Interview with Pierre-André de Chalendar

Pierre-André de Chalendar, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, discusses our Group purpose, what it says about us and how it conveys our commitments for the future.

What lessons do you take away from recent months? 

What has struck me most is the unfailing commitment of Saint-Gobain teams to get through the crisis, by giving their time to help healthcare workers and by adapting and reinventing themselves as the situation has changed. 

Local action and global coordination have also been vital to our responsiveness, efficiency and resilience, driven by our multi-local model, in close proximity to our markets, which has protected us from possible disruption to our supply chains and enabled us to provide targeted solutions tailored to the local context.  

I have said it often, but we can be truly proud of the work achieved and its positive impact on a world deeply affected by the pandemic. 

Speaking of positive impact, yesterday you unveiled Saint-Gobain’s purpose. 

Yes, an important page has been written in the history of the Group. MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER HOME is now our purpose and will guide us. Not only that, it will serve as our common project. 

“Making the world a better home” – what does that mean exactly?  

For me, one of the most important words of this purpose is HOME! It is very inclusive and carries a very strong emotional charge. It encapsulates both a fundamental human need which has existed forever, an aspiration that is universal and specific to each part of the planet, and the harmonious interweaving of the material world and the emotional world, the intimate and the collective. In other words, it conveys the microcosm of our individual homes and the macrocosm of our common home – the planet.

This purpose thus expresses what we are: a multi-local organization inspired by the global ambition to protect our planet and create a more sustainable future. 

It enshrines what we do on a practical level every day to fulfill this mission: we invent, produce and distribute materials and solutions designed for everyone’s well-being and everyone’s future, and expresses our positive and tangible impact on everyone's life, on how they work, take care of themselves and travel. 

Finally, it reveals our innovative spirit and our determination to constantly improve. 

Is it a turning point? 

No, it is more an elucidation and formulation of a core identity deeply rooted in the Group’s history. 

How is this purpose embodied? 

It is already embodied in the collective and collaborative spirit with which it was devised. Six hundred workshops were organized around the world. A contribution platform, translated into dozens of languages, was made available to all employees. A total of 15,000 employees participated directly in devising this purpose. We also called on our external stakeholders (customers, NGOs, investors and partners). All of them threw their energy into this single project. 

Today, this purpose gives us a compelling reason to act. By declaring our commitment to the world, we have no choice but to redouble our efforts to live up to it. Our purpose will only be a success if everyone puts it into practice in their behavior. It requires us to innovate openly, in order to meet the major challenges facing humanity – climate change, protection of resources and inclusion. 

What commitments illustrate this purpose?

They are many and varied. Some have been around for a long time, such as the Saint-Gobain Foundation, which allows employee-volunteers to put their skills to work to sponsor projects supporting return to employment or improving the living environment of those experiencing social exclusion. Others are more recent, but just as important. They include the commitment made by the Group in September 2019 to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050, which will be particularly strategic. It is a demanding but exciting approach that requires considerable collective effort – starting now. It places Saint-Gobain in the long term and will help to breathe life into our purpose.

Do you think there a risk that the economic crisis will relegate energy transition challenges to the background?   

On the contrary! The health crisis has accelerated environmental awareness and raised public awareness of the links between health and the environment. 

In addition, the public authorities are getting involved at an unprecedented level through recovery plans that increasingly place green issues at their core. In Europe, a massive 30% of the €750 billion stimulus package is devoted to the ecological transition. 

This provides a historic window of opportunity. We must put all our energy into changing history. Important decisions are being taken today. 

So will tomorrow be more sustainable?

Yes! But not only that. Two other fundamental trends have also gathered momentum – the future will be distinctly more local and even more digital. 

We had already taken this fully into account in our transformation plan announced at the end of 2018 and our new structure, closer to customers, proved to be a key advantage during the months of lockdown. Meanwhile, digitalization has helped our business, particularly by enabling us to continue to serve small tradesmen, the majority of whom continued to work during lockdown. Whereas for some brands, only 5% of orders may have been placed via the internet before the health crisis, this figure sometimes rose to 75% at the peak of lockdown. That was the case for La Plateforme du Bâtiment in France, for example. New habits have been adopted and they will continue. And this is only one facet of digital. What about the digital model, for example, which is already transforming construction by making it possible to build better, but also more sustainably? 

How do you view the Group's future? 

With optimism. By observing global trends, I am convinced that the post-Covid Saint-Gobain has better growth prospects than the pre-Covid Saint-Gobain. With our 170,000 talented employees, armed with the ambitious and shared compass provided by our purpose, we will collectively face the uncertainties of the future, just as we have come through difficult times in past. And we will make the world a more beautiful and sustainable shared home.