Sustainability in practice #3: Collaborating with the circular pavilion Circl

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This month is Circl’s third anniversary. For ABN AMRO the circular pavilion is still very much the place that brings the bank’s sustainable strategy to life. Building and operating it has demonstrated that you really can bring about systemic change and that moving towards circularity opens up a myriad of opportunities. We’d never have been able to do it without the benefit of many close partnerships. But what impact have we really made with Circl?

We got together with Mirna Geense (Head of Corporate Investments at ABN AMRO), Pieter Paul van Oerle (Strategy Director at The Next Web) and Egbert Fransen (Director of Pakhuis de Zwijger) to look at the past three years and at what the future holds. They gave us their undiluted views in response to three statements.

Statement #1: To me, Circl is a meeting place where knowledge and practice around circularity come together

Absolutely, says Mirna. She describes Circl as a place humming with energy where many valuable partnerships are born. “It’s a meeting place where networks and knowledge converge. Last week, for example, decision-makers from the Dutch impact investing ecosystem got together at the Co-Financing Our Future event to talk about challenges and opportunities for impact companies in the post-Covid world. A number of concrete actions came out of it that will stimulate the ecosystem and hopefully lead to more funding for impact organisations.” According to Mirna, that’s just one of many examples. “Every event held there aims to bring people together to create collective impact. That’s very important and it’s also unique – especially in the Zuidas business district.” 

Pieter Paul, too, speaks highly of ABN AMRO’s circular pavilion. Whenever he goes there he comes away inspired. “It breathes sustainability. Not just the building, but the menu too and the events that are organised there,” he explains. “Circl is the warm, responsible face of a bank that wants to lead the way in the sustainability transition.”

Egbert looks at Circl from two perspectives. “On the one hand, it’s a strong move for a financial institution to focus on sustainability because banks have a highly responsible role in society. On the other hand, can a bank deliver on that kind of ambition? Will it be able to get its clients, employees and shareholders on board for this transition? In short, it’s an interesting and challenging dynamic.”

Statement #2: I believe collaboration between start-ups or scale-ups and corporates is essential for a circular economy

“They need each other,” Mirna confirms. “Big companies can act as investors or customers for start-ups. “At the same time, the vision and culture that sustainable start-ups and scale-ups bring can be very valuable for corporates. It can help them develop their own new circular concepts and accelerate the transition to a circular economy. That’s why ABN AMRO Corporate Investments is exploring options with other corporates to invest together in sustainable propositions. And Circl is the perfect place to do it.”

“They borrowed this statement from me,” laughs Pieter Paul. “So obviously I agree! I’ve been involved in Impact Nation since the very first design sessions. Impact Nation is a programme in which ABN AMRO, The Next Web and Impact Hub help companies deal with sustainable challenges. The goal for the coming years is to help hundreds of companies in this way, using Circl as our base.”

Egbert shares their views, but is also critical. “New initiatives always start small. You can only have a real impact when you join the big league. Start-ups need to partner with influential companies that have deep pockets so that they can spread their wings and move freely. But there are always two sides to the coin: start-ups need to feel safe to let corporates in, but they also need the kind of investments that only bigger companies can make.”

Statement #3: Only a collaborative ecosystem can get the circular economy going

Innovation is better together, that’s Pieter Paul’s mantra. “You need a lot of different parties acting together to resolve sustainability challenges. Corporates, start-ups, investors, the scientific community and government. If we want to make our economy circular, we need them all.”

Egbert agrees. “If you keep everything to yourself, you won’t get anywhere. The trick is to share knowledge and collaborate. Sustainability issues are incredibly complex and can only be resolved by ecosystems.” But that’s not as simple as it sounds. Egbert: “Multiple parties means multiple interests. The interests of powerful players often carry more weight, so you have to be very careful when you’re setting up an ecosystem.”

Mirna adds that it’s not just important to share knowledge, but also to implement sustainable concepts and pass on that experience. “It’s great to see all kinds of different forms of collaboration at Circl. We need to keep that going for years to come. Let’s raise our glasses to a circular future!”


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