CEO Challenge at Sodexo

Sustainable Development Goal(s): 11. Sustainable cities and communities12. Responsible consumption and production13. Climate action

Priorities for change:
CEO Challenge at Sodexo

Since a few years, The Shift offers its members the opportunity to be challenged by young transitional pioneers. This time, Sodexo asked them to take a critical and constructive look at its sustainability communication. After several exchanges, discussions and research, the Change Makers presented their innovative ideas and 'out of the box' solutions at the last meeting: the CEO Challenge.
A look back at a, in the words of Sodexo, succesful and “refreshing” challenge!

The Challenge and the process

At the beginning of October, three other Change Makers - Judith, Chloe and Bastien - and I heard that we had been selected for this challenge. We all had different backgrounds. Judith is the founder of Foresightee and a strategic communications advisor. Bastien is a serial entrepreneur and founder of a.o. The Changemakery, Take-Care, Impact Valley, Citizenfund and Sharify. Chloé is a sustainability consultant, founder of Green Seeds and Regeneration & Democracy activist. Even though we were expected to provide critical questions, ideas and even solutions, this was also a learning process for me/us. I learned a lot from the other Change Makers, a.o. about the importance of a materiality index in your communication strategy.


On October 19th, through Teams, we were invited to meet some of Sodexo's employees and get more information about the challenge. Sodexo wants employees to be more aware of their consumption choices and, as a consumer, make other choices that serve a more sustainable world, not only during working hours, but also in the hours before and after.

In the following weeks we had more online sessions with Catherine from The Shift and worked on a presentation. On December 11th, we had the honour to present our ideas to the CEO and other key executives of Sodexo Belgium.

Ripe fruit

The refreshing element that young Change Makers can bring during a CEO challenge is that of the external view. With their questions and ideas, they invite people in a company to step outside their comfort zone to find opportunities in new trends. Oftentimes, the boards of directors is composed of more experienced people, who have tried certain ideas in the past but encountered a lot of resistance at the time. Young people can point out which ideas may now be ripe for implementation. We have talked about digital technology and gamification with digital technology (apps). A few years ago, Belgians were not yet ready to work with QR codes, for example. I remember that we experimented with QR codes with Bold Branders at an event in 2018 after I observed how this was used by many people in East Asia (China, Japan...). Because of this experience, we saw that the use of QR codes was still too new for many Flemish people. In 2020, after my return, I noticed that payconiq and QR codes were more accepted. So a lot has changed in two years time. The entire corona crisis has also paved the way for digital services; more people are becoming familiar with virtual realities. Also, takeaway/delivery services will be more in demand because people now experience the advantage and comfort of them. An idea: Do you want to bring values of sustainability to the family atmosphere? Then you can design takeaway packages full of stories about sustainability.

Innovative thinking and structural obstacles

Even if a company like Sodexo, a member of The Shift, wants to be more sustainable and wants to inspire other companies to do the same, there are many structural barriers that cannot be solved quickly. When we tested the ideas on feasibility and impact, the importance of of interdependence with other players, clients and consumers, has come to our attention. How much risk does a company have to take and what investment is necessary to become more sustainable? We often only talk about social and environmental sustainability, but we should also remember that a company wants to make profits so that it can pay its employees and invest in projects with a positive impact. It was a good reality check for me at least to realise that communication and CSR within a company is not good enough. We need eco-communicators that involve other stakeholders in the learning process of a transition.


In recent years, I have been interested in how you can communicate your ideas and lessons about transition and sustainability to people who are not that interested in these topics. I believe in communication as a great lever for cultural, and therefore collective, change. I have experimented a bit with some circular economy projects and have also read scientific texts on ecolinguistics, ecopsychology, sustainability pedagogy and so on and talked to experts in the field (psychology, communication, pedagogy) to learn what language, stories (with what values) and resources we need to involve others in the learning process. Recently, I have also started calling myself an eco-communicator. What is that?

I borrow the words of Leah Thomas, who in May 2020 launched the term 'intersectional environmentalist' via an instagram post and thus started a movement. In a tweet on 22 September, she defined an eco-communicator as follows: "Someone that communicates information about the environment and sustainability. As an environmental science student and writer I wanted to combine my love of both things and communicate environmental information more accessible via *plant emoji*, hence - eco-communicator. (...).” When I read that, I recognised myself. By the way, recognisability is a powerful tool to bind people to you and to learn together.


Of course, sustainability communication is more than eco-communication, but it also depends on how you see the environment and nature. From now on, I'll only write 'rest of nature', to underline that people are also part of an ecosystem. If a creature - a tree, a human being or something else - weakens in your ecosystem, it has an effect on the whole system. Health and justice do not immediately seem to be ecological sustainability aspects but for me, every theme has to do with nature.

Five means of sustainability communication:

We also discussed the following means during the CEO challenge:

  1. Be transparent about your sustainability learning process
  2. Involve your employees in your sustainability transition
  3. Nudging or choice architecture
  4. Limit the choices and thereby reduce the choice stress that many people experience in this fast-paced self-help society.
  5. Encourage stimulating communication: work with right emotions that activate (and not paralyze), work with the fact that people are social beings and compare themselves to their neighbours, colleagues, friends...


We also stressed: Storytelling is so 2010. After all the scandals about Greenwashing, among other things, we want to see action, not just stories. Storydoing is 2020. Let people experience sustainability and learn what is good for them, others and the rest of nature.


Do you want to learn more about these resources? Don't hesitate to contact the other Change Makers or me via our LinkedIn profile.



Editor: Wendy Wuyts

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