Business Innovation Workshop offers Kemie useful tools

Sustainable entrepreneurship and a circular business model are now familiar concepts at many companies. In real life, though, it seems they're often difficult to put into practice. That's why the bank recently organised a two-day Business Innovation Workshop for business clients. The workshop was held at the Circl circular pavilion, where nineteen participants, together with their ABN AMRO relationship managers, got down to work on sustainable and circular business models for their companies. Jean-Paul Fransen attended the workshop on behalf of Kemie, a leading manufacturer of stone worktops for kitchens and other uses based in the Dutch city of Helmond. At his side was his relationship manager Bart Odekerken.

Jean-Paul says he saw the workshop as an excellent opportunity. "I'm personally very committed to the theme of sustainability," he says. "At Kemie, we've taken steps towards sustainability over the years, but we've still got a long way to go. The firm has its roots in natural stone, subsequently branching out into composites and then ceramics. Thanks to these changes in material, we now have much greater control, producing only what we need. When it comes to natural stone, however, there's always a residual product. In the quarry, you just have to see which extracted slabs will be suitable for use as a worktop. The worktop production process generates considerable waste, but these days we obviously try to keep that to a minimum. We've also reduced the thickness of our kitchen worktops, which saves on raw materials. The materials we work with are generally expensive, and in many cases raw materials are finite. Awareness of this fact is key, and it's important that we keep asking ourselves how we can minimise any harmful effects on the environment. It's all about sensitivity to issues like these."

Joining forces with others in the chain

Jean-Paul says 2023 will be an important milestone. "Starting that year, all the work the Dutch government tenders out will be on a circular basis. Firms like ours can't ignore that fact. At the same time, it's challenging making the circular shift, since it calls for a structured approach and the right focus. In that sense, the workshop was just the right thing, since we all had to work really hard to meet the challenge set for us. I think it's fair to say that until I did the workshop, my focus had been limited to our customers and suppliers. The workshop showed us that we had to dig deeper - a lot deeper - and assess our entire chain. That's when you realise that the world you operate in and the influence you wield are much bigger than you initially thought. In fact, I attended a trade show soon after the workshop, and it was almost as if I was seeing everything through new eyes. As a purchasing manager, I realised I was looking at products from a very different angle. The workshop was a unique experience and had a big impact on me."

Bart, Jean-Paul's relationship manager, agrees. He says, "For me, the biggest lesson of the workshop was that we have to work together. In fact, it's really through joining forces with other stakeholders that we'll make the greatest impact. That's also why we had to carry out an assessment of the whole chain and all the players in it. In Kemie's case, there are actually multiple chains for the various materials they use to make their products. Once you've taken stock and analysed those, you can determine what your focus should be and start setting goals. We also challenged our clients participating in the workshop to take a new look at their revenue model. As far as Kemie is concerned, that might involve salvaging and repurposing worktops when a kitchen is remodelled. After all, these materials are wear-resistant and have very long lifespans in multiple contexts. It could be worthwhile to look at ways to integrate return flows into a new circular chain with players in the retail sector, for instance. After all, today most old worktops end up in the skip."

A company-wide commitment to sustainability

A company-wide commitment to sustainability Jean-Paul looks back on the workshop with great satisfaction. "First of all, I learned a lot of new things," he says. "Plus I was challenged to think much more deeply about Kemie's sustainable position in the overall chain. I also think there was great added value in the fact that all the sessions were held at ABN AMRO's circular pavilion, a very inspiring place where you can see with your own eyes just how circularity translates into a physical building. But it was more than just two interesting days of learning. It's now up to me as a standard-bearer to get others on board. I've since presented my findings and lessons learned to senior management. We plan to set up a steering committee to define the various focus areas and initiatives to be taken. I'd say that cooperation within a single firm is just as important as working with others in the wider chain. Major changes can't just be entrusted to a select few. There has to be broad support and commitment throughout the organisation - that's the real key to success."

Bart says he thinks more workshops should be organised. "The workshop filled me with optimism. Circularity is one of the bank's sustainable focus areas. By actively involving and challenging our business clients, we can really get the ball rolling. Of course, it was great to see and very inspiring. But it's also an urgent necessity. We've set ourselves some very tight deadlines as far as the environment is concerned, and that means we have to act now. But what direction should we take? Where do we start? Lots of businesses out there simply don't have the resources or brainpower at their disposal to take on this challenge alone. In a workshop setting, ABN AMRO can give its clients a very valuable nudge in the right direction and encourage them to learn from one another, too."