Decathlon’s approach to ESG data in retail sustainability

Anne Desormais, Managing Editor DPEF/NFRD at Decathlon International, on her approach to extra-financial reporting and data in sustainable transformation

With vast experience spanning more than 18 years, Anne is a passionate believer in transparency and accountability in sustainable development. She is responsible for Decathlon’s Extra-Financial Performance (DPEF) Statement, which highlights the company’s main extra-financial risks, the sustainable development issues expressed as most important by its stakeholders and the action plans pursued to meet the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations programme.

For Anne Desormais, Managing Editor DPEF/NFRD at Decathlon International, data plays an intrinsic part of any DPEF Statement, and the statements are essential in making organisations more accountable. 

We recently sat down with Anne to learn more, but first we find out who she is and the career path she followed to get to her current position at the company. 

Anne Desormais, Managing Editor DPEF/NFRD at Decathlon International

Tell us about you and your role

I am Anne Desormais, Managing Editor DPEF/NFRD at Decathlon International, the world's largest sporting goods retailer. At the heart of my role is the collection of data on all aspects of corporate, social, environmental and societal responsibilities. This data is quantitative and qualitative, and the challenge is to transform them so they are as accessible, clear and transparent as possible. The resulting document is submitted to an audit process, so it all must be fully backed up by evidence. The declaration of non-financial performance is a final document, but above all, it is an annual process that is constantly renewed. As soon as a result has been delivered, it's time to start and to prepare the next one.

What has your greatest career success been so far? 

It’s more gradual than a one-off success. When I began my professional career, sustainable development was just a topic like another, yet to be a priority. Awareness of human impact on the environment was just emerging, and companies were not yet accountable for their overall activity in the early days of the carbon footprint. Today, however, the burden of proof seems obvious to me, and the education surrounding the subject is fascinating. So, my greatest success has been in helping organisations become more transparent and accountable in their sustainability programmes.

Why is data at the heart of sustainability transformation? 

You can't face up to the reality of what's happening in sustainability without being full of hope and looking at the gradual transformation and the desire for global transition. But if we want this hope to become accessible to the greatest number of people, we need to be able to show it scientifically, as indisputably as possible. Denial, that legitimate mental protection in the face of danger, must be overcome by irrefutable proof, and data provides this.

I recently participated in an AXA Climate whitepaper, Sustainability, the skills to develop in order to transform your company. It highlights how sustainability transformation can only succeed by changing each individual facet of an organisation, and data is an essential part of that change.

What are actionable best-practice tips for leaders looking to use data in sustainability transformation?

"Using data in this way can be hugely complex. When I started my career, all that company had to do was count its carbon emissions. Today, they're dissected, attributed and spread across all areas and dimensions of a company in order to have the most precise impact. It is also well understood that responsibility does not stop at the company's walls but extends to partnerships and social commitments. Because of this complexity, some companies still consider extra-financial reporting a constraint. This means that flexibility and good interpersonal communication are imperative. Being able to clarify results without judgement and complacency helps everybody to improve. But above all, any sustainability transformation will be a challenge without measurement. Measurement enables progress to be made; reporting interacts with action. I'd suggest to anyone that robust measurement and reporting should be at the core of their programme."

What advice would you give to a company starting out in extra-financial reporting?

"Don't focus too much on the results. That's not what's important. Reporting is all about implementing the company's transition ambitions: think them through, add structure to them and bring the real players involved in achieving the objectives of sustainable transition to the table. It's an invaluable exercise in humility: You have to get the courage to share your failures as well as your successes. By sharing our virtuous or corrective action plans, we access continuous improvement and inspire others to do similar."

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