Climatetech Leadership Series: A Q&A with Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO + Chairman of Schneider Electric

This interview is part of Greentown Labs’ Climatetech Leadership Series, which profiles C-level executives from our most committed and climate-oriented partners. Read on for insights into how corporations are taking climate action.

This summer, I had the chance to speak with the leader of one of our most climate-oriented partners: Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO and Chairman of Schneider Electric. Tricoire has been part of Schneider Electric for 34 years, and has consistently been at the forefront of corporate climate action. 

Our conversation ranged from Tricoire’s personal passion for clean, accessible energy to why Schneider Electric helps other companies reduce their climate impacts to how Schneider Electric is working to achieve its impressive sustainability goals. 

Schneider Electric has been an excellent, deeply engaged partner to our startup community. In 2018, Schneider Electric partnered with Greentown on the Bold Ideas Challenge, a Greentown Launch partnerships accelerator program centered on distributed energy technology. As a result of that program, Schneider Electric co-led Greentown member Titan Advanced Energy Solutions’ $10 million Series A round

We’re now working together again on Bold Ideas 2020, which focuses on building partnerships between Schneider Electric and entrepreneurs who can enable the swift deployment, integration, and operation of energy storage assets at scale. More than 115 startups applied to the program, and we recently announced the four program participants. 

Emily Reichert: Schneider Electric has committed to being carbon neutral across its supply chain by 2050. What are the top things you’re doing to get there?

Jean-Pascal Tricoire: It’s a big goal, so it’s a great catalyzer for innovation. It pushes us to review everything—the way we work, the way we work with our ecosystem and our suppliers and partners. The purpose of our company is to empower everyone in the world to make the most of their energy and resources, and we specialize particularly in being a digital partner for sustainability to our customers. So what we’re doing to be carbon neutral in 2025, net zero in 2030, and carbon neutral across our supply chain by 2050 is at the core of our mission. That means we’re embedding sustainability at every level and in every part of the company. That’s really anchored in the management, the incentives, and the objectives of everybody in the company.

We have a dashboard, which is called the Schneider Sustainability Impact, which looks at the progress we make in 20 dimensions. Every three years, we reset the clock and fix new objectives. We’ve been doing that for the past 15 years, and every three years we save at least 10 percent in energy consumption and carbon emissions, to give you an example.

To summarize it, we have a few sustainability pillars. The first one is efficiency everywhere, using digitization as the main vehicle for it. The second one is circularity, making sure that all our factories are no-waste to the landfill. The third point is making sure that our source of energy’s greener, therefore moving to even more electricity and making sure that this electricity is based on renewables and storage.

When you package all of this, we are able to have the legitimate ambition, science-based, to be carbon neutral by 2030. Now, you can’t win alone. We are taking along our whole ecosystem of partners to make sure we all work in the same direction.

ER: I know you aim to help other companies reduce their climate impacts by guiding them through quantifying their CO2 emissions. It sounds like this is incredibly important, not only for your organization but for those companies as well. Why do you believe it’s so important for companies to have this data?

JPT: We work with hundreds of companies and we’ve become their main partner in this journey. For us, it’s very simple. First, you’ve got to measure everything, because at the end of the day, your carbon footprint is one expression of your waste, of your inefficiency. So striving for more efficiency is striving for less carbon. And the only way to do it is to measure, and if you stop measuring, you stop progressing.

Second, based on data, you have to strategize where you want to start, what you want to do, what is the best return, and what we’ve seen for Schneider is better sustainability means better economics. What is good for the planet is also good for the business.

Third, you’ve got to execute. Fourth: iterate, because it’s a never-ending marathon. You can always do better.

At Schneider, our progress on sustainability and what we do for our customers is deep in our incentives, so it’s a tremendous motivation for our customers, for our employees, for our shareholders. We are the number five company in the world that is most invested in by ESG funds. One day, we realized that what we’re doing in sustainability for ourselves and our customers actually made us more attractive for shareholders and investors. Sustainability doesn’t go against performance.

ER: I can tell from speaking with you that you’re very passionate about climate action and the role businesses can play. What sparked your interest in this topic?

JPT: I originally come from farming, so I spent 20 years of my life deep into nature. I have a passion in life for white water kayaking, which means when I have time I spend it on outdoor sports. The third point is that at Schneider, I became familiar with a number of emerging countries. When you go and live in developing countries, you realize that a fundamental human right is access to energy. What we take for granted in the west is something that is not granted in most of the world.

But at the same time, energy is the first emitter of carbon. We need to find another way to produce and use energy. So this obsession of bridging progress and sustainability for all, thanks to technology—renewables, but also digitization of everything—has been my passion, but also the passion of all the people at Schneider.

ER: We’re excited here at Greentown to be kicking off a second Launch program with Schneider Electric, focused on energy storage. How do you aim to support your business and sustainability goals through Bold Ideas 2020?

JPT: Bold Ideas, and the association with Greentown Labs and the companies that gravitate around it, is meant to find alliances for innovation that are win-win. At Schneider, we have a huge network and capacity to integrate innovation with customers in more than 100 countries, but we know that innovation develops faster, in even more disruptive ways, in an ecosystem of startups. You at Greentown Labs organize the aggregation of the best companies, the best startups, so it’s a privilege working with you and we are very excited to move forward with the new round of Bold Ideas.I’m looking forward to the results of it! 

ER: I am as well, and I think we had some wonderful results out of the first Bold Ideas Challenge, so hopefully we’ll see that and more. 

As you look to the future, for your company and for the planet, are you hopeful? Are you optimistic? How do you think about the future?

JPT: I often say I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I’m activistic. I work on it. This is what we do at Schneider—we are a group of people who believe that we shouldn’t dream about the future, we should create it and make sure that it goes in the direction we want, which is sustainability.

Emily Reichert is the CEO of Greentown Labs, the largest climatetech startup incubator in North America, on a mission to support entrepreneurs tackling the biggest climate and environmental challenges. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and conciseness.