Covid-19, Society, Innovation & Sustainable Business Review from Grenoble Ecole de Management


Covid-19: “The task today is to set society back on track”

In light of this unprecedented crisis, Grenoble Ecole de Management focuses on its primary leitmotif: to be a responsible, solidary institution that ensures the safety of its students and staff.

As of December 2019, Grenoble Ecole de Management mobilized its resources to overcome an unprecedented health crisis. Our leitmotif? To be a responsible, solidary school and employer that protects the health of its students and staff. With educational programs being continued online, what is the economic and societal vision offered by GEM?

Interview with Loïck Roche, Dean and Director of Grenoble École de Management.

72 hours before the government decided to implement a nationwide lockdown, Grenoble Ecole de Management decided to stop two essential activities: face-to-face teaching and working at the school. What was your analysis of the Covid-19 crisis?

At the end of December 2019, beginning January 2020, Grenoble Ecole de Management was receiving feedback from students on exchange in Asia or at our campus in Singapore. These were the first worrisome signs. In February, the school forbade travel to China for its students and staff and asked all staff and students in the country to travel back to their home countries.

Beginning March, we set up a crisis unit that met every day in order to ensure what has always been our number one priority: the safety and health of our students and staff. As part of this process, we decided to close all of our locations, which meant that all of our activities, management, organizational and teaching, were switched to telecommuting. This decision was made well in advance of government recommendations and most certainly helped limit the spread of the virus within our institution, which welcomes 5,000 people every day.

What has changed for everyone?

In terms of teaching, little has changed in reality. The switch enabled us to implement 100% online teaching, but teachers and students at the school were already used to online formats. Of course, for a minority of participants, this switch was extremely anxiety-inducing. We have to remember that contrary to general opinion, this is not a normal telecommuting context. In other words, a key factor is missing: freedom of choice. We are required to telecommute while dealing with a lockdown which can have a strong, negative psychological impact. It can’t be compared to a freely chosen telecommuting situation.

The largest impact for us is in terms of our activities with businesses. As many companies are suffering from this crisis, we also suffer. For example, almost all of our continuing education programs were simply frozen. Despite all of our agility and solidity, we are not unsinkable. We share the same challenge as all companies: how to start up again, together, in a New Deal that we would like to co-construct with them.

You predicted: “It’s essential that we better understand what is happening because there will be no going back to normal.” What are the major areas of change for GEM?

This global health crisis and the violence of the shock reveal the end of a world. Leaders and global actors are living an illusion, namely, that globalization and unrestrained exchanges are an all-powerful solution. But the world is turning upside down. The task today is to set society back on track.

For GEM, I believe that our position since 2013 to become a School for Business for Society has become all the more relevant. Our focus on innovation, technology management, and our ties to the region and our ecosystem is all the more essential.

Yet we have to take things a step further. We have to promote what I like to call “humane ecology”—a means to radically change how we think about relationships between governments, companies, and people; a means to act with real efficiency to manage issues related to the environment, global warming and all living beings.

This also means we have to go beyond our idea of traditional business schools. The world of tomorrow has to be invented, not re-invented, which is just synonymous with repeating what has already been done. In this change, some schools will stand out, those that understand they have to go beyond their mission, beyond education and research. They have to engage with the major challenges of the 21st century, which I believe are only really starting today.

How will the school’s activities be organized in coming months?

Our strategy since the start of the crisis has been extremely clear: to decide and act in order to provide a reassuring framework within an extremely uncertain and painful environment.

We are preparing for the next school year to start out as 100% e-learning. If things calm down beforehand, it’s easy to switch our management, organization, and teaching activities back to a physical format.

Most importantly, we are working relentlessly to collect every bit of knowledge and understanding we can from the crisis we are currently living. At the same time, we are working to guarantee our students have better support and teaching. We are also working side-by-side with companies. Finally, as we want to play a role in solving the challenges created by this crisis, we are taking the utmost care of GEM. In other words, we are taking the utmost care of our employees, who are the number one factor that will enable us to take care of all of our partners.


How has society changed because of the Covid-19 experience?

A new global study aims to understand the impact of the lockdown on our social interactions. How do we live together? Distance ourselves? Connect with each other?

How has the lockdown and the crisis’ impact on our social interactions changed our relationships? Two researchers explore this question using a qualitative study, which is currently being implemented on an international scale.

The study is led by Stéphanie Gauttier, researcher and professor of strategic and technology management at Grenoble Ecole de Management, and Nicola Liberati, professor at the University of Shanghai Jiao Tong.

How has society changed because of the Covid-19 experience? How are we living together? How are we distancing ourselves? How do we feel connected to others?

“To improve our understanding, we are currently inviting people from all countries to analyze their experience of grocery shopping during the lockdown. The invisible presence of a virus leads us to question our behavior and various details that were ignored until now because these everyday gestures have an impact on the spread of the virus. Going outside to buy groceries no longer has the same importance. Each action requires new thinking and analysis. Every time we think about these actions, we also think about others who have the same dilemma, and whose behavior impacts our own development,” explains Stéphanie Gauttier.

Measuring the impact of others on our perception of our own experience

The research project is currently being implemented on an international scale. On April 30th, 2020, a large part of the planet was on lockdown. For the moment, 15 countries have already participated in the study (India, Russia, Iran, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain…) with 83 participants. Once completed, the study should include a dozen participants from each country.

“For participants, the questionnaire asks them to share how they perceive the world. The goal of the study is to understand the subjectivity and intersubjectivity of individuals. Our questionnaire focused on very individual experience, grocery shopping, which assumes a very subjective point of view, whereas going out means facing the presence of others and their perspective becomes a force to be considered. The presence or absence of others impacts our perception of our own experience,” adds Stéphanie, who worked for two years with Nicola Liberati in a philosophy laboratory in the Netherlands.

France: ambiguous feelings about shared space

“By observing the French sample, we already note an ambiguous rapport to shared spaces and the desire to avoid others or at least think about their presence. We also see a new relationship to our own vulnerability. Notably, the desire to avoid others as much as possible as well as avoiding areas of potential contact. But at the same time, the presence of others is a source of joy. The ethical aspect is also important (protecting oneself and others),” underlines Stéphanie.

“The end-goal of this study is to help define what it means to take care of oneself and take care of others. Priorities around the world are very different at both individual and cultural levels. And preventive measures also vary by country. The ambition is to analyze how individual behavior will be modified in the post-Covid era,” concludes Stéphanie.

To participate in the research project:


How to go beyond “innovation for innovation’s sake?” 

The French Citizens’ Convention for Climate submits 50 proposals for the environmental transition. A first step towards citizen input for the future of environmental legislation in France.

Mid-April, the Citizens’ Convention for Climate submitted 50 proposals to the government in order to further advance the environmental transformation process and help avoid a new crisis caused by climate change. The primary challenge lies in ensuring innovation is done for the sake of the transition.

How can we prepare for the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis? How can we implement changes that offer hope for a new societal model in terms of environmental, health and economic issues? These questions were at the heart of the ambitious goals set by 150 citizens who participated in the convention. Participants were drawn from all across France and all types of background. They spent the past 6 months working on suggestions to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% before 2030 (in comparison to 1990 levels). This is the first time a panel of representative French citizens was directly involved in the preparation of new legislation. Two researchers and professors at Grenoble Ecole de Management share their insights on this process.

Carine Sebi is a professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management and an expert in the fields of economics and energy efficiency.

Increasing the rate of energy-related renovations is one of the proposals focused on by the convention as it creates jobs and saves money on energy bills. Current government indications encourage step-by-step renovations spread out over longer periods of time. The convention proposes that regulations be reinforced so that an overall renovation is required by 2040. Such a measure would be preferable in economic, energetic and technical terms.

The government should implement this proposal as of 2030 because it demonstrates the interest and acceptability on behalf of citizens for a massive investment in energy consumption renovations for housing. The Grenoble Ecole de Management Energy for Society chair currently aims to propose and test the acceptability of new energy services for coop renovations.

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, the convention argues for a different economic and social model that is more humane and robust. This includes a re-localization of activities to ensure our energy safety. Citizen energy communities such as Buxia Energies, Energ’Y Citoyennes, or Grési21 should inspire the convention because they meet all of the criteria for citizens to be more engaged in the energy transition, a sector that up until now was unavailable to them.

Thibault Daudigeos is a professor of management at Grenoble Ecole de Management. He is an expert on new organizational models for the transition towards a more environmentally friendly and solidary society. He is the coordinator of the Territories in Transition chair.

While France has just ended a difficult lockdown, nature appears to have benefited from this slowdown. But if we don’t change our current production and consumption models, this breath of fresh air will not last. To build on this slowdown, we should ask ourselves what we can draw from this experience and what we can leave behind from our “old model”.

During the lockdown, several platforms were created to coordinate new exchanges between neighbors and local businesses. These platforms are precursors to the regional services of tomorrow: local food networks, neighborhood concierge services, shared mobility, home helpers… The Territories in Transition chair launched a research program to understand and improve the governance of these platforms as well as their organizational and economic models.

The current crisis creates lots of uncertainty in terms of available resources. It will be very important to encourage behavior that combines low costs and high added value for the environment. For example, continuing to telecommute or encourage alternative mobility is an important aspect. It’s also an opportunity for tactical urbanism that will improve agility. The city of Grenoble for example suddenly added 18 kilometers of bike paths. To really meet our needs, local populations have to be involved in the decision making process. The territories in Transition chair recently created a panel of Grenoble metropolis citizens in order to test the solutions of tomorrow.

Link to the Territories in Transition chair:


Certificate in Smart and Sustainable Business: innovation for sustainable development

Sustainability has become a key factor for brand attractiveness. How can entrepreneurs, business leaders, managers and consultants help implement sustainable processes in a variety of markets?

The Certificate in Smart and Sustainable Business draws from Grenoble Ecole de Management’s long standing expertise in the management of technology and innovation. Aimed at entrepreneurs, business leaders, managers and consultants, this continuing education program is part of GEM’s social commitment to become a School for Business for Society.

Developing sustainable processes is a key factor for many companies. “Younger generations are more sensitive to issues related to sustainable development and they have become important factors in terms of a brand’s attractiveness for recruitment purposes. In addition, major players such as Renault, whose cars are 85% recyclable, are guiding forces for entire sectors to develop virtuous business cycles,” explains Michele Coletti, in charge of the program and a researcher and professor at GEM specialized in innovation and the environmental transition.

Creating virtuous processes

How can companies move towards virtuous strategies in various markets? This is the goal of the Certificate in Smart and Sustainable Business. “The program aims to implement innovation as a means of developing sustainable economic and societal solutions through sustainable design, manufacturing and sales processes. This continuing education program breaks away from the traditional gap that exists between new technology and sustainable development because technology tied to innovation is neutral in and of itself,” highlights Michele.

The program is designed for managers who wish to learn how to integrate sustainable development in their work. The program is not designed to train participants to become experts of the transition. The program is comprised of several modules built around development models that have proven their worth. Examples include:

  • Designing innovation products and services while analyzing their economic and social impact
  • Developing a circular economy
  • Mobilizing a supply chain to implement overall sustainable development processes. What alliances can be beneficial? What legal framework?
  • Promising business models for sustainable development
  • New market models in Europe and around the world

Best practices and shared experiences

The Certificate in Smart and Sustainable Business was created alongside a specialized MBA at GEM that teaches methods and skills for sustainable product development. “There is no single solution or method. Instead, there are many perspectives and the program relies on real case studies and input from numerous experts. It’s essential to have various points of view as this opens one’s perspective and spirit,” underlines Michele.

For example, a team from the company A.Raymond (a global supplier for the automobile sector) shared its processes for implementing a circular economy for the design and manufacturing of components for the automobile industry. Experiences shared by industrial players help highlight the various challenges of implementing such processes for clients and major brands. Other shared experience include Seb, which shared its interest in reducing packaging and ensuring a second-life for its products. “We also work with clusters such as Plastipolis, which share their experience in terms of how industries can adapt their offer to match the transition,” says Michele.

In 2019, 8 students participated in the Certificate in Smart and Sustainable Business. In 2020, participation jumped to 18 students. Given the program’s international perspective, all classes are taught in English. “The program brings together various campuses from various companies and ensures a wide diversity of profiles and backgrounds,” concludes Michele. The program is a full week of part-time class delivered in February, March and April.