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Circular business practice is essential – and offers opportunities

CSR

4 September 2018: Around 800 experts from all over the Netherlands visited the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam to celebrate PUM’s 40th anniversary. In the workshop ‘Better business through circular business practice’, experts shared their experiences and looked into ways of better advising their clients.

Circular business is extremely complex. Examples from practice reflected the statements of the morning’s speakers. For example, what is the point of a waste law for Peru, if it is not enforced, and if insufficient electronic waste is actually collected to provide enough material for Peru Green Recycling SAC? This was the puzzle that confronted PUM expert Pieter van Hagen. In Suriname, Wil Nuijen was forced to compete with the heavily subsidised energy industry and the false belief that the sun does not shine enough to enable the switch to solar energy.

'The circular economy can make a contribution to sustainable international trade and development cooperation with respect for human rights and the environment’

The central focus is often on job creation

Even in the Netherlands, where 81% of all waste is recycled making the country a clear international frontrunner in this field, there is still resistance when it comes to circular projects. Carola van Rijnsoever (Director Inclusive Growth at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) is aware that circular business practice always has winners and losers. That is why it is so essential to combine circular business practice with the creation of new opportunities – often in the form of new jobs. Take the case of cooperation with Tanzania or South Africa, countries that with Dutch support are both improving and increasing the sustainability of their waste collection and waste separation processes. The projects have also created jobs for people who used to eek out an existence on landfill sites. Job creation was a crucial element. According to Carola, a great deal can be achieved by international cooperatives. The Dutch government has already laid down its ambitions in its policy document ‘Circular Netherlands by 2050’. The key now is to ensure that we do not (repeatedly) shift the problem and that we share our knowhow. In Carola’s words, “The circular economy can make a contribution to sustainable international trade and development cooperation with respect for human rights and the environment.”

Our inspiration is nature

Douwe Jan Joustra (C&A Foundation) is involved in elaborating models to facilitate and accelerate the transition within the textile industry – one of the most polluting and wasteful industries of all. He called upon the PUM experts at the meeting to reflect on how they can look for inspiration in nature and natural processes to solve economic problems, on every mission. His focus is not exclusively on the product, but also the business model. Both need a complete redesign. We need to start viewing products as an asset; as a key element of the company’s capital. And we need to switch to a business model with a service focus & sharing focus. People who are no longer needed to work in clothing production will still be necessary for clothing maintenance, or to offer customers personal advice. In this workshop too, the recurring common thread was job creation.

‘PUM experts from a variety of disciplines will have to work together in order to implement improvements throughout the value chain’

Circular business offers opportunities

As explained most clearly by Joost de Jong (PUM Coordinator CSR) in his introduction, everyone agreed that circular business is a growing necessary, also for PUM, and not only because our partners are increasingly confronted with shortages of raw materials and water. By offering the right advice, PUM experts can in fact help their partners achieve cost savings. Advisory programmes like these are complex. If they are to be successful, more and more projects will involve several PUM experts from a variety of disciplines working together, in order to implement improvements throughout the value chain. This, at least, was the prediction by Titus Vissers (Executive Committee PUM).

According to Titus, whatever the situation, there is no room for one-way traffic; everything starts with us, our own behaviour as consumers. Mark Beumer (Het Groene Brein), chairman for the day, came to this same conclusion at the end of the meeting.

Text: Sylvia Szely

Photography: Irene Clarijs