcoVadis is a Tech company. We have a lot of technology involved in what we are doing. We are delivering our products to our customers through a SaaS platform. This platform is constantly improved and reworked. And we have a huge development team. We are happy to be associated and share the focus on innovation that we can see among the members of French Tech. Thanks for bringing this opportunity, because, for us, it's really important.
FTSF: What would be your expectation?
VT: There is a lot to do. French tech is gathering companies that are usually young companies with very different profiles of founders, and employees, concerned and exposed to sustainability. There is a lot to do in terms of integrating sustainability within Tech start-ups, whether we talk about Green IT or making the software accessible. Education is the key!
FTSF: Your career path is extraordinary, between your studies, your career, your role as a mother of 3 children, working in what you love, sustainable development, Tech... what is your secret?
VT: I think adaptation is important. Today's world requires a lot of adaptation skills. You cannot survive if you are not resilient, and able to embrace change. I don't think this is specific to males or females, but I think this is something I've been developing. I like starting new things, educating, communicating, and helping people to understand things they don't see. I like to help people, in general. And everything I've been doing professionally has been with new topics or in developing markets. Maybe this is the commonality: innovation or evangelization, education, fast-moving, small companies. I like small companies because I like relationships with people. And I like change. I have been very lucky because it has been changing a lot at EcoVadis!
FTSF: What have been your greatest challenges and experiences? What advice would you like to give?
VT: Be curious, tolerant, with an open mind, and stay humble as well. Life is short, let's enjoy it, and let's enjoy the people we meet as well. Let’s be able to challenge what we are doing today to do it differently tomorrow. By the way, I'm fascinated by this new generation. That's something I feel very grateful for because in my job I'm working with Millennials and Gen Z. They could be my kids, and they are so wise and smart and I learn so much from them!
FTSF: So you're very excited by the future?
VT: I am a very optimistic person. We have been going through very difficult things since human beings landed on this earth. The challenge we have with climate change is a huge one. But I see things falling into place. I see mindsets being a bit transformed even if today there is a punctual issue with countries being very divided with this topic, especially in the US where it's getting a political thing to be either pro or against ESG (Environmental, Societal, Governance). This will disappear, and the trend is that we are taking care of our Earth, and this new generation makes me extremely happy and optimistic. We also believe that EcoVadis has the potential to make a global impact and contribute significantly to the transition to net zero.