Article published in partnership with French Tech SF
Valérie Touchon joined EcoVadis, the leading provider of business sustainability ratings, at its creation in 2007 and holds today the position of Chief Impact Officer, where she leads efforts to measure the positive impact of the company’s activities and ensure their alignment with its objectives and values.
Valérie has over 30 years of international experience in sales development and management in the technology and executive search sectors in Europe and the United States. An optimist by nature, she believes in business for good, and sees a unique opportunity, right now, for companies to accelerate positive environmental and social impacts through their investment decisions.
Valérie recently received the Sustainability Award at the 2023 FABAs ceremony organized by the French-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, in recognition of her commitment and the company’s excellence in the field of sustainability.
She has also joined the Board of French Tech San Francisco to share her experience, advise and support the projects of entrepreneurs and professionals in the region.
Meet this major figure in the sustainability world.
French Tech San Francisco: Could you tell us a little about your background and professional experience?
Valérie Touchon: I’ve had three professional lives. The first was in technology. I sold and promoted technology products, services and leasing solutions. Then I welcomed my first child. My family and I moved to Poland and I joined an executive search firm as a technology consultant. Then I had two more beautiful babies, we moved back to France and I took a three-year break to look after them and enjoy my role as a parent. I started my third professional life 15 years ago with EcoVadis, when the company was created, as the first salesperson in France.
What I’ve learned is that you can have more than one professional life.
When young adults worry about making the right decision about their education and career at 18, because they think they’ll be on that path forever, that’s no longer true! Professional life is an evolving journey, nurtured by experience, expectations, desires and learning goals.
FTSF: Tell us about EcoVadis’ early vision.
VT: EcoVadis was founded by Pierre-François Thaler and Frédéric Trinel, then joined by Sylvain Guyoton, our Head of Ratings, with the vision that all companies would integrate sustainability criteria into their business decisions, thereby contributing to the development of sustainable economies, for the well-being of people and the protection of our planet.
Fifteen years after the company’s creation, 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 companies understand that the main risks lie in their supply chain. Our mission is to provide them with the transparency they need, while pushing their business partners to improve.
In the beginning, our mission was mainly educational, as the market was not really mature. Today, we see that sustainability criteria are increasingly taken into account in purchasing decisions. The EcoVadis 2022 network impact report shows that €1.7 trillion ($2,000 billion) of spending is monitored by EcoVadis Ratings. This is equivalent to monitoring over 15% of the Global 500’s total supply chain spend, or 11.5 (13) billion euros. This is exactly what we wanted to do: systematically take sustainability into account when purchasing a new product or service. And that’s what’s happening today!
FTSF: Who are your customers?
VT: We have two types of customers. First, companies that use us to assess the sustainability performance of their business partners. These are large companies. We work with 75% of CAC 40 companies. In all, over 800 international companies ask us to monitor their suppliers’ sustainability performance. Industry leaders such as Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, Unilever, LVMH, Salesforce, Bridgestone and Henkel… Secondly, the companies we assess. These are the 100,000 companies that work with us to foster resilience, sustainable growth and positive impact around the world, in 200 industries and 175 countries.
FTSF: How do you adapt to different markets and 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.
Sustainable development is a journey.
The scorecard can be shared with all customers, which is a value proposition for suppliers, as they don’t have to do it over and over again for every customer.
FTSF: Do you think today’s companies have evolved and are ready for sustainable change?
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.
From our point of view, there is a correlation between companies that perform well on sustainability and the quality of their products, their level of innovation and their commercial performance.
FTSF: Are all countries the same, or are some regions better than others?
VT: When we set up EcoVadis, the most advanced countries were Scandinavia and Northern Europe at large. Today, we can observe that the maturity of sustainability issues in general, and of supply chain sustainability in particular, has increased significantly. Firstly, numerous regulations are flourishing, particularly in Europe but not only, to push companies to identify, disclose and report on the sustainability impacts of their own activities, but also of their supply chain. Secondly, companies are increasingly proactive in terms of sustainable innovation, and consumers are also changing their behavior to buy more sustainably.
What are the main differences between France and the United States when it comes to ESG corporate policies?
European regulations are much more restrictive, which puts more pressure on European companies to adopt sustainable practices. As a result, American companies are generally less mature in this area, but those that are committed are very fast and very successful. In fact, we note that the best-performing companies (according to our evaluation method) are often American.
The state of California is way ahead of the rest of the US, and California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed two landmark climate disclosure laws, which aim to force large corporations to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and report on their climate-related financial risks.
Another difference is that in the U.S., the topic of social and environmental responsibility is much more political than in France, and therefore very polarizing, and also more complex because it also encompasses Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In Europe, organizations are legally prohibited from tracing employees’ ethnic origins, which limits their ability to measure representation within companies.
FTSF: EcoVadis has become a French GreenTech unicorn by raising $500 million. What will this mean for you and your market?
VT: This exceptional round of financing – which brings EcoVadis’ total capital raised to over $725 million – was led by Astorg, a European private equity firm, and BeyondNetZero, General Atlantic’s climate investment company, with the participation of Singapore-based GIC Private Limited and Princeville Capital. We are very pleased with the quality and long-term commitment of these funds to a sustainable world! With these additional funds, we plan to finance our continued international expansion, strengthen our technology, make strategic acquisitions and realize our vision as a purpose-driven company.
FTSF: Speaking of acquisitions, you’ve just bought Ecotrek in Germany.
VT: Yes, we want to invest in innovative companies that have the potential to complement our offering, particularly by tackling climate change on a large scale. As a sustainability data mining company, Ecotrek complements our current IQ offering by providing an additional layer of transparency on sustainability risks in the supply chain. This is our first acquisition, but we are likely to make others.
FTSF: Can you explain your role as Chief Impact Officer, and what the term “Impact” means?
VT: For us, impact means two things:
We walk the talk when it comes to our own sustainability commitments. For example, we have set scientific targets to reduce our carbon footprint in line with the Paris Agreement by reducing the footprint of our business travel and adopting renewable energies wherever possible.
The second important element is to help our customers accelerate their impact, which means better connecting with businesses. We have a network of 100,000 companies that we assess on the basis of their sustainable practices. What can we do in terms of additional services or products to help our customers accelerate their impact?
FTSF: You’re one of the board members of French Tech San Francisco. What were your motivations and what could be the common axis of development or sharing?
VT: EcoVadis is a technology company. We deliver our products to our customers via a SaaS platform. This platform is constantly being improved and reworked. And we have a huge development team. We’re delighted to be associated with them, and to share the interest in innovation that we see among members of French Tech.
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 demands a lot of adaptability. You can’t survive if you’re not resilient and able to accept change. I don’t think this is specific to men or women, but I think it’s something I’ve developed. I like undertaking new things, educating, communicating and helping people understand things they can’t see. I like helping people, in general. And everything I’ve done professionally has involved new subjects or developing markets. Maybe that’s the common thread: innovation or evangelism, education, rapid evolution, small business. I like small businesses because I like relationships with people. And I like change. I’ve been very lucky, because there’s been a lot of change at EcoVadis!
FTSF: What have been your greatest challenges and experiences? What advice would you like to give?
VT: Let’s be able to question what we do today, so that we can 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 work a lot with Millennials and Gen Z. They could be my children. They are so wise and smart and I learn so much from them!
FTSF: So you’re very enthusiastic about the future?
VT: The challenge of climate change is enormous. But I can see things falling into place. I see mentalities changing a little, even if today there’s a one-off problem with countries that are very divided on this subject, particularly in the United States where it’s becoming political to be for or against ESG. That’s going to disappear, and the trend is that we’re taking care of our Earth, and this new generation makes me extremely optimistic. We also believe that EcoVadis has the potential to have a global impact and make a significant contribution to the transition to “net zero”.