Interview by Abby Ghercea
Meet Dorothée Coucharrière, European Affairs Director at ENGIE. In this interview, Dorothée discusses balancing competing interests in the energy industry, the current energy crisis and opportunities it presents, and how chimpanzees and humans are more alike than we think.
You have recently joined ENGIE as the European Affairs Director. Congratulations! Can you tell us what a normal day at work looks like in this new role?
I’m not new to the public affairs or energy sector but the climate and energy crisis is setting new challenges and ENGIE is a multi-energy, global company, with many different activities and challenges to take up. At this moment, as you can imagine, with the crisis that the EU is going through in the energy sector, life is very busy, especially in Brussels. My days are full recently with emergency measures, trying to mitigate the short-term impact of the crisis, but also at the same time trying to reflect on long-term strategy. My day-to-day is quite diverse. I manage a big team of senior people, all experts in their fields. I feel more like the director of an orchestra, trying to put all these instruments in harmony. I have external meetings with institutions, internal team meetings, working groups, and discussions with colleagues from different businesses . ENGIE is a very large group with 100,000 collaborators all over the world, so there is diversity in our activities and interests as well. I am like a translator interpreting between different worlds: the political world, with short-term and long-term goals, dealing with regulations, mobilising internal colleagues, and aligning with stakeholders.
My day-to-day is quite diverse. I manage a big team of very senior people, all specialists in their fields. I feel more like a director in an orchestra, trying to put all these instruments in harmony.
Currently, Europe is facing an energy crisis and the focus on the climate at a global level appears to be at an all-time high. How do these contexts affect your work?
In the energy sector, we are at the core of the reactor. We are focused now on how we change the paradigm to reach climate neutrality by 2050. To meet that target there is a need to shift the current model, while at the same time maintaining important aspects like our economic stability within boundaries. We also must align 27 different member states, multiplied by different stakeholders, including foreign partners. At the EU level, the targets on the table are quite ambitious and they have to be implemented evenly across all member states, which have different legislation and different energy strategies. As a company, we are taking the lead and developing renewable electrcity and renewable gasses to build and independent and resilient energy system. People are reducing massively their energy consumption and that is interesting as this lever is not usually easy to trigger. The crisis is a shock, but it is probably thanks to this shock that we can go a step further. The EU is being built through crisis anyway.
At ENGIE, we try to shape the sector and solve the crisis on the long run. We are at the forefront of new technologies and very successful in renewable energy and we need confidence and long term support from the policy makers to go on with the plan.
The crisis is a shock, but it is probably thanks to this shock that we can go a step further. The EU is being built through crisis anyway.
You have over 15 years of experience working within the energy and transport sectors to mitigate climate change. What are the most positive changes you have seen within these sectors regarding climate change, and what do you hope for the future of these sectors?
I’m a specialist and have always been active in this debate while working in the institutions and private sector. There has been an improvement in the way we see our impact on this planet and what we need to do, and we were quick to realise that we needed to develop other technologies. However, I think that there is still more we can do when it comes to the way we consume and the way we see our place in the world in relation to nature and biodiversity; we are just one part of it. Climate change has an impact on biodiversity loss and vice versa; it is not just one or the other. Sometimes it is easy for policymakers to only take one instrument as a reference, and yet what we are facing is so much more complex.
As companies we have to deal with different factors that affect the execution of our business and to evaluate risks. We are in changing times, and it is important to understand that this does not mean fewer jobs and less business: in fact, we have to build what we do around the economy. It has been interesting, for instance, to see a movement towards more rail travel or use of bikes. The problem is that we are not alone in Europe, and we need to think of ourselves less as an isolated region and more as part of the globalised world. It is a difficult equation, but I have seen over the years that things are moving in the right direction. Again, this crisis is a new opportunity to go further.
You volunteered at a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Republic of Congo. What inspired you to volunteer in animal welfare and what have you learned from it?
I was attracted by forest protection, and I quickly saw that you cannot protect a forest if you do not protect the inhabitants of the forest. Unfortunately we see in many tropical forests across the world that indigenous people are facing the negative collateral effects of certain activities. Again, if you want to protect the forest, you need to protect what is part of the forest.
The way that chimpanzees organise themselves is very interesting. Chimpanzees are a good example of how humans behave and studying them is a way to learn about human organisation. When you look at chimpanzees, you see that they are aggressive apes; they fight for food and are dominant for example. In some ways they appear very human, with many shared characteristics, but at the same time they are so different because they are perfectly in harmony in their environment. If you break this harmony, it is a disaster.
Can you share any insights you have gained from being a member of the WIL network?
What I experienced as a woman in high positions in big, political organisations made me think that women need to strengthen their relationships with each other. Being part of the WIL network is not just about talking to or about women, but about finding a place where we can learn from each other, share experiences, visions, and empower each other, all of which are very important to me. Men have been doing this for a long time. When I look at men, I see that they are very organised and, in my view, accept the ranking of society much more than we do. In previous roles, for instance, I would see younger men sitting behind the older ones and not challenging their position, a bit like the chimpanzees I observed during my volunteer work. I think that women missed some of the codes of society because we were not part of the shaping of it. Now, we have to be part of the re-shaping.
As women, we also have specific challenges to deal with, especially when it comes to handling our professional and family lives. It can be a huge burden. However, men can benefit from this too because it is really a battle about the recognition of your need for personal time and a balance with time spent at work.
I would see younger men sitting behind the older ones and not challenging their position, a bit like the chimpanzees I had observed during my volunteer work. I think women missed some of the codes of society because we were not part of the shaping of it. Now, we have to be part of the re-shaping.
Finally, we end with a question from the Proust Questionnaire: Who are your heroes in real life?
My heroes are the people of day-to-day life. After COVID we see a lot of pressure on our society and my heroes are teachers, nurses, food-makers and all of those people working hard and without whom the system would collapse. There are probably some jobs that we could remove and society would continue, but the people I have mentioned are very crucial in our society. At the same time, I also look up to artists because they bring us joy and vision and that is very important.
Video edited by Marella Ricketts