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8 agosto 2022

Juan Royo: “The great leap forward in CSR has been thanks to legislation”

Juan Royo is an economist and one of Spain's leading experts in Corporate Social Responsibility. As a great fan of comics, he has become a critic, collector and disseminator. Where do sustainability and comics come together? We find out in this conversation on CSR, sustainability and business.

Who is Juan Royo?

I am an economist and I have led a dual technical and academic life. I have worked in banking, but I have also dedicated myself to teaching. For 20 years I have been a professor at the University of Zaragoza and other institutions. From 2010 I made the leap to the professional office and I set up Juan Royo Economistas, which is based primarily on collaboration in different branches and areas. I work on issues of sustainability and socially responsible investment and on other issues such as internal communication, compliance, equality plans, I do it with colleagues.

Long before 2010 you promoted Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Socially Responsible Investment in Spain. You are a historical reference in these issues.

Yes, precisely because this dual professional and academic facet led me, in 1998, to work on socially responsible investment issues with the Ecology and Development Foundation (ECODES), the securities and stock exchange company where I worked, Renta 4, and the University of Zaragoza. We put together a totum revolutum and created the first socially responsible investment fund in Spain, which was a milestone for the investment fund industry in Spain.

Juan Royo ODS RSC IAF
Foto: Maite Santonja)
How did this adventure begin?

With Ramon Pueyo of ECODES, basically, with José Mariano Moneva, at the University of Zaragoza, we went to Madrid to proselytize and we were called the Maño CSR lobby. At that time nobody had heard of CSR: we began to work with Alberto Andreu, who was the general manager of CSR at Telefónica, with Rafael Fernández de Alarcón… At that time we channeled the issues not so much into what were called CSR reports but into socially responsible investment. At that time, in parallel, is when I started my activity in social networks. I created my personal blog in 2006, then the CSR Blog and in 2011 I also created culturarsc.com. I was one of the first to create CSR topics on social networks.

How important has outreach been in raising awareness?

Disclosure is very important, but in the end what is important is the law. I have been disclosing for a long time and while it was voluntary there was no interest, but from 2018 a law comes out in Spain that obliges large companies to make sustainability reports and it is at that moment when everyone gets their act together. The leap in the last three or four years has been thanks to the legislation.

Have you realized its importance from the political point of view?

Yes, at the end of the day companies usually reported strictly financial aspects, but this is a myopic vision of what the company is. In business, what is really important are the intangibles: reputation, brand, people management, occupational health, work-life balance… The company’s impact on society is also really important. Measuring financial profit gives reporting to shareholders and the State, but does not provide an answer to other stakeholders such as suppliers, families, workers, the environment, the local community, society… These are all the people to whom the company is accountable.

Were large companies the first to start doing this?

Of course they were. You have to have a professionalization, a methodology, a homogeneity, a materiality, a comparability and a data reporting. This takes an important effort. It is a cultural change, we have been doing financial accounting for 500 years, but measuring impact is something modern. When you go on a trip, you don’t even consider the CO2 emissions you incur; you care about the cost of the gasoline, not what the gasoline pollutes. That is illogical, it is the air we are all breathing, the first to suffer is you. We not only have to think in economic terms, but also in terms of health and conciliation.

How profitable is a socially responsible company?

It is not a question of being profitable in financial terms, it is a question of being sustainable. If you take into account non-financial parameters, you will be able to manage risks such as reputational risk. You have to have a global vision because in the end you have to find opportunities.

(Foto: Arturo Gascón)
How do you see it: Communicating best practices or greenwashing?

The era of greenwashing is over. Nowadays people are less and less interested in this, because if you get caught the cure will be worse than the disease. In the end, the key to sustainability is internal management, being very clear about what you have to do for the environment, your ethics with workers, customers, suppliers… Specific measures that are perfectly priced and standardized and you can compare yourself with the competition and benchmark yourself. For example, I am a small office and I measure my CO2 emissions, the amount of donations I give, my hours of solidarity, the comics I sponsor through patronage… and I set myself objectives.

What concrete reference measures should companies have in place?

On environmental issues, the calculation of the carbon footprint. If I have to travel, I measure the CO2 emissions and compensate them by paying a little money so that the trip is carbon neutral. If I do it by videoconference, it costs me neither money, nor what the trip costs me, nor what I have to spend with CO2 emissions. Other companies can do the same as I do. It is already mandatory, at least, to measure the footprint. Once the footprint has been measured, you can consider energy efficiency measures. In other words, measure, reduce and compensate.

There are companies that are compensating through the reforestation of urban forests. One example is the (R)eforest Project. What do you think of these actions?

That way you reduce your carbon footprint. They are a very good quality carbon footprint. There are projects that cost more or less money, and this is a project in which each ton of CO2 can cost 50 or 80 euros. The ones I compensate I do it with ECODES and they cost me about 9 euros. This is not because I compensate less, it is because they are projects in emerging countries. Here, as it is something more tangible and measurable, it is more expensive.

Foto: Alfredo Cortés
In the end, it is compensated globally.

CO2 is the same here as it is there. In emerging countries the price drops a lot because they do not have the obligation to be carbon neutral by 2030 as they do here. The environmental issue is strictly a question of economic competitiveness. For Europeans to compete, we have to be green and have a label. How else can we compete with the Chinese?

Is it possible to reach the 2030 target in eight years?

Well (doubt)… There is a first milestone in 2030 and the final milestone is in 2050. By the time everyone has measured their carbon footprint, “Paco with the rebates” will come along and start collecting.

Do you think sustainability is focusing too much on the environmental side and not enough on the social side?

Yes, exactly. Right now the social taxonomy is being debated at European level. It is true that all the focus has been put on the environmental issue with climate change, pollution, circular economy, biodiversity, etc.; and now the social aspect is missing. This is a lot of tomato.

What is the state of CSR in Aragon?

It is good. As I am in Aragon, perhaps I have more arguments to defend it. Galicia, I know, has always been very advanced in terms of sustainability. In fact, it is no longer called CSR, it is all about responsibility.

That is why we were saying before that we have left social issues aside…

Yes, but in many cases consciously. The first to remove the S from CSR was Telefónica, because they said that people were getting confused. They didn’t want to talk about charity or solidarity, they wanted to talk about people management and that is CSR, to talk about conciliation, disconnection from work… The S was misleading. It was not about donating a lot of money, it was about how much you pollute, how you talk in the company, what policies you have with your clients. It is not where you take the money but how you get it.

What companies are there in Aragon?

MAZ, Chocolates Lacasa, Mercazaragoza, Corporación Aragonesa de Radio y Televisión (CARTV), Arpa, DKV… we have many companies.

Changing the subject, you are also a reference in the world of criticism and dissemination of comics. When was this interest born?

Since I was very young, my father already bought me comics, also my great aunt… and I still keep most of them. I always liked reading comics, before there were no video games, internet or cinema so accessible. Comic books gave you extraordinary adventures. The difference is that now I am passionate about knowing the authors, since I not only collect comics, but also the original drawings of the authors. It is a more expensive collecting, but it takes up less space.

How many comics do you have?

Ufff, I don’t know. I have to quantify and inventory it.

Which Aragonese comic referents would you highlight at present?

Bernal, García Iranzo, Fernando de Felipe, Luis Royo, José Antonio Ávila and Carlos Ezquerra.

Is there any meeting point between sustainability and comics?

In my classes I always used comics a lot to teach. I always give the example of Spiderman. If you had superpowers, what would you use them for? To be the best athlete, the smartest in business… and Spiderman uses them for good, not for his own benefit.

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