KoffiePartners pushes the boundaries of sustainability

Sustainable entrepreneurship is deeply rooted in the service model and business philosophy of KoffiePartners. And the new premises under construction in Zwijndrecht promise to push the boundaries of sustainability even further. For Bart Brouwer, the company's managing director, it's also the perfect opportunity to apply the lessons he learned building his very own state-of-the-art green energy villa in Aalsmeer back in 2011. Bart was one of nineteen business owners to attend the Business Innovation Workshop recently organised by ABN AMRO to look at ways to make their businesses circular. It also gave them a chance to pitch their ideas, gain new insight and learn from the work that went into building Circl, the bank's circular pavilion. Relationship Manager Mark Swiebel was on hand to guide and support Bart during the two-day workshop.

Mark and Bart go way back - in fact, ABN AMRO facilitated Bart's acquisition of KoffiePartners five years ago. "It was such a smooth transition," Bart recalls, "that I've felt very much at home with the bank ever since, all the more so because ABN AMRO is so active in the area of sustainability. In that respect, these are very interesting times. Even if business owners and banks are on the same page, they don't always manage to meet in the middle. Sometimes sustainable innovation has to prove its worth before a bank will provide financing, either in full or in part. When I built my private home, I decided I wanted it to be as sustainable as possible. The house was a showcase for Philips and the Dutch energy group Eneco. Elco Brinkman, then chairman of Bouwend Nederland (the Dutch Construction and Infrastructure Federation), presided over the opening ceremony. As a business owner, I obviously have to consider whether a sustainable investment is profitable every step of the way. But even if it's not, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to scrap it right away. Solar panels weren't seen as a profitable investment ten years ago, but you still need people and businesses who go ahead and install them anyway."

Sustainability and innovation go hand in hand

Mark agrees wholeheartedly. "The same is true at the bank," he says. "We used to finance only a fraction of the cost incurred when a client invested in solar panels, but today, 100 per cent financing is possible." Mark sees lots of parallels between the latest developments at KoffiePartners and the construction of ABN AMRO's circular pavilion Circl. He says, "Circl started out as something completely different from what it is today. During construction, a whole series of new insights led to a complete change in the original plans. KoffiePartners have the same determination and courage to continue to look critically at their plans, always pushing the boundaries. It's great to see that Bart has managed to persuade the local authorities to let him cover the façade of the building with a screen measuring forty square metres. KoffiePartners will be projecting eye-catching coffee adverts on that screen to tempt the taste buds of the 100,000 drivers lined up bumper-to-bumper on the A16 motorway every day. I have a lot of respect for such an innovative approach."

But it doesn't stop there. Bart says, "The whole building, including the massive LED screen, will be powered by 270 solar panels on the roof. You won't find a single gas pipe in our new building, since we're powered solely by electricity. One thing you will find everywhere is LED lighting. Any unused energy is stored in a Tesla Powerwall for later use. We also have a smart climate control system, which together with the glass walls, high-tech sunblinds and special heat recovery units limits cold air downdraughts and keeps warm air from rising. In this way, we're creating a pleasant working environment. Of all the energy used on our planet, only 9 per cent is reused. The remaining 91 per cent is newly generated. With all the coffee grounds left over, we, too, generate plenty of waste. But thankfully, even these can be reused - as fertiliser for growing oyster mushrooms, for example. Believe it or not, they can also be used to make products like beautiful lampshades. We plan to display these at our new premises very soon. We also have several electric cars and a number of charging points."

Putting circularity into practice

The workshop introduced Bart to some new ideas. He says, "I was immediately inspired when I learned how old jeans had been used to make acoustic panels at Circl. What a great idea - one that reflects our own values, too! Sometimes, though, a cost-benefit analysis forces you to rethink your position. For us, having insulating sheets installed cost a lot less than having old jeans turned into pulp. So I've decided to implement this innovative idea only in a couple of areas in the new building. I was also very taken with the old safe-deposit boxes used as furniture at Circl. Similarly, we're planning to make furniture out of old coffee machines at KoffiePartners. We're always trying to strike a new balance between the continuity of our business and being as sustainable as possible. At the same time, I think it's very important that our public profile should always reflect our values. In terms of public perception, there's a higher goodwill factor for sustainable, innovative businesses. And for public-sector companies, it's a must. In that sense, a slightly 'less profitable' sustainable investment may just pay for itself in a different way."

Mark recognises the dilemmas. He says, "We live in interesting times. How do you ensure your coffee machines will be reused in the future? That the agreements you make today will actually pay off in ten years' time? Then again, if you get too caught up in all the ifs and buts, you won't get anywhere at all. That's why I fully support Bart's 'just do it' mentality." Bart says the workshop was a great experience: "I think it's fantastic that the bank takes these initiatives because they generate a discussion. I also think it's important that the bank lends financial support to sustainable business owners like me. That said, I think they could do more, since not all sustainable innovations are eligible for financing. Plus we all need showcases because they kick-start developments on a bigger scale. When I look back in twenty years, I don't just want to say we sold coffee and machines. But that we tried to do right by our planet, too."

For more information, check out www.koffiepartners.nl.