We recently spoke with Valérie Martin, Vice President of Communications, Culture and CSR at ALDO Group, about how ALDO’s values and purpose are at the heart of its sustainability commitment.
Keep reading to learn what inspires and drives Valérie’s work on sustainability.
SB: What project are you most excited about right now?
VM: We’re currently working on several exciting projects which will be revealed this fall. In the meantime, I’m extremely excited to share our commitment to climate neutrality and the purpose that drive everything we do. In 2019, we are really pushing our climate-neutrality work forward, and in September, we will announce how we are achieving this.
Our founder, Mr. B, was thinking of social responsibility and purpose before the terms became mainstream. Mr. B started designing shoes with the goal of creating a “different” kind of modern company, one founded on compassion and ethics, aiming to influence society in both fashion and social responsibility. Over the years, philanthropy has been at the heart of what we do, leading ALDO to be one of the few companies taking a public stance during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, even if at the time, this was considered taboo. ALDO is still family-owned and feels very family-oriented in our day-to-day operations.
Our CEO, David Bensadoun, is an agent of change within the company. A forward-thinking leader with progressive ideas, his commitment to corporate social responsibility is one that stems from the ALDO Group’s values, and cascades throughout all levels of the company. When David was named CEO, it came with no surprise that he, too, had a connection to our values of love, respect, and integrity and one of his first actions as CEO was to establish an official purpose around our values.
For many companies, getting the buy-in to take the first steps towards climate neutrality can be a challenge and a moonshot goal. However, for ALDO, this process has been a natural progression of the work we’re already doing, thanks to the positive engagement that our board and executives have around this topic. Adopting a low-carbon mindset has been easy for the ALDO Group because top management champions the strategy, rallying all teams to work towards this goal.
SB: How is social or environmental innovation driving value for your business?
VM: Our purpose is a journey to create a world of love, confidence and belonging.
Our workforce is as diverse as our geographical imprint. Since our very early beginnings, we’ve been proud champions of diversity and inclusion. Our founder is an immigrant and a real citizen of the world. It’s our goal to maintain an inclusive work environment that encourages our associates to embrace who they are and reach their full potential. We know that true innovation can only be born through a free exchange of knowledge, ideas and personal experience. That’s why we love all people regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, and background.
Our purpose is embedded in everything that we do. One example is our Recognition Platform, a place to celebrate our achievements, together. At the ALDO Group, we not only evaluate associates’ performance based on goals, but we also recognize them for their behaviour and competencies based on our values and purpose.
In addition, we are supporting initiatives where confidence and belonging are central. You want a good example? We are organizing an amazing fundraising opportunity in September. “The Purpose Ride”, a 250-kilometre [155-mile] ride that will have a meaningful impact in our community to raise funds for an organization that helps feed and offer a safe place for the homeless youth. This event aligns with our company’s purpose because kids need to develop confidence, a sense of belonging and know that we believe in them and will help them accomplish their goals.
SB: What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
VM: I do not have a conventional sustainability background, but I have always had an interest in culture and humanity. I studied Communications and Management in university.
My first job straight out of college was to work on a recognition program at the ALDO Group. This was extremely rewarding because I had the opportunity to see the impact that this program had on people’s lives.
Over the years, I moved to different roles in communications and management. Ten years ago, during my maternity leave, I started to think about the environment and how I could play a more active role to help protect it. I started researching what other companies were doing and started to entice people at ALDO who were interested in this topic.
When I came back from my maternity leave, I presented a sustainability strategy to our executive team at the time and got their buy-in. We started small, but slowly grew and increased our responsibilities to where we are today.
In fact, I do not believe that we need a large team to achieve meaningful results. Sustainability needs to be embedded within the organization. Our CSR team plays an important role in introducing new and innovative ideas, leveraging the expertise of various internal players and working collaboratively with them to track our progress. However, each team needs to own the ideas. Everyone at ALDO is truly working together to help make a difference.
SB: Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
VM: I started my career at ALDO when I was 16 years old, working in our stores while I was still in high-school. I continued working in our ALDO stores throughout university and interned in different departments within the company after graduation. Because of my experience, I feel very connected to the different roles and departments at ALDO and this has helped me in my daily decision-making as I manage our culture as a whole.
Surprisingly, I am not the longest working associate at ALDO. Some of my colleagues have been with the company for over 40 years and contribute to that feeling of being part of a very large family.
SB: If you had unlimited time and resources, on what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members?
VM: We would have an R&D team entirely devoted to accelerating the development of sustainable and circular materials to use in our products. This team would work collaboratively with manufacturer and footwear brands to help bring these new sustainable materials to market at scale.
We are very active in our sustainability journey, but collaboration is key in order to achieve large-scale, meaningful change.
SB: Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
VM: We’ve been attending SB events for over six years now, but we believe that a closer connection with key players will help us build meaningful relationships to collaborate on tougher challenges, together. The member meetings will be great opportunities to engage in this dialogue.
In addition, I am always inspired by the Sustainable Brands events and the creative thinking that happens. It is extremely useful for our internal team brainstorming and decision-making process. The CSR team is looking forward to the Innovation Expo at SB'19 Detroit and sharing great new ideas with like-minded brands.
SB: Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
VM: Soon I’ll be able to share all the exciting projects around climate neutrality, packaging, diversity, circularity and product sustainability, we have in store this year at ALDO. Stay tuned!