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Small Medium Enterprises and sustainability - many hands make big impact  12 February 2018

Recently I attended the inauguration speech about Integrated Value of Wayne Visser who holds the first chair on Sustainable Transformation worldwide at Antwerp Management School. Integrated Value goes beyond sustainable or shared value - it aims for high-synergy transformation solutions which are secure, smart, shared, satisfying and sustainable. See for more about Integrated Value this must-read article by Wayne Visser  – he’s the one who can explain this best.

It was something else which triggered me to write this blog. The chair of Sustainable Transformation at Antwerp Management School is being sponsored by three major companies:  BASF, Randstad and Port of Antwerp. During the inauguration session their CEO’s spoke about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)/Sustainability in these enterprises and it won’t be a surprise they do a lot. Which I thinks accounts for most multinationals today for a number of reasons:

Ideally a multinational has integrated sustainability in its business model because there is a genuine belief (long term) profitability and sustainability are a perfect marriage. Or the understanding that (natural) resources of our planet aren’t infinite and it’s in the company’s interest to safeguard availability in the long term by becoming sustainable/circular. But to be honest - in some cases sustainability might still be driven by demand/pressure of shareholders, media, public opinion or other stakeholders. Multinationals, often publicly traded, simply cannot walk away from sustainability anymore because it would harm their reputation, which could result in a drop of turnover, share price, increased regulation etc. and ultimately kill their business.

This made me think – what about small and medium enterprises (SMEs) ? When it comes to sustainability there is much focus on multinationals – for the reasons above and of course it’s the best way to generate first results through big steps that can be taken by giant enterprises who can make a difference. Having been responsible for Corporate Social Responsibility at AB InBev in Europe I can speak from experience here, but what about the numerous SMEs, which are often privately owned and much more below the radar of public, media and other stakeholder exposure – even in the age of transparency ? Being an independent CSR consultant now, I’ve talked with a number of SME owners and my observation is that sustainability efforts vary all the way - from very engaged to ‘not a priority’. Doing some internet research I found some initiatives about integrating sustainability within SME, but they are mostly fragmented and I couldn’t find any data about sustainability engagement within SME. Asking Wayne Visser about this, he agreed that integrating sustainability within SME ‘remains a challenge’.

What you can find though is data about the economic importance of SMEs (the European Union considers a SME to have less than 250 employees and less then 50 million EUR turnover): According to Eurostat SMEs make up for over 99% of number of enterprises, two-third of total employment and almost 59% of added value in the private sector in the European Union alone. Of course it’s much harder to influence almost 21 million of SME’s compared to about 100.000 large enterprises but now sustainability within the large companies has found traction I believe it’s time to start focussing on the SMEs which are not engaged with sustainability yet.

It would be too easy to state SMEs have to go with the flow, because not being sustainable in the long term would mean these companies ultimately just wouldn’t survive. That’s a too passive approach and sustainability has a sense of urgency. Another approach would be to force SMEs into sustainability by means of legislation/regulation but I wouldn’t prefer this either. Private companies are way better off to keep control themselves but it could be a last resort if nothing else works.

I believe a positive approach would make much more sense and there are numerous ways to influence this:

First of all, industry/trade associations could play an important role to give this traction. Almost every industry has them on national and European level and they usually have the knowledge and network to drive this. For example by making industry-wide commitments which could be connected to the Sustainable Development Goals and consolidation of measurement of progress. Furthermore these organizations could advocate sustainability in vocational education, provide industry specific information, white papers, training etc. to help SMEs building their CSR strategy and coordinate sharing best practices within their industry.

Banks can also influence sustainability in SMEs. I recently joined a session at ABN Amro where the sustainability lead explained the bank usually finances up to 80% of required capital for companies, but for the ones with a solid sustainability plan financing can go all the way to 100%. A number of other banks have similar policies.

Multinationals can play an important role as well by sharing best practices in the area of sustainability with SMEs. Sharing doesn’t mean giving away competitive advantage, but inspiring and helping others to become more sustainable actually is a way of Corporate Social Responsible behaviour.

Probably there are more ways possible to drive this, so feel free to comment and share! Though not the topic of this blog, I can assure sustainability is relevant and applicable for SMEs, not only to protect but also to grow business. And don’t get me wrong – there are already a lot of SMEs active with CSR but we should leave no one behind here.

Maybe this would be an interesting research topic for the Sustainable Transformation division of the Antwerp Management School. And if you own an SME and want to step up in CSR/Sustainability let me know, I’ll be glad to be of service too with advice or a workshop 😊



The big picture of sustainability  12 January 2018

Sustainability/CSR as a discipline started to grow organically in the late 20th century, fuelled by a number of disasters like Chernobyl and Exxon Valdez and when mankind started to realize that natural resources are not indefinite and global warming could become a threat for the existence of future generations. But it was not until the start of the new millennium a more structured approach of sustainability got traction. Being active in the area of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility for a number of years now, I got acquainted with these initiatives and frameworks over time. With this blog I aim to give an overview of the most essential ones and how they interconnect with each other. The hyperlinks in the article refer to each of them if you want to learn more.

A key organization which started to give structured direction in sustainability is United Nations (UN).

In 1983, the UN Brundtland Commission already set the definition for sustainable development and kicked off in the 1990’s with a series of Climate Conferences – with as most recent milestone the 2015 Conference in Paris where the ambition to reduce global warming with 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels was set.

Where the Climate Conferences aim to reach consensus amongst world leaders on fighting climate change, the UN launched two overarching sustainability initiatives beyond climate change in the new millennium – the Millennium Development Goals and the Global Compact.

The Global Compact is a set of 10 principles to drive CSR in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption and aims to commit companies to work together with UN agencies and civil society to achieve this. So far, over 13000 companies in over 170 countries have joined the Global Compact. Not the same, but with similar intent are the Organization Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines which give guidance to multinational enterprises to conduct responsible business – these guidelines got a major update in 2011 after their initial launch in 1976 to be in line with sustainability standards today.

The Millennium Development Goals, which were also launched in 2000, have been undersigned by leaders of 189 countries and aimed on a substantial reduction of poverty and hunger, improving health, education, gender equality as well as environmental sustainability by 2015. Where the Global Compact is more focused on driving initiatives by the private sector, the Millennium Development Goals gave direction to worldwide policy making to drive change.

As the Millennium Development Goals were set for 2015, UN has now replaced them by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These are 17 goals, elaborating on their predecessors - but a huge step up, both in scope as ambition and they should be met by 2030. Overarching theme is ‘leaving no one behind’ and aiming to bring essentially all stakeholders – both public as private – together to work on realizing stretched targets. These include ending poverty and hunger, create good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sustainable energy and responsible consumption globally. To my opinion, the SDGs are the first really overarching, all-inclusive framework towards a sustainable future. It’s great to see that both public and private parties embrace them as such – more and more companies for example integrate the SDGs in their CSR strategy and reporting. If all parties use this as a standard it will not only help to achieve them but also to monitor progress consistently. A helpful tool for companies is the Sustainable Development Goals Compass, this provides guidance on how they can align their strategies as well as measure and manage their contribution to the realization of the SDGs.

A key framework to help organizations build, implement and integrate sustainability is the ISO 26000 Social Responsibility standard, launched in 2010. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is probably most known for its ISO 9001 Quality standard, but they provide numerous standards for commerce and industry. ISO 26000 essentially gives guidance to organizations starting with a number of principles to be accountable, transparent, ethical and take the interest of stakeholders in mind. Followed by mapping and involving stakeholders, understanding and selecting relevant themes in the area of People, Planet, Profit and finally implementing (prioritized) themes in the organization, following Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). ISO 26000 is not the only ISO standard related to sustainability, other relevant and related standards are for example ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System) and ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety). 

Related to ISO 26000 is the CSR Performance Ladder. As ISO 26000 cannot be certified (only a self-declaration on being compliant),  the Dutch Foundation Sustained Responsibility created a standard – based on ISO 26000 and 9001 which can be certified by an independent institute. Like ISO 26000 the CSR Performance Ladder (MVO Prestatieladder) helps organizations towards an integrated CSR strategy and implementation. It covers 33 indicators in the area of People, Planet and Profit and consists of five steps. Step 1 and 2 are entry levels - gradually adding indicators and stakeholders to reach Level 3, covering the 33 indicators and stakeholders for a specific industry. Step 4 and 5 are intended for organizations who want to lead in sustainability beyond their own borders. Next to the CSR Performance Ladder the CO2 Performance Ladder exists. It focuses on reducing CO2 emission but the structure is similar. 

To be transparent and monitor efforts, comparable and standardized reporting for sustainability is essential – just like financial reporting. It’s with this purpose Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was founded in 1997. GRI provides guidance for organizations to create comparable, standardized reporting of sustainability efforts. It connects perfectly with ISO 26000 as the GRI indicators are connected with the social responsibility issues of ISO 26000 (and thus the indicators of the CSR Performance Ladder as well). Although sustainability reporting is not mandatory yet, it’s great to see an increasing number of organizations publish them – and of those more and more using the GRI Guidelines and connecting with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Finally, I would like to mention a few important concepts regarding sustainability. A key one is ‘creating shared value’ which was concepted by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in 2011. Essence of shared value is to find the intersection where the interest of business and society come together. Where in the early days CSR equalled just doing good for society, it was often not contributing to business. Shared value combines both - a coffee company for example can help coffee bean farmers to increase quality and yield of their harvest, instead of just buying fair trade. This is good for the farmers and it ensures the coffee company sufficient supply of good quality coffee beans.

A second concept is ‘circular economy’. So far our economy has been linear – take raw materials, make a product, use it and dispose it. Circular economy aims to close the loop by designing products in a way that after use no waste exists – by making sure biological remains are safely returned into nature and technical remains are ideally upcycled into new (raw) materials. This is also known as ‘cradle to cradle’, but circular economy is more – this also looks into optimizing the technical lifespan of a product and shifting from ownership to usage – which motivates the producer to create a product that can last as long as possible against optimal costs (which in a linear economy is not of his interest).

I believe ‘bio based economy’ is another essential concept. As we know fossil based resources will eventually vanish (for oil already estimated around 2050!) and it’s not always possible to use them in a sustainable way. Bio based resources are sustainable – as they come from Mother Nature and can be applied using their natural closed loop. There are many examples – like bio-based chemicals or plastics which also can connect with circular economy and shared value.

To round off I would like to mention Earth Overshoot Day. The root cause of our sustainable challenges is that we demand more of our Earth than it can provide – this overconsumption results in all issues we are fighting, like global warming, extreme weather, shortage of water and other raw materials etc. The Global Footprint Network calculates each year on which day mankind has used Earth’s resources for that year. Where we were in balance in 1970, we already exhausted our resources by August 2nd in 2017! I believe this is a key reminder why we need to change our current consumption behaviour – here lies the key to sustainability solutions.

Of course this overview has not been intended to be exhaustive, there are many other great concepts, initiatives and active organizations, bringing general or specific expertise and efforts towards a sustainable future. I just hope this gives especially starters -or people with a more general interest- in sustainability a helicopter view of key initiatives, frameworks and organizations and how they relate to each other. If you feel something essential is missing feel free to comment !



Is een kerstpakket duurzaam?  18 December 2017

Nu Sinterklaas met zijn (al-dan-niet gekleurde) Pieten weer naar Spanje is vertrokken staan de komende weken van de decembermaand in het teken van Kerstmis en daarmee ook de onvermijdelijke stroom van kerstpakketten. Ondernemers-medium de Zaak wijdt daar zelfs een jaarlijks onderzoek aan en omdat één van de vragen ging over kerstpakketten in relatie tot duurzaamheid bekeek ik de resultaten met belangstelling.

Want is een kerstpakket (al dan niet gevuld met duurzame producten) op zich wel duurzaam en is het fenomeen nog wel van deze tijd ? Om te beginnen met mijn persoonlijke mening (en die is al van lang voor mijn beroepsmatige liefde voor duurzaamheid): ik vind het concept van een traditioneel kerstpakket achterhaald in onze huidige consumptiemaatschappij. Zelf heb ik ook de nodige kerstpakketten ontvangen en zonder ondankbaar te willen lijken me herhaaldelijk afgevraagd waar ik het zoveelste kaasplankje, kandelaar, glazenset of andere prullaria moest laten. Je kunt deze ook niet oneindig aan vrienden of familie kwijt omdat zij ook vaak met kerstpakketten met soortgelijke inhoud worden bestookt. Het eetbare gedeelte van het kerstpakket viel bij mij als foodie in de regel wel in de smaak, maar niet iedereen is een alleseter en je weet dat voor de luxueus uitgedoste producten in het kerstpakket waarschijnlijk meer is neergeteld dan een standaard verpakt maar gelijkwaardig product in de supermarkt.

Nu wil ik niet als de Grinch who stole Christmas overkomen, maar laten we eens een paar zaken op een rijtje zetten om het fenomeen kerstpakket in perspectief te plaatsen – om te beginnen met de oorsprong van deze traditie.

Deze stamt uit de vroege 19de eeuw, waar in landen als Nederland maar ook in Engeland op boerderijen het inwonend personeel Eerste Kerstdag met de boer vierde, maar op Tweede Kerstdag vrijaf kreeg om Kerstmis thuis te vieren. De boer gaf zijn personeel als blijk van waardering een mand met lekkernijen en een presentje mee zodat de werknemers daarvan op Tweede Kerstdag met hun eigen familie konden genieten. In de loop der tijd werd deze gewoonte door werkgevers in andere bedrijfstakken overgenomen en in vroegere tijden waarin het algemene welvaartsniveau anders was dan vandaag de dag was het kerstpakket een welkome extra om van het Kerstfeest iets bijzonders te maken.

Maar tijden veranderen en zeker in welvarende landen als Nederland ben ik er redelijk zeker van dat de werkende mens niet meer afhankelijk is van een kerstpakket van zijn werkgever om met kerst iets bijzonders op tafel te zetten. Natuurlijk zijn er wel minderbedeelden in onze maatschappij die daar nog wel iets aan zouden hebben, maar dat zijn in de regel geen mensen in loondienst. Maar daarover later meer.

Uit het kerstpakket onderzoek van De Zaak blijkt dat werkgevers de geste van een kerstpakket nog altijd belangrijk vinden; het wordt door 69% van de werknemers en 63% van de ondernemers als teken van waardering gezien en slechts 5% respectievelijk 6% van hen vindt het pakket overbodig (dat zou ook wel ondankbaar overkomen natuurlijk). Maar zowel werknemers (53%) als ondernemers (62%) vinden het ook belangrijk dat een kerstpakket duurzaam is.

Uiteraard spelen leveranciers hierop in door kerstpakketten aan te bieden die gevuld zijn met bijvoorbeeld fair-trade producten, maar dat neemt nog steeds niet weg dat dat deze naast de inhoud zelf, waar de ontvanger wellicht niet altijd (volledig) op zit te wachten, ook een footprint hebben op gebied van verpakking en logistiek.

Maar gelukkig zijn er ook steeds meer alternatieve invullingen voor het kerstpakket – denk aan cadeaubonnen of een donatie aan een goed doel. Ik hoor ook regelmatig dat de (inhoud van) kerstpakketten waar werknemers geen prijs op stellen wordt gedoneerd aan minderbedeelden of voedselbanken, wat op zich OK is natuurlijk. Maar nog beter zou zijn om deze groepen te verblijden met een financiële donatie die ze effectiever kunnen besteden dan het leegeten van een bakje kaviaar of opbranden van een kaarsenset.

Het is overigens zeker niet mijn bedoeling de broodwinning van aanbieders van kerstpakketten om zeep te helpen, maar ik denk dat slimme ondernemers in staat zijn om om te denken en op een andere manier in te spelen op de wens van werkgevers om een blijk van waardering aan het personeel te geven in de decembermaand (zie ook bovenstaande voorbeelden). En voor de producenten van de inhoud van het kerstpakket zal het ook weinig verschil maken – als de consument er behoefte aan heeft worden die producten toch wel verkocht en is dat niet het geval dan is er geen echte vraag naar. En dat is dan goed nieuws waar het gaat om tegengaan van verspilling van voedsel en andere materialen.

Natuurlijk kunnen critici stellen dat het kerstpakket toch maar een eenmalig fenomeen per jaar is. En inderdaad, op het totale vraagstuk van duurzaamheid zijn kerstpakketten nog geen druppel op een gloeiende plaat, maar het gaat ook om het principe. Hoewel ik geen cijfers heb kunnen vinden over het totaal aantal kerstpakketten dat per jaar wordt uitgedeeld las ik wel een onderzoek dat stelt dat 4 op de 5 werknemers een kerstpakket ontvangt. Dat zal niet in alle gevallen een traditionele doos met luxe levensmiddelen en een presentje zijn, maar als je dit als uitgangspunt neemt op de totale beroepsbevolking in ons land dan praat je toch al gauw over miljoenen pakketten per jaar. Naast inhoud die men niet kan gebruiken of lust zijn dit ook enorme hoeveelheden verpakking en qua logistiek moeten de pakketten natuurlijk ook hun weg naar de kerstboom van de werknemer vinden. Mocht iemand hier meer gedetailleerde info over hebben dan hoor ik dat graag !

Tenslotte denk ik dat je als werkgever met een alternatief voor het traditionele kerstpakket ook blijk van waardering aan je werknemers kunt geven die daarnaast ook een betere invulling van MVO (en de kerstgedachte) is door iets goeds te doen voor bijvoorbeeld het milieu of minderbedeelden. Wat dacht je van al je medewerkers een eigen boom geven in een bos ten behoeve van CO2 reductie of een donatie aan een goed doel dat de werknemers mogen uitkiezen ?

Ik weet dat de traditie van het kerstpakket diepgeworteld is, dus ben benieuwd naar de mening van anderen en hoop dat deze blog aanzet om hier eens over te denken. Maar wat je mening ook is – ik wens iedereen uiteraard een hele fijne en gelukkige feestmaand (met of zonder kerstpakket) ;-)


Reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse; the life of an organised hoarder 19 November 2017

Last week I took some time to start making room in the house and garage – as I found I had serious lack of space due to storage of all kinds of stuff. Some personal friends jokingly call me a hoarder (luckily an organised one) – as I like to collect stuff; from vinyl records to car sales literature. But I also have issues with throwing away things just because they are out-of-date or -fashion. I even kept stuff which was not functioning (well) anymore, like some audio/video or small household appliances, with the thought I might be able to repair them someday or the spare parts could be useful as I’m a quite skilled handyman. Going through the exercise to say farewell to some stuff (and bring it to a second hand store or recycling facility) it made me realize why the profession of sustainability fits me from the heart. It also made me think what we should do on a grand scale to become a more sustainable society (and reduce the risk of hoarding 😉).

I started with questioning myself why I don’t like to dispose stuff. It’s not that I lack resources to purchase new things but rather that it just doesn’t feel right to dispose something which still works or could have another use. I guess it’s a mindset that I learnt from my both my parents – my mother would for example patch holes in my clothes in my kindergarten days and dad would take old appliances apart to keep screws, bolts and other useful parts for future use. When I asked them why they did so, they answered they also learnt this from their parents but they also both experienced living in the second World War – when our country was faced for five years with shortage of all kinds of goods - be it food or durable products. Being confronted with this shortage, people were forced to eat what normally would be considered food waste and became very inventive repairing items to keep things going as new products or even regular spare parts became more scarce or unavailable during the war.

From this I take two learnings – it’s key to educate sustainability and people can be more sustainable if they are faced with a shortage. For the first point I’d like to refer to my blog about sustainability and education. For the second one, let’s think a minute how we can make this work. Apart from my example above, I’m thinking about how resourceful people in developing countries are. I’ve travelled in a number of countries in Africa and Asia and was sometimes amazed how people were able to keep for example an old car running – using all kinds of materials which definitely were not OEM spare parts 😉 but rather self-fabricated parts from all kinds of material, even re-used plastic or wood. Probably these were usually not the best solutions from an emission perspective, but as people lacked financial resources or just the availability of spare-parts or new product they would find a solution.

In our western society we don’t seem to have this urgency. People generally have resources to live a decent life and are able to purchase anything they need – even 24/7 ordered from their smartphone and delivered to the door. So why would you bother to repair something worn or broken (if even possible as many products are designed in a non-serviceable way) ?

Well, first of all we need to start realizing that our earth cannot offer new resources infinitely. When it comes to key raw materials and resources we’ve exploited our planet since the Industrial Revolution in such a pace that some of them will be depleted before the end of this century or even within the next few decades if we don’t change our behaviour, just have a look at this chart:

But even when it comes to renewable natural (bio-based) resources, we have to realize that with a growing world population we will have more and more people eating from the same plate. This is clearly expressed in Earth Overshoot Day – this is the day on which we have consumed earth’s resources for the year and from there actually overuse the planet for future generations. Since the early 1970’s where we were in balance, Earth Overshoot Day moved up to early August and now equals the consumption of 1,7 Earths – by unchanged behaviour this will increase to 2 Earths in 2030 and 3 in 2050.

Overshoot clearly indicates the root cause of the problem – we demand more from our planet than it can offer and there are only 2 options to solve this (if you leave out the idea of exploiting other planets): either we have to reduce the world population or to reduce our consumption behaviour. As the first option obviously is not desirable, we should focus on the second one but how to do this ? Especially as it’s human nature not to bother before we really face the abyss and companies and shareholders -according to my opinion- are generally still not pushing enough in the everlasting struggle between long term sustainability and short term (financial) profit.

I believe we are now as a society in the stage of becoming aware of the problem and starting to understand we need to act. As it is hard to start change on an individual basis, both companies, NGO’s and governments have a role to play to do this at scale, where I would prefer that companies take responsibility themselves instead of waiting to be regulated by government. For all the right reasons, production companies should understand that resources are not infinite and once gone their business is on death row too.

So what can companies do ? Let’s take for example a company that produces smartphones.

First of all it needs to start working by the principle of reduce – reuse – recycle. So to begin with producing less new smartphones (reduce) and make sure that the ones produced can last much longer. Smartphones usually are disposed before end of their technical lifespan – either because their hardware is outdated for new software updates but also because marketing pushes new, more fancy models and create consumer desire to buy the latest model to be part of the cool people. This can be done by making smartphones more future-proof, e.g. by using hardware components that allow software updates for as long as the technical lifespan of the phone.

Secondly, they should focus on reuse of smartphones. So instead of bringing a new phone to the market rather offer a software update to make sure existing phones can be used much longer. And also by making smartphones more repairable. It should become more easy and less expensive to replace e.g. a broken screen instead of purchasing a new phone. And if a consumer desires to have a new phone and trades in one which still is working it should be refurbished for a second life.

When the smartphone finally comes to its end of life, it should be taken back by the producer for recycling purposes – where maybe still some components can be reused or otherwise being recycled to create material to produce a new phone, instead of using virgin raw materials.

You might wonder how the above can be commercially viable for an enterprise – but this is the beauty of what we call circular economy – it is possible to do this in a profitable way! First of all by changing ownership – instead of selling the phone to a consumer, the producer sells it as a service. This is not unusual as it’s already common practice in a number of markets to purchase a phone with a subscription for a certain period with either limited or unlimited minutes to call, text and internet usage. The difference is that the ownership remains with the producer and now it becomes of his interest to design and maintain the phone in a way its technical lifespan is optimized as the profit does not come from selling the phone but from the service. And the longer the phone can be used, the lower the cost for the producer. Refurbishing phones for a second life is also becoming common practice, but usually not by the original manufacturer but with third parties. In this scenario, the producer would also take care of this – and offer the refurbished phones (with a fresh look and latest software) again as a service but at a lower price compared to the latest model.

Finally, the producer should change his way of marketing phones and not depicting consumers only being cool having the latest model. There’s a market for both new and refurbished phones and both should be marketed in an attractive way (maybe the trend of vintage being cool can help ?).

Of course, consumers should change their mindset and behaviour too and become more resistant against the rat race of being pushed to have the latest and newest of everything. Refuse is also a way to limit consumption !

This is just an example for how this could work with smartphones, but of course the principle of circular economy and  reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse can be adapted to many other products as well. It sure would make my life as hoarder much easier 😊


Sustainability - it starts with education 1 November 2017

Sustainability starts with education

Recently I joined the Amsterdam Dance Event Green Conference and learnt a lot about what the music event industry is doing regarding sustainability. Music events want to reduce their environmental impact by, for example, reducing waste, clean energy usage or even become circular. What I liked most though was that festivals want ‘to lead by example regarding sustainability towards the future generations’ which makes complete sense – these events are aspirational and inspirational for youth and young adults and artists can be role models, bringing sustainability awareness and behavioural change in a positive and informal way.

This made me think – enterprises increasingly invest in sustainability, as they understand this goes hand in hand with profitability and it’s in their own interest to safeguard sufficient raw materials and resources in the long term. Companies also make more efforts to communicate about their sustainability efforts towards their customers, media and other stakeholders – as they understand it’s a key reputation driver. Consumers tend to go more and more for the sustainable choice and if you want to attract talent, future employees increasingly consider the sustainability of a company – which becomes even more important in a narrowing labour market.

What I’m still missing in this picture though is what companies specifically do towards the next generation to promote sustainability – I don’t mean promotion of sustainability efforts of the company, but how you can use a brand to educate sustainability in a fun and positive way – considering children and youngsters are sensitive and open to cool and meaningful brands for them.

Retail promotion and sustainable education can go together

For example - a lot of Dutch retailers do promotions around collecting series of cards, toy figures or other tokens when purchasing groceries targeting children - and they go crazy about it. But usually I don’t like these promotions at all – as the items are often packed in plastic which gets disposed and I wonder what happens with the collectibles as time goes by and children lose their interest in them ☹. How could you convert this interest (or even obsession sometimes) to educate children about sustainability in a positive way ? Well, at least I know of one example of a retailer who did it – Albert Heijn created a series of collectible ‘kitchen garden’ seeds, which kids could use to grow their own vegetables (see picture)– what an awesome and fun idea ! With all the marketing power of our retailers I presume they can think of other promotions which combine the collection frenzy with some positive and entertaining sustainability education. I can imagine you can do something in a fun way to explain the circular model and instead of tangible items work more with virtual web-based collectibles ? 

Lego Vestas Wind Turbine

Another obvious industry who could help to educate about sustainability are toy companies. When I was a kid back in the 1970’s I remember this toy of a working miniature steam machine (see picture) which was great to play with but also educated about the concept of how steam power puts stuff in motion or generates electricity. Nowadays we could create similar toys – but instead of steam this could be for example working miniature solar panels or wind turbines. Wouldn’t it be great if a Lego or Playmobil toy set would be powered by clean energy ? Actually, Lego created a few models of wind turbines (see picture) but they are not really generating electricity – but that could be next! By the way, if you do a web search on ‘solar toys’ you will find a lot of results but these are usually unbranded cheap toys and not from aspirational brands which excite children most – and they should use that advantage. 

These are just a few examples, but I would like to challenge any company which has the brand power to engage with children and youth on educating sustainability in a fun way: think about how you could use products, marketing and storytelling to support this. This could also build (future) brand loyalty and of course drive general brand- and corporate reputation too !

And finally I see a  (logical) key role to educate about sustainability for primary and secondary schools. Like real life, sustainability should be embedded in a lot of classes – like biology, economy, chemistry and physics. The overarching concept of sustainability could be covered in social science in secondary school but should already be addressed in primary school – which could be very entertaining too with for example using the solar and wind powered toys we talked about earlier 😊 But also in universities and vocational education sustainability courses should become as standard as studying Law or Marketing and the topic should be embedded in other relevant courses too. With our new Dutch government Rutte III in place who declared sustainability as key theme I expect our new leaders to take action on educating this as well.

Next to schools parents play an important role to feed this awareness into a next generation which seems to be more conscious of sustainability anyway. The earlier we start making this as logical as learning mathematics or a language the earlier we will pick the fruits of it towards a sustainable future. But also to prepare ourselves for a growing demand for this knowledge on the labour market, as it is my firm belief that sustainability will become a key discipline over the next decades.


Proost op craft bier en duurzaamheid ! 18 October 2017

Goose Island brewery Chicago - craft and sustainability pair well

Na bijna 11 jaar gewerkt te hebben voor AB-InBev - ’s werelds grootste bierbrouwerijgroep – heb ik de voortgaande verschuiving van grootschalig gebrouwen pilsbieren naar de aantrekkelijke wereld van craft bier van dichtbij mogen meemaken – een enorme keus aan bierstijlen en innovaties gepaard met vaak fantastische verhalen en gebrouwen door zowel kleinschalige lokale brouwerijen als grote brouwers.

Ik heb deze blog niet geschreven om te discussiëren of craft bier van een ambachtelijke onafhankelijke lokale brouwer al dan niet beter is dan van een grote commerciële brouwerij, die kun je genoeg op internet vinden (maar als liefhebber beoordeel ik bier op smaak en kwaliteit en ben van mening dat zowel kleine als grote brouwers verdraaid goeie bieren kunnen brouwen, en ja sommige bieren vind ik niet lekker maar dat is vaak een kwestie van smaak). 

Als het om duurzaamheid gaat is mijn mening dat craft bier het zowel op milieu- als sociaal gebied prima doet.

Milieutechnisch gezien mag het duidelijk zijn dat het brouwen van craft bier in een grootschalige brouwerij tot efficiëntie leidt als het om water- en energieverbruik gaat (bij AB InBev gebruikten we in 2015 gemiddeld nog slechts 3,2 liter water om een liter bier te brouwen), maar het voordeel van een lokale kleinschalige brouwerij is vaak een meer beperkte logistieke footprint – waar het bier vaker regionaal wordt verkocht (of ter plaatse gedronken in de brewpub) maar ook door het lokaal inkopen van grondstoffen. Bovendien gaat het bij het drinken van craft bier meer om de kwaliteit dan de kwantiteit – en minder volume drinken betekent minder grondstoffen, verpakking, logistiek etc. Maar doordat craft bier in de regel duurder is (waarbij de hogere prijs niet proportioneel is aan de kosten van grondstoffen en brouwen) zorgt dat dit dat brouwer, kroegbaas of verkoper ondanks het lagere volume toch een goede marge maken.

Maar ik denk dat de sociale duurzaamheid van craft bier nog belangrijker is. Door minder maar beter te drinken en de enorme keuze in bierstijlen, draagt craft bier op zeer positieve wijze bij aan het algemene imago van bier. Ik bezoek zelf regelmatig craft bier bars en brewpubs en het doet me altijd goed te zien dat bezoekers daar genieten van mooie bieren in plaats van zichzelf te bezatten of hinder te veroorzaken door buitensporig alcoholgebruik. Daarnaast is het een misvatting dat craft bier altijd veel alcohol bevat (en ben ik van mening dat er ook een markt is voor alcoholvrij craft bier). Lokale brouwerijen vormen tenslotte vaak een belangrijke sociale katalysator, niet alleen als werkgever en ontmoetingsplaats, maar ook als het gaat om het toesteken van een helpende hand of bijdragen aan plaatselijke sociale of culturele evenementen). Bovendien gaat craft bier vaak gepaard met fantastische storytelling, wat vermaak, kennis, erfgoed of gewoon plezier aan de drinkbeleving toevoegt. 

Meta consumententrends zoals meer keuze en beleving, kwaliteit, authentieke storytelling en sociale verantwoordelijkheid komen samen in craft bier, dus ik ben er zeker van dat dit verder zal groeien en blijven, hoewel er zeker ook sprake van consolidatie van brouwers zal zijn. Maar dat biedt weer kansen op gebied van milieuvriendelijke prestaties en beschikbaarheid en zo lang hart en ziel van craft bier (de brouwerij, de mensen en de bieren) gerespecteerd worden lijkt me dat geen onoverkomelijk probleem. Proost !


Duurzaamheid in stroomversnelling met nieuw Regeerakkoord 11 October 2017

Dutch coal powered energy plant Amercentrale - should be closed in 2030 for cleaner alternatives

Toeval of niet, de presentatie van het Regeerakkoord viel samen met de Dag van de Duurzaamheid, op 10 oktober 2017. Duurzaamheid heeft in het nieuwe Regeerakkoord een prominente rol – waarbij via een Klimaatwet de CO2 uitstoot met 49% moet zijn teruggedrongen in 2030 t.o.v. 1990. In dat jaar moeten ook alle kolengestookte energiecentrales in Nederland gesloten zijn en dienen alle nieuwe auto’s emissievrij te zijn. Via belastingen en subsidies zal ook verder worden gestuurd worden op verduurzaming – o.a. een kilometerheffing voor vrachtwagens (waarbij vuile vrachtwagens het meest betalen) en verruiming van subsidieregelingen voor bijvoorbeeld duurzame energieproductie (SDE+). Een goed overzicht van de belangrijkste maatregelen vind je hier

Veel bedrijven weten natuurlijk al langer dan vandaag dat verduurzaming een noodzaak is, om de eenvoudige reden dat de footprint van onze wereldbevolking al jaren groter is dan wat de aarde aan kan, wat je terugziet in de jaarlijkse ‘Overshoot Day’. Dit is de dag waarop we deze balans overschrijden en die loopt sinds de jaren ’70 gestaag op – dit jaar hadden we de natuurlijke grond- en hulpstoffen van de aarde voor heel 2017 al op 2 augustus uitgeput !

Earth overshoot - we take more of our planet than it can handle

Maar ook omdat het typisch menselijk gedrag is om pas te veranderen als het eigenlijk te laat is, zie je dat ondanks de wetenschap dat we die balans moeten herstellen echte impact op schaal nog uitblijft. Want dat vergt op korte termijn investeringen die zich weliswaar snel in duurzame zin terugbetalen maar financieel pas op de langere termijn. Dat blijft voor veel aandeelhouders een heikel punt en het is jammer dat men hier nog te weinig daad bij het woord voegt. Denk maar terug aan de overnamepogingen eerder dit jaar op de Nederlandse multinationals Unilever en Akzo Nobel – die weliswaar werden afgeslagen, maar waar aandeelhouders onmiddellijk meer rendement eisten vanwege (verwachte) misgelopen financieel voordeel uit synergie of eenvoudigweg de premium die aan de verkoop van aandelen gebonden was. Aandeelhouders zouden juist moeten aansturen op meer investering in duurzaamheid omdat dit ook op lange termijn in hun voordeel is.

Hoewel ik normaalgesproken voorstander ben van zelfregulatie in plaats van meer sturing door de overheid, ben ik in dit geval wel blij dat in het regeerakkoord onder andere via de Klimaatwet meer actie wordt afgedwongen. Hopelijk pakt de private sector het signaal op en is verdere wetgeving/regulatie niet nodig – ook uit reputatie oogpunt is het beter als je zelf het initiatief neemt in plaats van omdat het moet.

Gisteren bezocht ik de Energievakbeurs, waarbij je een goed beeld krijgt welke innovatieve technologie inmiddels op de markt is en waarmee concreet invulling kan worden gegeven aan de ambitie van onze nieuwe regering en natuurlijk ook aan een aantal van de Sustainable Development Goals. Op de beurs worden ook diverse duurzame mobiliteitsoplossingen gepresenteerd die je ook zelf kunt uitproberen ! Het is mooi om te zien hoever deze ontwikkelingen als zijn, dus het is geen argument dat de technologie om te verduurzamen nog niet beschikbaar is ! En de oplossingen zijn op termijn niet alleen milieutechnisch maar ook in financiële zin meer duurzaam dan op de oude voet doorgaan. De beurs is zeker de moeite van een bezoek waard, deze is nog tot en met 12 oktober in de Brabanthallen in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Tenslotte is het deze week (van 6 tot en met 15 oktober) ook nog Sustainable Fashion Week, waarin aandacht wordt gevraagd voor duurzaamheid in deze sector – zowel op sociaal- als milieugebied. Hoewel er natuurlijk steeds meer aandacht is voor bijvoorbeeld de arbeids- en milieuomstandigheden in productielanden in andere delen van de wereld, kun je jezelf natuurlijk afvragen of een trui of broek van zeg nog geen 10 Euro op duurzame wijze is geproduceerd en hier als consument je conclusies uit trekken – wel of niet kopen ?

De modewereld is gelukkig een creatieve sector dus je ziet ook hier steeds meer initiatieven om tot meer duurzaamheid te komen, bijvoorbeeld op circulair gebied waarbij verschuiving van bezit naar gebruik plaatsvindt.  Van de andere kant zorgt diezelfde sector door middel van voortdurend wisselende collecties en marketing dat consumenten steeds de nieuwste mode willen hebben, waardoor veel kleding om ‘modieuze’ redenen wordt afgedankt terwijl de technische levensduur nog lang niet verstreken is. Gekker nog, soms wordt de technische levensduur moedwillig verkort door met name nieuwe jeans moedwillig van scheuren en andere beschadigingen te voorzien (en soms worden die beschadigingen onder bedenkelijke omstandigheden gemaakt) terwijl ik nog genoeg oude spijkerbroeken met gaten heb liggen die je zo mag komen afhalen 😊 Misschien een idee voor een nieuw business model – waarbij duurzaamheid en winstgevendheid voor alle betrokkenen hand-in-hand gaan ?

Al met al lijkt verdient deze week meer het predikaat ‘Week van de Duurzaamheid’ in plaats van ‘Dag van de Duurzaamheid’. Maar uiteindelijk zal iedere dag (op een aangename wijze) duurzaam moeten zijn !

Sustainability and sneakers - from show-off to scale  5 October 2017

Sneakers have become one of the most fashionable items in the last decade and throughout accepted, even in office environment or combined with a suit or dress. As an avantgarde sneakerhead (I did already wear Airmax to the office back in the 1990’s and get remarks if I came straight from the gym etc) I just love seeing sneakers all around, but often get questions how sports apparel companies perform from a sustainable perspective.

The top-3 in this industry consists of Nike, Adidas and Puma and it’s not a secret these companies have been scrutinized in the past about their social and environmental performance as the majority of their stuff is being produced in low-labour cost countries, like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and China. Due to the ongoing demand for more transparency, more regulation, stakeholder pressure and the self-awareness of these companies to become more sustainable, a lot has improved over the recent years. Production sites are getting more audits and more information about social and environmental sustainability performance is becoming available - though criticism and doubt remains with some stakeholders. As this topic is being thoroughly discussed online and numerous articles on it can be found, I would rather like to look at the subject from another perspective in this blog.

As I believe sustainability can go hand in hand with profitable growth, can be cool and scale is important to make impact, I took a (web-based) look at some key initiatives these companies make to integrate sustainability in their day-to-day mass production rather than only a show-off of some sustainable choices.

Nike – Flyknit

Nike Airmax 1 Flyknit - a good example of being sustainable and cool whilst reducing raw material and costs

Nike’s ambition is to double its business while halving the company’s environmental impact and set three strategic aims to guide this: minimize environmental footprint, transform manufacturing and unleash human potential.

Therefore it developed a number of initiatives to make their production more sustainable – like Nike Grind, which reuses both used sports apparel and production scrap into new products but also the use of external waste – like landfill plastic to create new products. I think their best example of creating sustainable value though is Flyknit as it is obviously the simple logic between reducing the amount of raw materials (and cost) used - combined with advantage for the user. Flyknit technology essentially consists of flexible and strong but lightweight materials which reduce the amount of raw materials used compared to a traditional sneaker or athletic shoe but this also benefits the athletic or casual user – essentially getting the benefits of wearing a shoe but the feeling, comfort and flexibility of a second skin. When you look at the official Nike webshop, you can find hundreds of Flyknit choices available including all the cool styles Nike offers, like Airmax (see picture), Airforce and Roshe where the Flyknit models are generally just a bit above the price level of the traditional product (but even below when you look at the sales section !). The smart thing here is that making these products at mass scale obviously reduces production cost and including the Flyknit technology on the popular high-demand sneaker models will make them bought by numerous fashion-conscious consumers at an acceptable price.

Most recent innovation of Nike in line with Flyknit is Flyleather, which is a combination of leather and synthetic fibre, where the leather component is made from leather waste from conventional leather production (where up to 30% of the leather gets lost). Flyleather furthermore reduces CO2 emission and water usage and is 40% lighter and less sensitive to scratches compared to traditional leather. I’m pretty sure we will see this material in a lot of their sneakers in the near future !

Adidas – Parley

Adidas Parley - creating sneakers from plastic waste in our oceans

Adidas makes the general claim it wants to become a sustainable company ‘striking the balance between shareholder expectations and the needs and concerns of our employees, the workers in our supply chain and the environment’.

The most bespoken recent sustainable innovation of Adidas would be their line of Parley products. Parley is a NGO which wants to get rid of the ‘plastic soup’ polluting our oceans and Adidas teamed up with them to use the plastic waste as raw material to produce sneakers and other sports apparel. At first, I was really excited when I heard about it as this obviously contributes to the solution of a major threat to the environment combined with making cool sports apparel and business out of it ! But at second thought, I think Adidas is not there yet. If you look at the Parley product line on their webshop, the Parley sneakers are at a high price level of almost EUR 200 (except for one of EUR 120) and Adidas clearly states the Parley products are excluded from discounts or any other offer – why is that ? And secondly, I know taste is an individual thing, but I don’t like the unusual design of the Parley sneakers (see picture). Adidas has so many cool, desired models like Superstar and Stan Smith – why not include these styles into the Parley product line ? To be very honest, currently it looks more like a PR initiative rather than a program to really make sustainable impact… But having good hope Adidas really does want to make an impact with Parley I would like to challenge them to scale up Parley (obviously there is enough raw material in the plastic soup available!) and to extend the program to the styles the mass majority of consumers want. Just looking on the street of an average city, I see so many people wearing the Superstars and Stan Smiths – imagine the impact if these would all be produced from the Parley program ! I’m not familiar with the technology behind Parley, but I can imagine if Adidas would scale up the production the cost price could be reduced and why would people not buy the sustainable choice if it would be offered around the same price level as a regular Superstar or Stan Smith ?

Puma – changing strategy

Puma sustainable sneaker

Puma states ‘sustainability is a key value of PUMA, and guides our company to work faster towards a more just and sustainable future’. As part of their strategy Puma integrated in 2016 the sustainability department into the international trading entity to ensure ‘sustainability and business go hand in hand to achieve sustainable business‘.

Having a look at the latest integrated annual/sustainability report of Puma, there is actually a lot of information on their environmental and social sustainability performance, but it’s hard to find any actual consumer-facing information on sustainable product choices, like Nike has with Flyknit or Adidas with Parley. This might have to do with their changing strategy and some great things might be on the way, but currently no sustainable product choices are highlighted by Puma. A few initiatives from the recent past were the Puma Incycle line (see picture) which consisted of cradle-to-cradle certified apparel combined with the ‘bring-me-back‘ program where used apparel was collected instore for recycling purposes, but nothing of this can be found on the actual Puma webshop – not sure if it’s either still there or just might have become business as usual with Puma.

Toms – sustainability at the core

Toms sneakers - sustainability at the core

Not part of the global top of sport apparel companies, but worth to mention in relation to this blog is a shoe company called Toms - as sustainability has been integrated at the core of their business from the very start. Toms was founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, who was inspired by the Argentinian alpargata design (a kind of espadrille shoe) to start his own shoe company in California. But being also confronted with poverty in Argentina -noticing a lot of children did not wear shoes at all- he decided that for each pair of Toms shoes he sold, he would give one pair for free to children in need. Initially I thought Toms was some kind of NGO initiative, but it is a for-profit company who obviously found this way of combining profit with a purpose ! As a sneakerhead I personally don’t like the espadrilles at all, but having had a look at the Toms webshop, I noticed they extended their shoe line with some decent sneakers (see picture) and other -even vegan- shoes as well, and are also in eyewear, bags and coffee now – but always with the same principle of giving something back. Some inspiration for Nike, Adidas and Puma ? I’ll be happy to help 😉!

Ronald, is that car of yours sustainable ? 21 September 2017

BMW 3 series convertible from 1996 with over 330000km - more sustainable to keep driving instead of buying a new car ?

Starting as a self-employed consultant meant giving up my company car and being cost conscious, I decided to start using my youngtimer for business too instead of creating a lot of (overhead) cost on buying a new car. It raised the above question of a friend though, who was curious if driving a 21 year old BMW convertible was fitting the image of a Corporate Social Responsibility consultant.

Of course I was triggered by the question and though I’ve never worked in the automotive industry (except for an internship with General Motors during my study) I’m a car lover and my initial reaction was that obviously the fuel consumption and CO2 emission of my 320i 6-cylinder from 1996 couldn’t compete with its current equivalent which would be the BMW 420i 4-cylinder. And indeed no surprise when I looked up the numbers: CO2 emission 215g/km and average fuel consumption of 9,1 L/100km for my oldie versus 145g/km and average fuel consumption of 6,3 L/100km for the current model (by the way, even with a mileage of over 325.000km, I manage to stay close to the manufacturer specification of the average fuel consumption, by making sure the engine is well maintained and treated gently given its age).

So from that perspective a vintage car has a worse footprint but of course that’s not the only parameter to take in mind. When you think about production, maintenance and other aspects which make the total footprint of a car, the key question would be if it’s more sustainable to use a car longer compared with the production footprint of buying a new (but obviously cleaner) one. It’s a big challenge to define an average footprint, given that cars come in different sizes, engines etc. and have a complex value chain but doing some research on the web, I found some data though. A research by Toyota from 2004 pointed out that 28% of the total CO2 footprint of an average car during its lifespan comes from production and transport to the dealership and an interesting article from the Guardian from 2010 states that the production of a mid-sized car produces 17 tons of CO2, the equivalent of 3 years gas and electricity emission of an average UK household.

Taking this as a ballpark figure, it would mean that only after a mileage around 242.000 km the worse CO2 performance of my car (+70g/km) compared to the 2017 equivalent would deliver a worse total CO2 footprint, but also taking in mind the average age of a car in the Netherlands is around 18 years before it gets scrapped, and mine is over 21 years now, I got another 242.000 km to go as I still didn’t replace my car with a new one (and take used spare parts for repairs where possible) – where my current mileage is around 325.000km. And surely that, even with using recycled materials, producing a new car also requires new raw materials, like plastic, rubber and fluids. Of course results will differ when you compare other types of car and age.

With writing this blog I did not have the intention though to find the holy grail to the question but rather to raise a discussion whether we should change our behaviour – I think we should. I remember from my childhood we used to repair stuff, not only cars but also domestic appliances etc. We would only buy new when technical life came to an end or with significant innovation (e.g. replacing a record player with a CD player, though it seems records have become more popular again in the new millennium! ) But with rising labour cost for repairs versus cheaper (mass) production of new products, we became a disposal society, where it’s (economically) more attractive to replace with new and improved products rather than repairing the old ones.

Nowadays we start talking about circular economy, which is the opposite of the traditional linear economy (of production, usage and disposal) – with circular economy we start looking into the total value chain which includes optimizing the lifespan of a product and making better use of its remains after its life – by reusing parts which are still in good condition and minimizing waste – not just by recycling but also by keeping the value of the material instead of downgrading it for new products. The car industry is actually a good example here – old car scrapyards have transformed into clean dismantling facilities where serviceable parts are being resold and other materials (like liquids, glass, different plastics and steel) are being separated to optimize re-usage as high quality raw material. Other valuable parts like engine, gearbox and other powertrain components can be refurbished to extend their lifespan by specialized companies and resold too.

So given the availability of new or used spare parts and the general improved technical quality of a car (less corrosion, more mileage) the question is why we still produce so many new cars and scrap older cars even when their lifespan could easily be extended ? Of course, new cars are cleaner, more safe and comfortable and we tend to like new designs and flashy features too, but I believe it has to do with the very reason why car manufacturers exist – to produce new cars. If we would start extending the lifespan of cars – which would fit in the concept of circular economy – it would mean that less new cars are required which isn’t in the interest of car producers. It would actually be good news for car dealerships and independent workshops – they could make more money out of maintenance and the repair of cars compared to the one-off margin they get by selling a new car.

This brings me to another concept which is important to consider here – creating shared value. This was first introduced in 2011 by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in the Harvard Business Review and essentially states that the competitiveness of a company and the interest of its stakeholders are mutually dependent. Recognizing and capitalizing on these connections between societal and economic progress will drive sustainable and profitable growth and it looks into the broader purpose of a company rather than the product or service it offers. So for a car manufacturer the purpose could be described as ‘providing transport solutions’ which is much broader than just producing new cars – which is in the long run as per above not sustainable. This broader purpose can help car manufacturers to align their interest with other stakeholders and create mutual benefit. Of course, we first will make the shift from fossil-fuel driven cars to electric (or other) alternatives but once this market is saturated, we need a different approach. It could be one where these companies would rather provide consumers transport by an individual or shared (self-driven) vehicle where you would pay per use or km rather than for owning it. The company would take care of production, maintenance and repair and extending its lifespan (which has become an interest for the company now) and making sure its resources are re-used optimally after its lifespan into a new one, following the principle of circular economy. Partnerships with other stakeholders such as tech providers like Uber and car rental companies and cooperation with public transport providers bring in more expertise and extend mutual business opportunities. And of course this concept could work for many other products and services being used by consumers every day. Imagine the difference this would make for our planet in the long run.

Finally, we look more into replacing raw materials with bio-based materials. Of course, a lot of components and materials used in a car can be re-used or recycled (metals, glass, plastics etc) but with a growing world population and demand we still need to feed in new raw materials and we know this source isn’t infinite. I believe a bio-based approach in the automotive industry is still a pretty new thing, but good news is that students of the Eindhoven Technical University in the Netherlands already developed a prototype of a car which for a major part is biodegradable !

Looking forward to your comments and thoughts on the above ! For now, I’ll enjoy keep driving my youngtimer – the fact that vintage has become trendy is also good news for circular economy 😊 !


Why I started 3P Agency 9 August 2017

After working for over 20 years in both profit- and non-profit organizations in the area of Communications, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sales, I’ve decided to start my own consultancy in CSR and Communications, called 3P Agency (referring to People, Planet, Profit). My mission is to create shared sustainable value – so I’m here to help organizations who want to integrate CSR in their entire business, not only to protect but also to grow. By making sure this strategy creates value for both organization and all stakeholders it will bring only winners, which in my opinion is essential to have a successful sustainability strategy in the long term. Finally it is also key to translate this strategy into organization’s internal and external communications, based on honesty and transparency – to drive employee engagement and ambassadorship and to drive corporate and brand reputation which will also contribute to the organization’s success and profit.

As part of my mission I will also regularly post blogs – to share ideas, thoughts and start conversations. In this first one, I would like to share why I decided to pursue my professional career in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Over the years I got more and more interested in Corporate Social Responsibility, especially during my years at AB InBev, world’s #1 FMCG enterprise and beer brewer, where I’ve worked on our European CSR strategy and implementation. The interesting thing of CSR is that you start thinking long-term where traditional business – aimed on making profit – has a more short term horizon. Being faced with data and forecasts on availability of natural resources, global warming and growth of our world population you start to understand pretty quickly we have been over-consuming our planet already way too long. At current consumption rate, we actually need another earth by 2030 and a third one by 2050 if we would like to provide the total world population an acceptable existence by then. As it is very unlikely we will find two more earths in the next decades and we get more and more red flags on shrinking biodiversity, melting polar caps and seem unable to put a hold on global warming, it made me realize that we need to change now. But I think it’s also human nature not to act until being at the edge of the abyss, that’s why we don’t see real substantial change yet. Of course, critics will say that our planet has had major climate changes and ice ages in the past – but important differences are that we did not have developed human life by then and mankind has had much more influence on climate change since the industrial revolution.

So unless we want our future generations to end like the dinosaurs we need to act now to safeguard human existence. With our current knowledge and technology we have options to choose from, for better or worse. But it was ultimately this video which made me decide to devote my professional career to Corporate Social Responsibility – Severn Suzuki was 12 when she addressed her concerns for generations to come during the Climate Conference in Rio, back in 1992. Watching the video I realized that 25 years later we did not really make substantial improvement to her concerns. As I don’t want to hear we did forsake again in another 25 years, I believe I can have most impact as an independent consultant to help multiple organizations building their Corporate Social Responsibility instead of working for one employer.

And I believe we can push ourselves to change if we just honestly answer to these simple questions:

What about the future for a company if you don’t have enough raw materials left to produce, no more people to work for you or no consumers left to sell to ?

What does future profit bring you if there is no liveable place left on earth to enjoy it ?

People who know me personally are aware that I’m generally an optimistic person who always sees the half-full glass. From the above you might think different, but it is the reality check which brought me to starting 3P Agency.

My initial thoughts on starting this are pretty simple. Our traditional linear and commercial business models always aim for profitability and shareholders expect growth year-on-year. But given the fact that -especially with the still growing world population- we will eventually run out of a number of natural resources we need to change that model into a circular model where we extend the lifespan of products and ultimately after its lifetime re-use components and turn waste eventually in new raw materials. It will be a challenge to make this profitable for industries who benefit from pushing new products on the market instead of extending the lifespan of existing products but I think this is possible. We already see more and more products like computers and smartphones being refurbished, which can be done by third parties but of course by the original manufacturer as well.

The business model I built for integrating Corporate Social Responsibility with my clients answers to this– the change towards a long term sustainable business model and also one which brings profitability to an enterprise. The key inspiration for this I found in the ‘creating shared value’ principle of Porter and Kramer which is essentially based on total integration of value creation for an enterprise and all of its stakeholders in its business model. This will both contribute to the interest of people and environment as the profitability and growth of an enterprise. Or simply said: make sure that all stakeholders benefit from your business. As long as some stakeholders ‘lose’ it will block the path to long term sustainability.

Finally, I believe sustainability should be more perceived as not only being positive but even fun. I think we’ve left the stigma of ‘environmental freaks’ from the 20th century behind us, but marketing and communication will be key to make sustainable products not only desirable but even trendy and cool to have. Integrate sustainability in your branded marketing and work with influencers to set the trend ! Current consumer trends are actually helping here – as people tend to go (and pay more) for authentic, artisan products with a great story behind it. So make sure to tell your product is made in a sustainable way (from both an environmental as social perspective) and make sure it looks awesome to wear or to show off with. Just think about Tesla who make sure their electric cars look great too and have all the gadgets onboard people want. As a sneakerhead I love what Adidas does with their sneakers made out of the ocean’s plastic soup in a partnership with Parley but I don’t think the design is very attractive– why not use one of their most popular models like the Superstar for this and create real impact ? And so far I have not seen much marketing effort by Adidas to sell their Parley products though they are available. But still a great example how to divert an environmental issue into a commercial opportunity ! 

So to conclude how to come to a sustainable business model in a nutshell: make sure your strategy covers the interest of both your company and all stakeholders involved, follow the principle of circular economy and where you need fresh raw materials use them wisely and switch from fossil-based to bio-based where possible. Then make sure to integrate your sustainability strategy into your (branded) marketing and communications – go excite your own staff, customers, consumers and other stakeholders as sustainability is not only necessarily but can also be attractive and cool 😊 This will help to drive both your branded and corporate reputation as well as commercial results !

My mission as owner of 3P Agency is to create shared sustainable value and I’m here to help you – not only with building or optimizing your CSR strategy and the communications about it, but also by transferring the knowledge into your organization so you can move ahead when I move on. Just reach out to me if you want to learn more !