Participate, Think and Share at Dark Green
  • Drives

NOM Drives: Participating, Thinking and Sharing at Dark Green

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

She inspired at TEDx Fryslân with her Talk on intuition and entrepreneurship. A fascinating topic, especially from the mouth of a down-to-earth leader who likes to win and has allowed a Friesian landscaping company to grow into a national top-3 player in the green industry. What makes director Anja Kanters and her company Donkergroen so driven?

Seeing how things can be done better and acting accordingly. That motivation - in all its simplicity and power - underlies the unbridled dedication of Anja Kanters. The native of Brabant arrived at Donkergroen in Friesland as an administrative assistant. Nineteen years young and with no knowledge of the green business, but with a large dose of curiosity and vigor. 'Founder Hessel Donker saw that and gave me space.

His intuition allowed me to rely on mine and further gain confidence in the family business. That came in handy when she became managing director herself ten years later and seized the opportunity to chart a new course.

Since then, continuing to improve has been what the leaderwoman has been doing at Dark Green for more than thirty years. 'Although sometimes I do wonder if I'm still as open-minded as I used to be,' confesses Kanters, who has just passed sixty. 'As you get older, you start to put things into perspective. I've learned from mistakes and that makes me more thoughtful.

Moreover, structures and figures have become more important as the company has grown. To find balance between reason and intuition, I am aware that this intuition then has to be "on" and needs nourishment. My TED Talk made me think about the moments when I knew exactly which direction to take. If I was given the chance, of course. And because I was given those opportunities, I want to give them to others who genuinely want to achieve something.'

Intrinsic motivation

Precisely because Donkergroen always has to deal with the discipline of the market, Kanters values intrinsic motivation within her company. 'Targeting and efficiency keep us on track, but passion and ideas take us further.I am really proud of the craftsmanship, projects, such as the design and construction of the first circular (roof) gardens for ABN AMRO on the Zuidas (Donkergoen won the international ELCA Trend Award for leading sustainable projects with this last year, ed.That is what I had in mind from the beginning: that people are enthusiastic about achieving something together and that everyone participates by taking responsibility in their work.'

Participate, think and share at Dark Green

Kanters sees engaged employees who show ownership in her company. She therefore recently initiated the buyout of shares from the heirs of founder Hessel Donker, in order to make employee participation possible. "To begin with, my three-member management team has committed itself by investing heavily in our company," says the general manager, who has been a major shareholder herself since 1990.

'But so employees can also buy shares. Exciting to see how that turns out? Yes, although I am particularly curious, because I believe in participation. Allowing both directors and employees to participate, think along and share in the process creates a connection. And we need that in such volatile times as these in order to build for the future.

Circular economy

In anticipation of that future, another motivation also comes into play: contributing to a healthy world. 'As a green company, we take responsibility when it comes to a sustainable environment,' Kanters emphasizes. 'With our work, we can make a positive difference in the impact on the environment and climate. Out of passion for our profession, we as Donkergroen want to contribute to the circular economy, closing cycles and reducing and processing waste into raw materials.

Just as nature itself does. We work on the basis of The Natural Step, a methodology that helps to set large goals while taking small, achievable steps in the right direction.' Contributing to a circular economy is an adventure that Donkergroen undertakes with employees, clients and parties such as Circulair Friesland.

'An increasingly powerful climate for driving sustainability is emerging in the Northern Netherlands. This is because entrepreneurs, government and education know and need each other here. Everyone from their own talent, as is the case within Dark Green.

The trick is to form a good team and I like to be a captain. Realizing that every person wants to be meaningful, I find it a challenge to touch everyone's personal drives. To then translate those into performance together. Only if we show ownership together can we continue to take steps and improve.'


Hoveniersbedrijf Donkergroen combines craftsmanship and sustainable thinking into creative designs and plans for landscapes, (rooftop) gardens, playgrounds and interior planting. The head office is located in Sneek and the company works from 24 locations in the Netherlands and Belgium. For current projects and the TED Talk by director Anja Kanters, visit the Donkergroen website