For this edition of our continuing series “Conversations with Green Champions,” Rolland President Philip Rundle speaks with Desjardins Group, North America’s largest financial cooperative and the fifth largest in the world with $377 billion in assets (Canadian dollars). Rolland is a longtime supplier to Desjardins, which has prioritized sustainable recycled paper for more than 15 years.
Gildas Poissonnier, Director, Sustainability and Responsible Finance at Desjardins Group, talks about balancing responsible procurement with sound financial management, launching a supplier diversity program, financing circular economy labs, and the cooperative’s new target to be net zero carbon by 2040.
Desjardins Group serves 7.5 million members and customers in Canada
• With the support of some 48,000 employees and 2,500 directors, it offers banking, wealth management, and personal and casualty insurance services.
• It has a significant community presence with 851 points of service in Québec and Ontario.
• It was listed as one of the top 100 of the world’s best employers in 2020 by Forbes magazine.
• In 2020, it purchased $2 billion worth of products and services from 2,080 suppliers in Québec and elsewhere in Canada.
Why the focus on local suppliers in your purchasing strategy?
Our mission is to contribute to economic and social well-being and our socio-economic leadership is a priority. We start by reinvesting in our communities, including supporting various community projects and organizations. In 2020, we returned $445 million to our members and the community.
This priority also influences our purchasing and procurement decisions. Wherever possible, we favor Québec and Canadian suppliers which meet our criteria in terms of costs, services, agility and alignment with our values.
What is the essence of Desjardins’ approach to responsible procurement?
We assess the ESG (environmental, social, governance) performance of suppliers and integrate the 5Rs – rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose – into our purchasing operations.
How do you balance sustainability considerations with sound financial management?
Responsible purchasing does not mean more costly purchasing in most cases. Rethinking the need is important – is this purchase really necessary? – as is buying the right quantities. Then we take into account ESG. All this makes for responsible purchasing while meeting operational and financial goals.
Are your purchasing criteria – costs, services, agility, alignment with Desjardins values – equally important?
Before issuing a call for tenders we adjust weightings of these criteria and ESG factors in our evaluation grid, depending on the product or service, and on the available suppliers. This addresses the reality that some industries are stronger than others in ESG terms. But minimum performance standards apply.
How are you making your supply chain more inclusive?
To ensure that we give diverse suppliers equitable access to our procurement process, we have been working on the foundation of a more inclusive procurement program that will launch by the end of 2021. Annual objectives will include the number of diverse suppliers and contracts awarded, and spending. Diversity is a strength and we hope to inspire other organizations to embrace it, too.
Over the past three years, you have conducted nearly 750 sustainability assessments with your suppliers. What do you learn from this exercise?
A deep analysis is underway and we already have the following findings on the overall ESG performance of suppliers:
• Steady improvement year after year.
• Significant differences exist between industries, with top performers in telecommunications, software and technology – where larger companies predominate.
• Small and mid-sized businesses generally have a way to go in terms of integrating ESG criteria, but our intention is to accompany them in this direction.
Once our analysis is complete, we’ll create an ESG action plan to encourage better performance, which will be doubly beneficial for suppliers and their other customers.
What happens when ESG performance is not up to expectations?
Evaluations are global, across our main criteria and ESG factors, so we assess the supplier’s overall score. Since ESG performance is not equally strong, it is not necessarily a deal-breaker. In some cases, we identify areas for improvement then work with suppliers so they reach targets.
What triggered Desjardins’ contribution to circular economy research?
The economic reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to evolve toward a more circular economy. So we are contributing $2.1 million to launch an ecosystem of circular economy acceleration laboratories, within the Université du Québec’s engineering school, ÉTS (École de technologie supérieure). The labs will research, develop and transfer innovative new technologies.
The findings of this research will benefit our members and corporate clients as well as the community. The circular economy is not a new interest for Desjardins – we previously financed a chair for international university lifecycle research.
Speaking of the circular economy, does Desjardins use recycled paper exclusively?
We are working to systematize the purchasing of paper with 100% post-consumer recycled content made locally. Our only choice for internal orders of standard office paper is Rolland Enviro® Copy which meets these criteria. External printers are also required to use recycled paper. For communications with members and customers, 100% recycled paper is our preferred choice and used almost exclusively.
What led Desjardins to make Rolland a preferred supplier?
Rolland is the only mill in Québec manufacturing paper with 100% post-consumer recycled content, which aligns the company with the main principles of the circular economy. This paper reduces our carbon footprint, in line with our sustainability commitment. Rolland’s innovative biogas-fueled, water-saving mill is important, too. All this has made Rolland our top paper supplier.
As a paper company we have to ask: What is the role of print communications at Desjardins?
As a financial institution, print continues to be part of our reality, to respect the preferences of certain individuals, but also to meet regulatory requirements related to the format of specific communications. For example, car and home insurance policy renewals are still mailed in printed form. As such, print is still one of the ways we communicate with our members and customers. Consequently, we want to ensure that we use a supplier like Rolland that meets all of our responsible procurement requirements.
Do you see Desjardins as a Green Champion?
Yes, because Desjardins’ socio-economic leadership extends to the environment. Members have high environmental expectations, so we have to become greener.
We announced last April our ambitious action plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2040 across our extended operations as well as our financing and investment activities in three key carbon-intensive sectors: energy, transportation and real estate.
In the next few years, we will train 85% of our employees in sustainability principles by 2023 and work with 100 key suppliers to progressively reduce the carbon footprint of our supply chain.
Desjardins aims to be a lever for change and encourage everyone to accelerate the fight against climate change.