Circular Event Nyenrode, Interface, Government

Interface and Dutch government go circular!

Planet Earth is a beautiful circular business model. From which we can learn as people and organisations. Linear business models have dominated our global economy in the past centuries. Yet it has devastating effects such as the depletion of finite resources and the creation of waste, which either needs to be stored or ends up in the environment. In the circular economy, we reuse all primary resources and residual materials. Renewable sources provide all energy used. A growing number of companies and other organisations are starting to see the benefits of circular business models and are joining in!

On January 29, 2019, I had the opportunity to facilitate an interactive session with an audience of Nyenrode Business University alumni after listening to Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development at Interface (and Dutch CSR Manager of the Year 2018) and Martie van Essen, Program Manager Sustainability Acceleration at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs share their stories about working more circularly.

What’s the business case for ending life on earth?

Ray Anderson, founder of carpeting company Interface would ask people this question when they asked him about the business case of working more sustainably. After reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken he completely changed the course of his company. He became convinced that, as humanity, we need to learn from nature and we need to stop using fossil fuels. In 1996, Interface launched Mission Zero, the ambitious plan to no longer have a negative impact on the world by 2020.

Through Mission Zero, stock-listed Interface progressed in various areas. Compared to 1996, by the year 2017, Interface reduced:

  • Its greenhouse gas emissions per unit produced by 96%;
  • The use of water per unit produced by 88%;
  • The CO2-footprint of carpet tiles by 66%;
  • The energy used per unit produced by 43%;
  • 88% of the energy used comes from renewable sources;
  • and 58% of the materials are either recycled or bio-based.

The circular approach also yielded added value in other areas: costs came down, the reputation grew, innovation rose, employee and stakeholder engagement grew and the company became more future-proof. Because 2020 is almost there, Interface launched a new mission: Climate Take Back. It’s objective is to not just eliminate the negative impact but to also contribute positively to the recovery of our planet. Interface doesn’t confine the circular economy to its raw materials; it’s all about new business models, innovation and inspiration as well. An inclusive business model supplies part of the yarns from damaged fishnets from the Philippines and other places. With a great bycatch: H&M and other carpeting companies are also sourcing circular yarns which the supplier created at the request of Interface!

Practice what you preach on circular business

Through different programs and regulation, the government stimulates Dutch companies to work in more sustainable and more circular ways. And what does the government actually do itself? With 111 thousand FTE, 10% of all Dutch offices and € 12 billion purchasing power per year, the national government has an enormous impact. And with that the opportunity to drive change. The purchasing power is actually € 72 billion is we add regional governments’ and municipal budgets.

The program Think Act Sustainable (Denk Doe Duurzaam) delivers nice results. The national government’s annual report shows that in 2017, compared to 2016:

  • Energy use per square meter of office space decreased by 12%;
  • CO2 emissions decreased by 9%;
  • And an online marketplace for used office furniture saved € 7.4 million.

As much as possible, the government buys refurbished (circular) copiers, reuses its ICT devices, and the army reuses clothing or fiberizes it to recycle it to towels. In the offices, people are encouraged to reuse their paper cups during the day. Cups collected after use are recycled into toilet paper. These measures also deliver cost savings. For example, the army saved € 500 million by reusing clothes. Yet at the same time, circular and sustainable ways of working also raise dilemma’s within the government. Sometimes the scale of what the government needs provides a barrier. For example, there isn’t one supplier which can provide enough circular copiers. And sometimes the switch to new and different business models can require an upfront investment – funded by taxpayers.

A circular dot on the horizon, yet both feet on the ground

After these stories, the audience got on its feet to engage with the speakers and each other by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace. On the basis of our “Take a stand icebreaker” – they literally had to take a stand in respons to various statements about the circular economy. I really enjoyed facilitating the discussions among the audience and with the speakers. Everyone was convinced about the need for more circular business models. And everyone had the ambition to work in a more circular way.

Yet there were also plenty of doubts about the willingness and abilities of their organisations to really get going. Everyone expected a large role from the government, through its own actions as well as support and regulation for companies. At the same time, there was a passionate plea from the group not to wait for the government to lead; to just get started. Everyone agreed that this transition requires visionary leaders. Over drinks, we continued to discuss what roles we’d like to take up personally in this exciting field.

Circular Event feb 2019

This event was a co-production of the Nyenrode alumni circles for Sustainability and Market & Government following up on an earlier event about the energy transition. An inspiring Mindspace location in central Amsterdam hosted the event. Marjolein Baghuis was a guest at the Circulair Event, where the Nyenrode alumni were told how Interface and the Government work more circular.


Millennials and Corporate Social Responsibility: the perfect match?

On 25 June we were guests at Friesland Campina to give a workshop for ICA (Inter Company Association), an association for young professionals from the fifty top employers in the Netherlands. The theme of the evening was the responsibility of companies for their impact on society, in other words: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). More than forty employees (millennials) from companies such as FrieslandCampina, a.s.r, ASML, VolkerWessels, Aegon, Randstad, Tennet, Aon, Arcadis, Eiffel, Royal HaskoningDHV and EY participated in our workshop "CSR Essentials".

CSR, the new normal for companies

Nowadays at almost every large company you can find a CSR-report on the website. Initiatives such as B-corps, The Shared Value Initiative and The Circle Economy are growing every day and help companies to deal positive with the impact they have on society and the environment. In short, CSR is indispensable for most companies.

The importance of CSR was also confirmed by the young professionals who all agreed that companies have a responsibility for their impact on the world. But on the question whether their company itself is active in the field of CSR, other answers were given. For example, 20% of the people in the room felt that their company was totally inactive in the area of CSR. As many as 52.5% of the people indicated that their company is active but not active enough. And only 27.5% people can proudly say: my company is super active!

How do millennials choose their employer?

Research from the Reputation Institute Benelux shows that 'Innovation' and 'CSR' account for more than 55% of the 'drivers' of a company's reputation. But do the young professionals of today also choose for an employer with a high CSR standard?

An European study by YoungCapital in collaboration with the University of Utrecht shows that millennials increasingly choose a fun job with a modal salary over boring work with a top salary. What stands out in the research is that CSR's policy falls outside the top three of what young people consider as the most important when choosing an employer. learning new things, the salary and clear expectations of the employer all go above the performance on CSR. Still 58% of Dutch respondents say CSR is an important subject for choosing a job

How green is the 'green generation'?

The millennials are sometimes called the 'green generation'. But is this title true? Research from Milieu Centraal shows that in practice this is very disappointing. A reason for this is the insufficient knowledge and motivation to make the right sustainable choices.

During the workshop we ask the question whether the young professionals have sufficient knowledge about CSR. More than half said they miss knowledge! Often the millennials are interested in CSR but they have a lack of sufficient knowledge to ensure that CSR comes on the agenda of their business. We believe that more knowledge can lead to a perfect match between CSR and millennials!

CSR something  for  you?

CSR  Essentials workshop is  for  (young) professionals  who  are passionate  about  making a  positive  impact (just  like  us!), and  want  to learn  more  about how  to  get started  with  CSR in  your  organization. This  is  the perfect  workshop  if you:

  • Want to  get  smart on  the  basics of  CSR
  • Area  board  member, manager  or  employee of  a  company that  is  not yet  very  active on  CSR  and you  want  to drive  the  change
  • Areworking  at  a company  that’s  already doing  a  lot with  CSR  and you  want  to get  in  on the  action!

Are you interested in a CSR training? Send an  e-mail to  hello@theterrace.nl and we’ll  get  in touch  with  you ASAP.


Top tips for reading sustainability reports

To mark International Literacy Day, this post is about reading sustainability reports. In 2016, the theme for International Literacy Day actually was “Reading the Past, Writing the Future”. Which is quite similar to our recent blog about transforming sustainability reporting to a tool for positive change. But that's a different story, as this blog is not about writing reports, but rather about reading them.

An ever increasing number of companies publish a sustainability report. Or integrate sustainability into their annual reporting process.  The question is, who reads these reports? And are the readers finding any use for the sustainability data and stories presented in the reports?

Who's reading?

In 2015, the Global Reporting Initiative, creators of the most widely-used sustainability reporting standards, co-authored a report with Oxfam, Informing decisions, driving change, about how different stakeholders read and use sustainability data captured in sustainability reports. It offers a comprehensive view of the key users of sustainability data, such as civil society organizations, investors, business, governments, market regulators, and media.

Some would argue that consumers also belong on that list, as well as prospective employees. Very different stakeholders with very different objectives. Yet all trying to get insights from reading the same sustainability report! Besides a few reporting geeks, many people may wonder how to best read or assess a sustainability report. So here are some tips to guide your reading!

Commitment or compliance?

The fact that a company has a sustainability report, doesn't always guarantee a real commitment to making their company more sustainable. A company may simply report only to comply with regulations. So a key thing to look for when reading a sustainability report is commitment. Is top management involved and engaged? What are they committed to exactly? How are decisions made regarding sustainability topics? The introduction to the report by the CEO or chairman is the best place to look for "commitment" signals. A great way to test the depth of this commitment is to cross-check the introduction of the financial report. If there is no mention of relevant sustainability topics there, then that commitment may not run so deep.

Connected context

The selection of topics for the sustainability strategy and report generally shows how connected a company is to its environment. So the next thing to look for in a sustainability report is a clear understanding of the company's context. Is the sustainability strategy linked to the vision and mission of the company, or is it focused on totally different topics? Are environmental and social risks and opportunities explored in relation to the business model? If you are less familiar with a specific industry, this may be hard to assess. In that case, reading parts of the sustainability reports of companies in the same industry will generate insights on the key topics.

Large companies are expected to act according to the OECD Guidelines and adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. And all companies can use the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to assess how their business contributes to a better world. So when reading a sustainability report, check whether and how the company references these frameworks.

When done well, companies select their so-called material topics after engaging relevant stakeholders, such as employees, clients, investors, NGOs, and communities. Through a materiality matrix, many companies plot the interests of their stakeholders against the interests or impacts of the company. That matrix and the accompanying text are my favorite parts of any sustainability report.

Completing the cycle

Sustainability is all about the future, yet reports tend to look back in time. So when reading a sustainability report, check whether the report on past performance is in function of the future. Are the long-term objectives clear, as well as the strategies and policies to reach them? Are they closely linked to the material topics identified? Does the report share relevant results for the past year as well as previous years as a benchmark? How do these results stack up against the goals for this reporting year?

Are the results balanced? Not just sharing what went well, but also the learnings from things that did not go as well? And does the report provide insight into the specific goals and action plans for the year ahead? These kinds of questions help you assess whether there is a structured, full circle approach to sustainability for the company. In which reporting is a key instrument to fuel improvement, rather than a goal in itself.

Consistency

The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (and Guidelines) help companies to prepare their sustainability report, but they also help the readers. Especially the GRI Content Index, which lists the standard set of disclosures for all companies and includes the material topics selected by the company. With it, the reader can easily find the pages for each topic.

And just like it's useful to scan the sustainability report of a company's peers and the financial report, it can be tremendously useful to have a look at previous reports by the same company. Is the company consistently reporting on the same material topics? If not, are there good reasons to change the scope of the strategy and report due to changes in context? Or is the company cherry picking its stories and KPIs from one year to the other, to always have good news to show?

And last, but not least, is the sustainability report itself consistent with the materiality analysis? Are the topics in the report - and the space they are given - in line with the materiality analysis? If not, it may be time to look for the page that highlights how to get in touch with the company about their report!


Bioplastics: when innovation empowers abundance, La Coppa

Plastics are indispensable to our daily lives. They come in every colour and shape, light, strong, resistant, tremendously useful for every person and industry. Plastics have come to stay.

The vast majority of plastics are oil-based. Around 4% of the oil that the world uses every year goes into producing plastics. Their composition has been both its strength and its weakness. The challenges of climate change and fossil fuel scarcity are putting the plastics industry under pressure. In addition, the ever-growing and widespread plastic waste problem is no longer possible to ignore.

In this setting, bioplastics are a great alternative allowing both for high-quality performance and widespread use while having a reduced environmental impact.

Bioplastics are totally or partly made from biomass (plants), mostly corn, sugarcane or cellulose plant fibers. Although there are several varieties of bioplastics, only a few are fully made of renewable, natural resources. The 100% plant-based plastics are the only variety that at the end of their useful life will decompose into water, carbon and compost (i.e. are compostable/ biodegradable). Ideally, the decomposition will take place at an industrial facility and will be catalysed by fungi, bacteria and enzymes, leaving no toxic particles or harmful substances behind.

New materials such as PLA, PHA or starch-based materials create truly bio-compostable packaging solutions.

Closing the loop on plastics

Advanced Technology Innovations, a company that provides innovative packaging solutions for food and beverages, developed a system for coffee cups made of plant-based plastics (PLA), namely produced from the residue of sugarcane and sugar beet.

One of our clients, LaCoppa coffee adopted this innovation showing their leadership in sustainable packaging in the consumer goods industry.

The fully compostable coffee capsule can be used in espresso machines, proving that it is possible to replace petroleum-based and aluminium coffee capsules with a fully functional, more sustainable alternative that should be widely adopted.

     

Others leading the change

Many industries are already using bioplastics. Not only traditional industries, such as food packaging but also automotive, electronics and textiles. Several leading brands, such as Tetra Pak, Ecover and Danone are investing in new bioplastics solutions. Unexpected partnerships are also arising: Heinz approached Ford about possible uses for its tomato waste. Ford was already using bioplastics based on soy and coconut for its auto components, carpeting and seat fabrics; why not explore the use of ketchup bi-products to develop a more sustainable bioplastic material? Specifically, it is expected that this new bioplastic could be used in wiring brackets and material for onboard vehicle storage bins.

Work in progress

While great opportunities and fast growth await bioplastics, this is a work in progress.

For bioplastics to become a truly sustainable alternative both the industry and governments need to make technical adjustments to the current waste streams to allow for an adequate treatment of bioplastics. Otherwise these will end up in the landfill.

Engagement with the final consumer is also crucial to promote education on bioplastics and recycling. Consumers should avoid contaminating plastic waste recycling with bioplastics, as it will compromise the plastic recycling process.

Finally, in order to gain widespread support, the bioplastics industry should increasingly use food waste residues (from pineapple fibers to shrimp shells), non-food crops or cellulosic biomass, leading to decreased land-use demand by the industry. Innovative alternatives are endless.

The future of plastics

Biodegradable bioplastics are a growing niche market. According to European Bioplastics, the global bioplastics production capacity is set to grow 300% by 2018. This growth will lead to a new generation of plastics, where abundance of plastics is powered by innovation. Oh, and it is sustainable!