Sustainable entrepreneurship comes down to persistence
  • Drives

NOM Drives: Sustainable entrepreneurship comes down to persistence

Drives are the real engine behind growth and development, but to what extent are companies in the Northern Netherlands consciously
engaged in this? And how do they approach it? NOM is curious and, for this column, interviews organizations that are actively exploring their motivations.
actively investigate.

More and more entrepreneurs want to contribute to a world in which we work more sustainably, smarter and healthier. Cor Kamminga(KNN Group), Serge de Mul(Ultraware) and Wido van den Bosch(Brink Industrial) are forerunners on the sustainable track and their efforts and enthusiasm are starting to bear fruit. They are happy to share how they translate their drives into sustainable business.

Cor Kamminga: 'Find like-minded people, together you'll get further'

What once began as KNN Milieu later became KNN Advies and is now KNN Group, with under its wings still the consultancy for a biobased and circular economy (Ecoras) and three companies born from innovative sustainable projects: BioBTX, Foamplant and Recell. A process that didn't happen by itself. 'You need intrinsic motivation to sustain the long, intensive run-up to sustainable change,' says Cor Kamminga, CEO of the KNN Group. 'We were already involved in energy and environmental science at the turn of the century,' says Cor. 'Because we ourselves worked in such an inspired bubble, we thought that everyone wanted to work more sustainably out of a sense of finitude. But we discovered that, above all, you have to be persistent to do sustainable business. Only now, twenty years later, is the urgency felt much more widely in society and business. That makes it easier for entrepreneurs to find like-minded people. An important point, because those partnerships are badly needed to move forward.'

Embedding in the economy

As a knowledge agency, we really struggled at the time with finding the balance between advising on the one hand - and thus generating turnover - and on the other hand driving innovative developments ourselves. There is a risk of losing yourself in technology and innovation, but it is about embedding workable concepts in the economy in order to make it more sustainable. And, with the future in mind, realizing that the cost must precede the benefit. This balance was exciting at times, but we succeeded; we have the wind in our sails as a group. Also because we now have the time with us.' The combination of the widely felt urgency and the availability of financial resources to stimulate a sustainable economy means that there are plenty of opportunities. The big challenge here is building a bridge between investors and technical people with innovative ideas. Even if you are green and sustainable, it is necessary to know the financial vocabulary. Entrepreneurs often find control of financiers an awkward split, even though that too is a form of partnership with which you can advance sustainable developments.'

NOM drivers: Sustainable entrepreneurship comes down to persistence

Cor Kamminga

Wido van den Bosch: 'Circular working is a continuous change process'

As soon as he joined Brink Industrial in Hoogeveen in 2013, Wido van den Bosch wondered how the company could differentiate itself in the metal industry. 'Partly because of our separate business for waste systems (Lune) and the rise of waste separation at the time, I realized that a circular economy is the future,' Wido says. 'We joined various Green Deals from the government and gradually adapted our approach and product range. My motto is: just do it. A hundred percent sustainable operations can never be achieved in one go, but in that endeavor every extra percent is one.

Customer as partner

'An important realization for us was that a circular economy only works if - eventually - the entire chain participates. That is why we always raise the theme in our contacts with suppliers and customers. This is approached differently: some don't like it yet, others think it's great and with those parties we work together on more sustainable solutions. The great thing is that such a process makes you creative; you find better and often more efficient production methods. Of course this does not happen automatically, but precisely because it is a long-term and continuous process of change, these customers really become partners. That too is a form of sustainable work.'

Learning by doing

In Brink's strategy, circularity is number one. 'Moreover, we are fully committed to Industry 4.0, or: high tech combined with sustainability,' Wido explains. 'We started down that path three years ago, and the necessity of this development is now confirmed by the corona crisis and the scarcity of raw materials, resulting in skyrocketing material costs. The 8R model we are working with is now proving itself doubly well: refuse, reduce, re-use, repair, refurbish, remanufacture, recycle and recover. We see that suppliers and customers who were previously reticent about sustainable development now realize that they too must take steps. However small, as long as you start, you can learn and adjust as you go along. Exactly what business is about, especially if you opt for sustainability.'

Wido van den Bosch

Serge de Mul: 'Use your farm sense and think holistically'

'We serve up desired changes far too big in our society,' says Serge de Mul, founder and CEO of software specialist Ultraware. 'We work agile in everything, in small steps. We don't get stuck in plans, but get into action. Make concrete what is needed here and now to get there. We are fully aware that along the way we keep discovering new things, making mistakes, learning, adjusting and fine-tuning. Structural sustainable work also goes step by step. In this way you build new routines and the change grows with you in everything you do.

At Ultraware, Serge's personal awareness underlies all of the company's green efforts. 'In a beautiful spot in Drenthe, I built myself a house and stopped to think about the impact of everything we do. I realized: if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy this beautiful nature, we must start living and working differently now. That realization set in motion a process that will never stop, even at Ultraware. Making a profit is fine, but never at the expense of the United Nations' seventeen sustainable development goals'.

The greenest corporate building

Greenwashing at other companies makes me angry, although I prefer to focus on taking responsibility myself. At Ultraware we consciously focus on better, rather than always more. That requires a critical, inquisitive attitude and perseverance. We now have the greenest premises in Assen, but it was quite a journey to get there. Each specialist focuses on his own piece, while sustainability is about the whole. By asking questions, thinking holistically and using farmer's common sense, we have reached where we are today: a gas-free and 'zero-to-the-meter building', the kind we all want to have in 2050.'

'A pitfall is wanting too much and too fast. Serving up changes too big. Just look at your own behavior: changing ingrained habits is only possible by integrating small steps into daily routines. And by making conscious choices. We do that at Ultraware in everything, which is why we also develop green software with the sustainable programming language GoLang, which uses less server capacity and thus less energy. And that's also why more and more employees are driving electric cars or running on hydrogen. Sustainable living is an increasing necessity, but for me it has become a passion and I hope to inspire others with it.

NOM drivers: Sustainable entrepreneurship comes down to persistence

Serge de Mul