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.


Are you brave enough to take a stand?

Being brave can be terrifying: standing up for what you believe in, exposing yourself to the danger of being laughed at and criticized… That is why, when we support our clients to build a brave brand, we always start with a small but incredibly important step: creating a safe space to take a stand.

Brave starts small

A great way to encourage people to be brave is through the “Take a stand” icebreaker. We often use this exercise in our workshops or stakeholder dialogues, with the goal to support a safe conversation, where people open up to each other and feel comfortable to show what they stand for.

We get the room off their seats, clear the space and place colored dots on the floor. Green stands for “I totally agree” and red for “I totally disagree”; everything in the middle is an imaginative spectrum. The most important step is carefully preparing and selecting provocative statements. We present the statements one by one and participants physically move along the spectrum to the spot that best fits their own stand. The moderator of the session moves around the room and asks people to share why they have chosen this position. This often leads to an interesting exchange of different arguments. After a few statements the group starts feeling comfortable to take a stand. The atmosphere is set for the rest of the session.

Taking a stand is easier than it seems

What often gets in our way when we want to be brave is that annoying voice in our head: “What if I’m not right? Will they judge me? What if I fail?”

As it turns out, what goes wrong here is that we focus too much on ourselves – on our own feelings and what others might think about us. But if we picture any of our childhood heroes or role models, one thing they most probably all have in common is their focus on something bigger than themselves. They have a purpose in life: from saving the world from evil villains, to extinguishing fires and rescuing kittens.

The big secret: don’t be selfish

So, shifting your focus to the outside might help you to be more brave and courageous, not only to take a stand, but to turn this stand into decisive action that makes real positive impact.

Brave Brands on the rise

Self-focused people might survive; self-focused companies won’t. Increasingly they are in the spotlights, with nowhere to hide. Brands can no longer afford to simply focus on selling; they are expected to solve real problems for their consumers and society as a whole.

A large brand report by Nielsen (2015) – where 30,000 consumers in 60 countries around the world were interviewed, shows that 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand. For millennials this percentage is even higher. Moreover, according to Horizon Media’s Finger on the Pulse study, 81% of millennials expect companies to publicly commit to sustainability.

More and more brands take these expectations seriously. For example Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), an ice cream company that takes a stand on issues as peace building, refugees, climate justice and the LGBT community. Another great example is DSM, a food and materials multinational company that strives to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals for zero hunger and affordable and clean energy for all. And have you heard of Tony’s Chocolonely? A Dutch company that sells delicious chocolate bars as a means to fight slavery in the cocoa industry.

What do these brands all have in common? They all focus on something bigger than themselves; they show bravery; they make bold decisions that are guided by a bigger vision; they have clear purpose of making meaningful, positive impact.

Bravery pays off

In a recent interview in the FD newspaper, Unilever Europe’s president Hanneke Faber reveals that Unilever’s brands that take a stand grow 46% faster than the rest of the company. In the US, Ben & Jerry's market share is now more than 35%! “By taking a clear position you might antagonize some customers,” says Faber “but the rest become your fans, and that pays off.”

So let’s start encouraging brave

Research carried out for the Brave Brand Rankings shows that brave companies are more likely to be innovative, have great work environments with supportive managers and engaged employees and have organizational structures that promote cooperation and break down barriers.

To encourage bravery we need to create safe spaces where people dare to take a stand; no matter which stand they take. Our tip: start small and encourage bravery around you. Why don’t you try out our “Take a stand” icebreaker during your next team meeting? You can download more detailed instructions here.

After practicing in your team meeting, have your brand take a stand. What is your positive impact? What is your purpose? How can you ensure everyone in the company is aware of that purpose and prepared to fight for it?

You can find out in these cases how we have helped some of our clients to take a stand: Ecover-Method “Brand strategy for the people against dirty”; Dopper “Crystal clear positioning for crystal clear water”; and Nutricia “Define the societal relevance of a baby food company”.

Ready for your next brave step? Sign up for our Brand Purpose Training. Or just pop in our office for a cup of coffee!


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 greenwashing: communicating sustainability in horticulture

In October 2017, The Terrace was invited by the MPS-group to lead a workshop for and with leading growers of flowers and flowering plants from the Netherlands. This was part of event in preparation for an international horticulture trade fair. The focus of the workshop was on how to best communicate on sustainability in the horticulture sector. Here's what I had to say about conviction, focus, collaboration and... greenwashing.

Tip #1: Start from your personal conviction

The trouble with sustainability is the lack of a common definition. It may include topics like environmental protection, labor conditions, community engagement, economic impacts and/or governance. There are so many terms floating around, like CSR, responsible business conduct, future-proof, thriveability... Whatever term you prefer, it needs to be relevant to your core business and your key stakeholders. Most likely, this will be a function of the industry, the cultural/national context and the conviction and focus of senior leadership. So before communicating your sustainability efforts externally, first consider what sustainability means to you. For which parts of sustainability do you care most deeply? Why did you get started with organic flowers? What made you integrate sustainability into your business model?

Tip #2: Focus on what matters

Sustainability is multi-faceted, so your sustainability strategy probably is as well. But while all those facets may be relevant and understood by people within the industry, they won't all be equally relevant for different stakeholders. So when communicating your sustainability strategy, think first and foremost from the perspective of your audience. For different target audiences, focus your sustainability story in different ways. While keeping the overall story the same, differentiate the key topics to highlight for different audiences. Not everyone knows as much about sustainability issues in horticulture - or whatever sector you're in - as you do.

Unilever uses a very powerful analogy to further strengthen its sustainability communications: the sword and the shield. The sword is a strong message that you pro-actively want to share with your target audience. And which is very relevant for that target audience. The shield contains other topics which you are working on in your sustainability strategy, but which are less relevant to your audience, or less easy to talk about as an individual brand or company.

For example, for Lipton's sustainability strategy includes both social and environmental elements. In consumer communication, the social elements are emphasized like a sword. Most consumers realize that picking tea leaves is hard work in tough locations, so this context helps Lipton tell its story about the programs it has in place to make life easier for tea pluckers. The improvements Lipton is making to reduce pesticides is more like a shield. Something to work on very actively, but as most consumers are unaware that nearly all tea in the world contains pesticides, communicating about this as an individual brand is more challenging. So while this may be a great topic for a sustainability website or report, we'd not recommend putting that same story on the pack.

Tip #3: Some stories are better told together

Some topics are difficult to raise, even if you feel it is high time the world knew about the issues and your solutions. This is where sector-wide collaboration and communications may be needed. Just like for tea, for the horticulture sector, pesticides might be such a topic. As an individual grower of flowers, this is a topic you might be able to raise with expert buyers in retail. But with consumers, this is not so easy. If you try to mention this on your packaging, consumers might just link your name to pesticides in general, rather than the reduction you've achieved. To raise awareness of the issues around pesticides, it would be better to collaborate. With industry bodies and certification providers, but potentially also with NGOs and consumer organizations.

Tip #4: Always be honest

Good communications about your sustainability efforts and performance can build trust in your organization and its products. But even if you're selling plants and flowers, and you'd like to make the world a greener place, what you're communicating has to be true. Only balanced communications - sharing both successes and challenges - builds trust. If what you're sharing is not true, then it's merely greenwashing. That word might have a nicer connotation for the horticulture sector than for others, but it will simply erode trust.


Ready to scale-up? Do you have Category Leadership potential?

Having a social start-up means you want to change the world. Your product or service has the potential to create positive change for many. But to have real impact you need to scale-up.

How do you know if your brand is ready for the next step? That is an interesting question. Luckily The Terrace has developed a tool to assess the health of your social brand and it makes clear what you need to do to reach your goal.

A fundamental aspect you need to look at is the so called ‘’Power in the mind’’ of your brand. We have identified two critical checks to see if you are able to get a positive and prominent position in your market.

How single minded is your story?

To get your proposition across you need an extremely clear and simple story. Too many startups lose traction when their fundamental story becomes blurry. A simple but highly effective test is to check if your message can come from one type of personality.

Likewise, a defined corporate culture and a simple and clearly communicated strategy is necessary. You will be amazed by the high rotation of employees at social enterprises. Many times, this is due to unsatisfied employees, having different expectations of the brand and the company. They are disappointed that it was not clear enough how they could help the brand to have more impact.

Important questions you can ask yourself are: How focused is the brand story and sales pitch? How clear are the company values?

Do you have Category Leadership potential?

  • Most social enterprises are too polite. To have impact, you need to shoot for the stars. You must claim some sort of category leadership and act on it.
  • We loved it when Urgenda was the first social enterprise ever to sue the state. It was bold, it was right, and it was a 100% on brand. The same for the bid of VANDEBRON on the Hemkade.
  • Having a clear definition of your category is mandatory. A short cut to get attention is to point out the deadlock in the development of your category and show what you are doing about it.
  • Two important questions you can ask yourself: How many real category leadership actions have been executed? How fit is the company leadership to climb on the stage?

Keep an eye on our website and soon you’ll learn more about how to assess if you’re ready to scale-up! 


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!


In search of purpose for Fairphone: the power of purpose for brands

To really connect with consumers, brands can no longer present a facade and sell. To thrive, brands need to create an emotional connection with people, stemming from a clear brand purpose. A purpose that addresses a real societal issue and that strives to create a movement to resolve this issue. In May 2017, we organized an event about purpose marketing at Fairphone, a social enterprise that makes the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone. The event was organized by the Nyenrode Business University Alumni Circle for Sustainability, in collaboration with the Alumni Circle for Marketing & Digital. Here are some of the key outtakes from the event on purpose marketing.

Creating a fair phone isn't easy

Lina Ruiz, Fairphone's strategic partnerships and events manager, kicked off with an introduction to Fairphone's mission: making a positive impact in how phones are made, used and recycled. Interestingly, she used a video by Milton Friedman  to explain the complexity of supply chains. She then shared Fairphone goal of creating positive social and environmental impact from the beginning to the end of a phone’s life cycle. They do this in four ways.

Fairphone's long-lasting design creates products that last and that are easier to repair. The design helps people understand how to get more years out of the device and move away from the mindset that consumer electronics are semi-disposable objects.

Fairphone traces where the parts come from and therefore creates demand for fair materials that are good for people and planet. One material at a time, Fairphone strives to increase awareness and source better ingredients for their devices.

Fairphone wants to improve working conditions in the electronics sector. With experts, NGOs and other partners, they develop innovative programs to improve worker satisfaction and representation. 

 

To progress towards a circular economy, Fairphone encourages the reuse and recycling of electronics. Withspare parts and recycling programs, they support both consumers and producers. 

The power of purpose for brands

Consumers are increasingly oversaturated with advertising messages. Brands constantly try to sell themselves with beautiful messages, but not all of them are authentic. No wonder the Edelman Trust Barometer shows an implosion of trust in business. At the same time, people look to business to be drivers of change for a better society. From brands, people demand something they can relate to, authenticity and higher ethical standards. The brands that succeed are therefore those that offer shared value for both society and business. That have a purpose that truly connects their business to societal issues in a relevant way. Some companies, like chocolate maker Tony's Chocolonely and transportation company AirHunters, had a clear societal purpose from the start. Tony's wants to abolish slavery in the cocoa industry. Airhunters wants to decrease the carbon footprint and congestion caused by suboptimal transportation. Their brands, therefore, radiate their respective purpose very clearly. Other older and larger companies, like Unilever and Heineken, seem to have veered further from their original purpose but are redefining purpose for their brands with great success. Year on year, Unilever's purpose brands like Dove, Lifebuoy and Ben & Jerry's, outgrow the other brands by 30%.  And Heineken's responsible consumption campaign with DJ Armin van Buren created a global movement of DJs urging people to dance more and drink slowly.

Guiding brands toward purpose

Using the purposeful positioning model developed by The Terrace, the participants then got to work on Fairphone's positioning. The model helps companies and brands find their purpose through an outside-in approach.

1) What are external societal issues that a brand can or should address, such as environmental problems, social issues, latent consumer needs, stakeholder issues and true customer needs?

2) Through the lens of those key issues, how can a brand create shared value? Where are the opportunities for impact or societal value? And how can it create business value in parallel?

3) Who are the people to engage and keep in mind? Through the shared value angle, who are the people that will use the brand? With whom would the brand compete? And which parties are potential collaborators striving for the same societal value?

4) What does the brand really stand for? What are the brand's key benefits, personality, promise and the reasons to believe? This is often more comfortable territory for the marketer.

5) Why is the brand really here? What is the brand's true purpose? The heart of the model brings together the input and perspectives from the previous steps. Once that purpose is distilled and chosen, then go back from the inside out to refine all elements in the model.

Collaboration for positive change

Combining the forces of Nyenrode's sustainability and marketing alumni and their guests, the group came up with various alternate business models. Each stemming from a different angle on the purpose that Fairphone could adopt. Therefore each leading to quite different engagement strategies and tactics. The conclusion of the evening was that there are many opportunities for Fairphone to further focus its purpose and marketing tactics. Even with limited time, the group came up with very actionable ideas, which were gratefully received by the Fairphone team. The other conclusion was that crafting purpose takes more time than the 30 minutes we had available in the context of this workshop - and that is was incredibly inspiring for all involved! Over drinks, the participants continued to talk for hours, sharing how they could put more purpose into their own brands and lives.

A big thank you to Fairphone for hosting this event, to the many people who participated so actively and to the many people involved from the Nyenrode Alumni Circles for Sustainability and Marketing & Digital. Interested in finding out more about purpose marketing, please contact Marjolein.

This blog was originally written by Marjolein Baghuis (@MBaghuis) and Tim Mazajchik (@tmaz85) for the Nyenrode University Alumni website. It has also been posted on the websites of Heartbeat Strategy and Change in Context.


The Terrace boosts reporting practice with Marjolein Baghuis

Marjolein is an expert and thought leader on corporate accountability, sustainability reporting and communications. At The Terrace, she will lead the reporting practice and support companies progress reporting from a burden to an inspiring communications opportunity. She will also be involved in sustainable strategy and communications projects.

The Terrace founder Leontine Gast: “We are pleased to add Marjolein's specific knowledge and expertise to our team. Her enthusiasm for positive change fits perfectly with the values of The Terrace. Together, we have all the skills to support companies in their ambitions to deliver positive change”

Through her work for the Global Reporting Initiative, Innate Motion and Change in Context, she has supported companies and people to create clear strategies and reports for positive change. Marjolein is the founder of Change in Context, an online platform for change towards a sustainable economy, which hosts her well-read blog. She also teaches sustainability at Nyenrode Business University. Previously, Marjolein worked for Procter & Gamble, Synovate and Greenpeace.

She is an active board member for the Nyenrode Alumni Circle for Sustainability and the regional Amstelland library. In addition, she serves on the advisory board of eRevalue, a British service provider in the area of ESG/sustainability big data, and speaks regularly at conferences on sustainability, accountability, and reporting.


Top tips to cut the crap: tips to help you and your organisation improve reporting

In the last decade, transparency and corporate reporting progressed tremendously, allowing society access to performance information that is usually not available in financial reports. Sustainability (or non-financial) reporting enable stakeholders – like investors, regulators, employees, NGOs, communities, partners, etc. – access to information about a company’s social, environmental and economic impacts, directly from the source.

But it’s not all good news from the reporting field, as many sustainability reports still consist of a hundred (or more) pages, difficult to navigate and to extract what matters. Many look just like glossy magazines and some even offer the same shallow content. They often present an overly positive, distorted picture of reality. They risk being considered greenwashing and useless for people intending to use the information to take decisions. Or to evaluate the readiness of an organization’s management to deal with social and environmental issues.

So ... it's time to cut the crap!

High-quality reports are clear, balanced, and focused on key issues. Corporate reports that are difficult to navigate, overly positive and/or unfocused do more damage than good for a company’s reputation. When not clearly showing the efforts, dilemmas, and results in tackling concrete societal issues, such reports just add to the overwhelming amount of useless information that surrounds us nowadays.

The European Union Directive on Non-Financial Reporting requires thousands of companies to start integrating sustainability topics to their annual reporting cycle, from the 2017 report onwards. This is a great opportunity for all involved in corporate reporting to make a step towards better reports. Cutting the crap in reporting helps experienced and new reporters generate more focused reporting. It improves the quality and reduces the cost of reporting - just what you need!

Here are our tips on how to cut the (reporting) crap!

Charming, but irrelevant

Reporting is not a beauty contest. Sustainability reporting standards, such as those provided by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), do not require a specific design or format. These standards offer guidance on how to prepare high-quality content. Well-organized, clear information is what really counts. If in addition, you want to make it look pretty and the visuals support clarity and navigation, that’s great. But well-structured, relevant content comes first. Always.

Random and unfocused

Don’t get distracted! Create focus through materiality analysis, an important step in the process to create a high-quality sustainability report. It helps to define the topics to focus on to sustain the company’s future in connection to society’s needs. These topics are selected by combining management’s strategic vision with inputs from strategic stakeholders’ representatives like employees, clients, regulators, and communities.

If done well, the analysis generates a focused, short list of topics that expresses the issues of high concern for society directly related to the strategy and core business activities. Once you have your material topics list, you are ready to think about which indicators (and other disclosures) best help you to tell your report readers what the organization is striving for and achieving on these topics. That’s it! These topics are the only ones you need to include in your report.

Annoyingly abundant

Don’t add extra information. Basic details about the organization – such as company size, the number of employees, markets where it operates, the location of the headquarters - as well as indicators related to material topics have to be included. Nothing more, nothing less.

Check the list of basic information to be disclosed, find the information required, organize it and present it in the clearest way you can. No tricks, no misleading. And if you can’t report on a required disclosure for some reason, explain why not. It’s really that simple.

Don’t add unnecessary information, even if it makes the organization look good. A report needs to balanced; the challenges and dilemmas should not be buried in strategically irrelevant content. Excess of information – even when presented in a beautiful way – can be quite detrimental to your reputation.

Poorly planned and costly

Gathering high-quality information isn’t cheap. Financial and human resources are needed to determine the units, the boundaries, the process, as well as for the systems for actual collection, aggregation, checks, approvals, and analysis of the data.

Preparing a good roadmap of what exactly has to be reported not only increases the quality of the report but also helps you make the best use of your valuable resources. Define a clear owner for the reporting process, if necessary supported by experienced outside professionals. Such as people with specific expertise on reporting, sustainability communications, etc. Good planning and ‘cutting the crap’ reduces the costs even more in case you’re involving an external service provider to assure the sustainability content of your report.

These tips can help you and your organisation improve reporting - and reduce costs - by progressing from:

  • Charming to clear
  • Random to relevant
  • Abundant to accurate
  • Poorly planned to professional

In times like these, when critical, well-informed decisions are needed, we can’t let useful information go to waste. Don’t bury your company’s impact and performance on key topics in the cacophony of useless information that surrounds us every day.

Join our campaign to cut the crap!

This blog is co-authored by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace and Nelmara Arbex of Arbex & Company. It also appeared on www.changeincontext.com and www.arbexandcompany.com


What to do with unexpected clients? - And how not to lose them

“You are not really going to ride that ugly car, are you?” Since I admitted to buying a Mitsubishi Outlander I get overwhelmed by disappointed reactions from friends and family. Because they are car lovers. Petrol heads.

I get their point, but…

The diesel guzzlers they love to drive are not very sustainable and a more environmental friendly car had been on top my wish list for quite some time. The Mitsubishi Outlander seemed the ‘least dreadful’ version of all hybrid cars on the market. A little less ugly and dull than the others, so to say. Take into account the tax benefit on top of that and the choice was easy.

Reluctantly though.

Brands are part of our identity

We all have our preferences for specific brands. Whether it is conscious or unconscious. We search for a brand with features that are in line with our own desired personality. By choosing a specific brand, we are associated with a target group to which we would like to belong. While one person does not want to be associated with a Japanese car at all, the next will not stop talking about the amazing technical features of the same car.

But what if ‘your’ brand does not deliver the kind of product or product features that are very important to you? What if none of the brands you prefer offer a sustainable choice?

That will force you to step out of your comfort zone and look at another brand. This brand then has the challenge to connect with these new, unexpected clients. And to keep them, without losing their existing clients.

11.000 sold cars without test-drive (but “Mit-subsidie”)

Mitsubishi is a strong player in the hybrid car market. A few years ago, the Japanese brand said to have the ambition to focus on the production of sustainable SUVs for an affordable price. In 2020, 20% of their cars will be electric or plug-in hybrid. Electric driving will become one of the pillars of their worldwide sales strategy.

And it is already paying off, so it seems. Last year the brand took the semi-electric Outlander PHEV to the European market. Aided by the significant the tax benefit (the Dutch nickname the brand ‘Mit-subsidie’ – with subsidy) there was a big run on this car. No less than 11.000 cars were sold without the future owners even taking a test-drive.

Awkwardness in the showroom

Mitsubishi is known for its user-friendly cars for an affordable price. The dealers have adjusted their sales pitch entirely to this message. But how do you approach this new group of sustainable buyers? They clearly have no idea, so it seems when I walk into the showroom with my wallet already pulled out.

Dealers seem to be ashamed for the relative high price of the sustainable Outlander. They think it is a waste of money to pay for the extra features and have almost nothing to say about the sustainable qualities of the car. With every unanswered question, I get more uncomfortable.

The green ambitions of the management have obviously not yet reached all layers of the company.

But as long as there are no serious alternatives, Mitsubishi will profit from this situation. However, there is no reason to sit back and relax. Other European brands will follow suit with their own affordable hybrid. And if Mitsubishi’s unexpected clients still do not feel at home with their new brand, they will go straight back to their own familiar brands.

Know your customer

Bringing a new sustainable product to the market has a lot of consequences. One of them is that you may gain a new target group. The group of consumers that makes choices based on the sustainability of a brand is growing. This group is focused on innovation in the market and they like to be well informed.

As a brand you need to be prepared for this. Being the first with an innovation only gets you one step ahead on short term. If you want to keep those customers in the long run, you need to make an effort. You have to understand your customers. What motivates them? What are their wishes?

This means that your sales people should learn how to handle different target groups. Which clients is motivated by price and which clients do you seduce with the technical aspects of the product?

Learn their language. If new clients feel understood, they might (unexpectedly) become a regular client