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.


Tony's Chocolonely: Raising the chocolate bar for industry change

For years, I’ve been supporting chocolate – and change – maker Tony’s Chocolonely to create their annual report. My kids and my colleagues love that I work for them. Because I always return from meetings with their yummy chocolate in funky flavors. Their bars are a treat, but what inspires me most to work with them is their commitment to creating positive change in the industry. Here’s my take on their key ingredients for positive change!

Crazy people raising the (chocolate) bar

Positive change usually starts with frustration about an issue plus people crazy enough to doing something about it. And this ccompany started just like that. Investigative journalists were shocked to find out how much child labor and slavery there is involved in nearly all chocolate. In 2006, in an attempt to prove that it could be done, they produced 5000 bars of slavery-free chocolate. As this first batch sold out in just a few hours, they turned the experiment into a company.  The company tagline says it all: “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.”

Partners towards a common goal

A shift to more sustainable business practices is needed at all steps along the chain. From cocoa farmers, chocolate companies and governments, to retailers and consumers. The people at Tony’s understand they cannot transform the cocoa industry by themselves. Tony’s therefore developed a roadmap towards its mission: “Together we make chocolate 100% slave-free”.

The roadmap engages five key actors in the industry to work towards this common goal:

  • Strengthen farmers to increase their income
  • Engage the largest companies in the industry to take action in their supply chains
  • Encourage retailers to leverage their buying power
  • Push governments to adopt and enforce legislation
  • Enable chocofans to raise awareness and spread the message

Scaling up for real movement

To really engage partners along the cocoa chain, Tony’s knows there needs to be a business case every step of the way. Its own story and success provide lots of inspiration to get different parties to act.

At the launch event for its 17/18 annual report that scale became very clear:

  • Over 5,000 farmers benefit from the special premium Tony’s pays, nearly 1,000 farmers are involved in awareness-raising activities to prevent unwanted child labor and slavery;
  • The Netherlands’ largest retailer Albert Heijn announcedit will use Tony’s principles of cooperation for 100% slave-free chocolate for its very successful private label chocolate brand Delicata. World leading chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut supports the change process;
  • 5,000 chocofans joined the party, over 8,500 people support Tony’s mission as Serious Friends;
  • And the brand became the market leader in the Netherlands with a market share of 19%. Net revenue grew by 23% to nearly € 45 million and a net profit margin of 4.5%.

Relentless ambition for chocolate and change

Nice numbers for a company that produced its first bar of chocolate just 12 years ago… But they know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, Team Tony’s continues to work – and party – very hard to increase its own impact by expanding the business to other countries and continuing to drive collaboration in partnership with many others.


What sustainability leaders can learn from treasure hunters

Is sustainability leadership like a treasure hunt? Initially, I didn't think so, as these two concepts have different characteristics. Treasures generally don't move, while sustainability is an ever-moving target. Treasures are usually quite tangible and concrete, making it easier to express what you're looking for than when stating sustainability as a goal. And while both require an investment of time, willpower, and other resources, the treasure hunt usually benefits just a few, while sustainability strives to benefit many. Find out in this flog what sustainability leaders can learn from treasure hunters. On March 15, I attended Sustainable Talent's Sustainable MBA in One Day. When Mondo Leone, the guide for the day, was introduced as a treasure hunter, I was quite skeptical. But after a day at the Interface Awarehouse with a diverse group of people, I must admit there were great learnings to be captured from his treasure hunt. Some he listed at the end of the day, others developed over time in my mind. So here they are:

Explore for treasure

There are so many sides to sustainability. Use your curiosity to explore which topics are most relevant to your organization. The program highlighted the Sustainable Development Goals, Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics, and the circular economy as sources to explore. Emerging technologies could also provide inspiration for areas to explore. One key caution: always start from why. If you don't know what your why is (at the personal and organizational level), then applying your curiosity to search for treasure won't be very useful.

Act for positive change

Organizations (re)act differently to the sustainability challenge. They can be either, inactive, reactive, active or pro-active, according to the model presented by Rob van Tilburg, one of the authors of the book Managing the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise. Just like in a treasure hunt, nothing happens until someone takes action. Various models were provided to create strategies and action plans, including inspiring guidance on how to drive change by Peter Senge and an overview of the seven roles of sustainability managers.

Fail fast

"Adventure is uncertain", said our guide for the day in his closing comments, "so prepare for failure." Several of the other speakers also highlighted failure as a key step along the way. We simply don't have the time to develop the one and only perfect solution. They, therefore, urged us to test different ideas at a small scale. And then to fail fast and learn from these failures to scale up the stronger ideas. And to share those learnings, within the organization and with peers in other organizations.

Collaborate for sustainable impact

Today's societal challenges are too complex to be solved by just one person or even one company. Therefore, collaboration is a key factor to succeed. The treasure hunter not only engaged many to fund the project but also engaged many people to contribute their expertise. Peter Senge highlighted that successful collaboration depends on the goal setting; finding a balance between the big, stretch aspirational goal and the practical, immediate goals that give people a sense of fulfillment along the way. He also highlighted the importance of relationships, trust, and empathy. Without these, collaboration is usually a waste of time as people are then unwilling to yield their own short-term interests to the larger, shared, long-term interest.

Celebrate your treasure

With many people involved and short-term goals in place, there are many ways to celebrate achievements and learnings along the way. The treasure hunter celebrated the outcomes of his expedition with his partners and funders. Sustainability leaders celebrate milestones along the journey of integrating sustainability into the strategy. And at the end of the "Sustainable MBA in One Day" workshop? We threw our graduation caps up in the air and toasted to all we learned and the people we met!


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.


Can the Netherlands lead the way in how the world eats protein?

Dutch food probably doesn’t conjure up images of very healthy eating. Lots of cheese, stroopwafels, chocolate sprinkles on bread, fried meat-based snacks and fries drowned in mayonnaise. And yet, the Netherlands might just be the country to lead the way to new eating patterns that are healthier for both people and the planet. In the past years, there have been many initiatives by the public and private sector. All working to encourage people to eat healthier with more plant-based protein. But as food patterns are probably the most deeply ingrained of all, this is no easy feat!

The complicated value(s) chain of protein

Did you know that 40% of plants grown in the world are fed to animals? Of the soy grown in the world, that percentage is even higher, 85%. The visual to the right shows the complicated and interconnected food chain for protein. It comes from the Protein Challenge 2040 by Forum for the Future. Simon Billing of Forum for the Future said: “It’s undeniable that protein is an indispensable part of the human diet, but the way we produce and consume it today presents many challenges – both in terms of global consumption patterns as well as their social, environmental and economic impacts.” It’s clear that doing a bit better on food productivity or food waste isn’t going to be enough, we really need to change the way we eat.

For centuries, the Netherlands has been leading in the area of agriculture. Perhaps not Dutch cuisine, but cows, potatoes, and cheese, as well as agricultural expertise, are important export products for the Netherlands. With many interesting initiatives underway, the Netherlands is well-placed to be a catalyst for positive change in the transition to plant-based protein.  Supported by the Dutch government and knowledge partners, a group of forward-thinking food companies joined to form the Green Protein Alliance, a coalition dedicated to progressing the protein transition. In February 2017, they launched the Green Protein Growth Plan with the objective to reduce the animal protein percentage from 63% in 2015 to 50% in 2025.

On the same day, Minister for Agriculture Martijn van Dam launched the New Food Challenge. The goal of this challenge is to increase the number of new healthy products offered in food retailers. Based on plant protein, which is not just better for people, but also better for the planet. The New Food Challenge will invest €1.8 million in product ideas from new and existing companies; ideas driving a change in eating patterns by making plant-based protein more attractive.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has convened a coalition of Dutch companies and NGOs to contribute to the global transition to more plant-based protein. What’s so interesting about this specific CSR-covenant that it is designing this relatively new sector in a sustainable way from the start. First-time-right, as opposed to various other CSR covenants, which have to reshape and redesign existing industries and therefore often raises quite some resistance from the parties with vested interests in the old systems. The international CSR-covenant for plant-based protein is expected to be signed in March 2017.

Changing the way we eat - for health and planet

Great to have so many public and private parties working together, but in the end, will we eat it? Last but not least on the list of interesting institutional initiatives is the Netherlands Nutrition Center. This government-funded institution encourages consumers to develop healthier and more sustainable eating habits and advises the food industry to produce a more sustainable range of food products. In 2015, it overhauled its food advice (the wheel of five). The key change is to reduce the intake of animal products and to include more plant-based protein.

We all know that people won't simply change their eating habits because a government agency tells them that this is better for them. The real challenge, perhaps, is fought on the high street, in the supermarkets. How do you encourage people to try new products that are better for them and the planet? Plant-based protein does not sound too tasty, so we'll have to find other ways. Amsterdam-based market research company Motivaction identified two kinds of shoppers who are more likely to buy plant-based protein products. The conscious quality shoppers want to progress to a more plant-based diet and are quite knowledgeable. To market to them, build on their existing knowledge and inspire them with real stories. The impulsive comfort shoppers are eager to try appealing new products. To market to them, make plant-based foods exciting, luxurious and easy to use. Manufacturers of plant-based protein products must know some of this already. In 2016, the market showed double-digit growth and this is just the beginning!

Top tips to contribute to the protein transition

From the varied initiatives above, it does look like the Netherlands has a reason to be a confident leader in the transition to a more plant-based diet. Here are our top tips to join the movement, wherever you're from!

  • Explain positively how plant-based protein fit into everyone's daily life. For most people, this probably will avoid the words plant-based protein, but rather focus on other benefits like health, flavor, innovation and for some, perhaps, the environment.
  • Convince clearly that plant-based protein is a healthy option for everyone.
  • Share knowledge within the sector to really progress the green protein growth plan
  • Activate together, joining forces with public and private parties, inside and outside the sector - for positive change!

Written by Leontine Gast (@theterraceNL) and Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis) for The Terrace and Changeincontext.com blogs. Mostly inspired by the content of the Green Protein Alliance event held on February 16, 2017. To stay up to date on other events and The Terrace activities, please subscribe to our newsletter. 


Scoping Mission of the Colombian Coal Sector, report for the Dutch Parliament

Responsible coal mining has become a major topic on the Dutch political agenda. For at least the next 15 years, coal will continue to be an important contributor to the country’s energy mix. Hence, the Dutch government is keen to support and strengthen responsible practices in the coal supply chain, in particular in the main sourcing country, Colombia.

At the request of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Colombia, The Terrace and BSD Consulting were selected to do a “Scoping Mission of the Colombian Coal Sector”. The objective was to understand the situation on the ground in the coal mining regions of Cesar and La Guajira, where the operation of large-scale and open pit coal mining destined for export is concentrated, and to define the outline of a possible contribution of the Netherlands.

Our team travelled to Colombia to visit the mining regions and to speak to all relevant stakeholder groups (Colombian government, mining companies, labour unions, local communities, NGOs etc.). Over 50 interviews were undertaken to ensure that the defined proposal for a Dutch contribution is adjusted to Colombian reality and to local stakeholders’ needs. Many concerns were expressed regarding a large variety of social and environmental issues, influenced by a difficult political context with 50 years of internal conflict.

The Scoping Mission has concluded a contribution by the Dutch government to take on the social, environmental and labour challenges in the coal mining areas is feasible and desirable. This should be done in close cooperation with relevant Colombian stakeholders. The Scoping Mission recommends a contribution based in four possible work streams:

a. Mediation of a dialogue to solve conflicts between stakeholders;

b. Through continuous dialogue, encourage the Colombian government to be more proactive in addressing social and environmental challenges in the coal areas;

c. Support reliable and independent data collection of environmental and social impacts caused by local industrial development;

d. Support thematic projects that address pressing challenges in the mining region (e.g. to improve water management).

The final report has been sent to Dutch Parliament by Minister Ploumen (Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation), in preparation of the Minister’s visit to Colombia in late November. The report “Scoping Mission: Understanding the Context of the Colombian Coal Sector” can be downloaded here.