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06/08/2021 News

Anticipating our societal impacts

In Pau, TotalEnergies’ societal R&D team focuses on analyzing the potential socio-economic impacts of the company’s activities.

  • Anaerobic digestion plants (AD plants), wind farms, solar plants... To implement a project nowadays, respecting regulations and publishing information on its technical characteristics are no longer sufficient.
  • As a major responsible energy player, it is essential for stakeholders to take our projects on board and ensure that the latter fit in with the development strategy of the territories in which they are implemented.
  • The societal R&D team works on hypothetical actions that could orient the development of projects in such a way that the Company's activities would fit into a process of commitment and mutual trust.

The Jean Féger Scientific and Technical Center in Pau hosts an entity called Societal R&D. Its mission is to analyze the human and/or social events likely to have an impact on the activities of TotalEnergies and to better understand the current and future expectations of local communities.

Philippe Desriac

“Civil society expects more and more of multinationals such as ours, and this has urged us to react and start our transformation. We need to learn more about our stakeholders before kicking off an activity. So, in practice, we carry out applied research that combines theory, field studies and sharing. Nowadays, it’s inconceivable to imagine developing any size of project without anticipating the different societal impacts it might have and the possible related conflicts. This is why our team must constantly perform strategic prospecting. It's a massive challenge but it's fascinating too!” explains Philippe Desriac, head of the service.

One of the main objectives of the societal R&D entity is to provide the operational teams of TotalEnergies with a greater understanding of the events related to the major societal challenges they will have to face when they implement their project and to offer them appropriate solutions. This will enable them to make the best possible decisions according to the context. “This is why we meet regularly with our researcher colleagues who are working on new projects. And for all of our colleagues, we also organize webinars, forums, and host a think tank,” adds the researcher.

A “good” project needs to meet local interests and have the same values as the region.

“I'm moving in, so you clear off,’ is not how things work anymore! In the region, a farmer was unable to install photovoltaic panels on buildings on his land... What are the real and imaginary difficulties?” asks Philippe. In the current climate of mistrust – and that includes experts – having an informed debate is not easy. The general public needs to have sufficient basic knowledge about a range of subjects: these are the conditions for asking experts the right questions and understanding their answers to form one’s own opinion.

“In cooperation with researchers from Rennes and Toulouse universities, we are working for example on the impact of a game – known as a serious game – that our team designed from scratch to encourage an informed debate on climate change. Our scientific observations revealed that after playing three times for 10 minutes on average, 30% of players had understood the challenges of climate change against 3% for people who had only had a lesson on the subject...” A conclusive example of a shift in communication means that appeals to the general public.

Like TotalEnergies employees and investors, the Béarn region expects us to create socio-economic value.

“We have several projects with the UPPA (University of Pau and the Adour region) with which we are partners in the frame of the TEEN Chair (Territories in the energy and environmental transitions) as well as with the Pau conurbation and with other local industrialists and organizations. We’re also in touch with the ESC, the ENSGTI, Hélioparc... The idea is to federate our societal competencies/knowledge within an association comprising various players (SMEs, associations, State services, local government services, etc.) of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and France. It will be unique in France, and I hope that it will be viewed as a reference,” says Philippe enthusiastically.