An amazing interview with Sandra Horlings & Christiaan Kraaijenhagen
Innoboost is the innovation collective boosting the development and commercialization of circular economy solutions. To keep our world livable and thriving and business blooming, we’ll take our clients on a co-creation journey, solving real business dilemmas one fact at a time. In small steps for big impact.
Hi Sandra, hi Christiaan! Nice to meet you. To break the ice, can you tell me a little about yourselves?
Sandra –S-: I’ve been working at the cross-section of marketing, media and innovation for about 30 years with leading brands in the world, small and large. I started to work in sustainability topics around 15 years ago in 2009 for sustainability in the marketing strategy. That is also how I met Christiaan.
Christiaan –C-: I’ve been involved with sustainability since I was about 18, but business-wise I’ve been working in the area for the last 20 years. I’m in a business and consulting role, working on circular economy as a driver for innovation and business creation, helping organizations to take concrete steps and create profit to be proud of.
What drove you both to get involved in sustainability topics?
S: I was trying to build an integral customer journey from A to Z with sustainability as a driver to help people rethink how they offer their services to customers. I also wrote white papers about cases and did a deep dive into embracing sustainability from a value creation perspective which brands like Lipton or Nespresso were already exploring and applying at an early stage.
C: My first involvement was when I was 17 years old and in Scotland for summer camp. We had this principle of leaving people and the planet better than we found them, which was really important to me and still is. Business-wise, I got involved with sustainability during a venture founded by Philips where the project was about creating a business with renewable energy in the consumer space. The first consumer and market tests were very promising, people wanted to have a positive impact. This to me was proof that you could combine the two elements.
Around 15 years ago, sustainability was very much a separate topic from business. Even today, we still have mission work to do.
Thank you and absolutely! Now, I’d love to learn more about Innoboost. What is it, in a nutshell?
C: It’s about value for customers, consumers, businesses but also the environment and society. It’s about working with people like Sandra who possess in-depth experience. We work with both entrepreneurs and consultants which is a special combination, since normally it would be either or.
Essentially, it’s a collective of innovation professionals, creating profit to be proud of through circular solution commercialization.
From the initial idea up to making sure that it’s scalable, we have experience across difference sectors such as FMCG, textile, electronics, health, banking, personnel, HR, telecom, among others.
S: We are innovation process specialists to drive impact. On the front-end of innovations that concerns the question of business opportunities, how and where that may be possible. Or further down the line regarding launching attractive propositions and stimulating adoption. For example by tapping into the network of early adopters, to share with their peers.
Can you explain circular business innovation and give some examples?
S: It’s the no-waste economy, regarding social and ecological dimensions, resources and people, trying to slow down material usage. There are various strategies to do that. Overproduction is one of the most obvious things that we tend to overlook, yet there is a lot of it and many goods that are being thrown away. One start-up had the idea to produce very tastily, iced teas from wasted fruit: we helped them to identify what their positioning was, define the purpose, tell the story, so taking a branding perspective and claim a spot in the world. Thereby, we can help solve a small problem with big impact.
C: I actually co-wrote a book and some articles about circularity and we extend the definition with social impact. So, circular business innovation is not only about reusing resources and preventing waste, but also about the social component. For example, Homie is a small company offering washing as a service. Basically, you get a washing machine and share it with other people, only pay per wash and you pay less if you wash at lower temperatures. In the future, they might also design washing machines in a circular way. So, the users don’t own the machines, but Homie does service and maintains them. And take them back at the end of life. This is one example of a circular business model. Another term is the sufficiency economy. It’s important to firstly refuse things, one well-known example is the Patagonia advertisement saying, “Don’t buy this jacket”, encouraging consumers to not buy goods unless they need them. Also, figuring out if there are ways to upcycle existing products or to extend the lifetime.
Innoboost Six Step Approach
S: To refuse is also an important theme in the Netherlands because Schiphol airport is inclined to lower the incoming and outgoing flights, dealing with the challenges of degrowth due to environmental challenges.
But what does degrowth mean? Does it mean to not be in business, to not make any profits? In fact, it’s about understanding value, collaborating with partners in the value chain and dividing the benefits equally.
Moreover, it’s about increasing efficiency and finding opportunities for the business to have less impact on the environment and a more positive impact on people.
Is there a specific industry in which circular economy solutions have the greatest potential?
C: It’s especially impactful for the resource-intense industries such as construction, food, plastics, textiles, electronics, those with long value chains. But also venture capital firms or investment banks have a huge potential by putting the money where the mouth is.
S: Also, collaboration within the value chain upstream or downstream is important and will hit all players, as end consumers also need to make choices, adapt their shopping behavior and become aware.
Are there any risks or downsides to circular economy solutions? Are companies prepared to change their processes in order to build a new kind of circular business?
C: There are risks, but more opportunities. Yet, circularity is not the same as sustainability. A subscription-based business model can still lead to overusing. For instance, there might be the same number of resources or emissions. Thus, it’s crucial to change a business model, not as a goal in itself but as an enabler and measure the environmental impact. There are also elements like legislation, traceability, trustfulness of sourcing information.
We won’t change everything at the same time, but we need to learn and improve to make progress.
S: We encourage our clients to dream big about the impact they would like to have, the in-between milestones, and future horizon opportunities. Sustainability and circularity are huge topics, but the question is what the person’s actual impact is in their private or professional world. There might be a clash between the two, but it’s important to identify small steps they can take for big impact to accelerate. Changing is difficult, of course, especially for large and efficient companies it’s challenging in multiple ways.
How can companies “create profit to be proud of”?
C: Purely going for the financials is not the way to go, you need to consider society and the environment. With the product or service on the market, you can impact both, measure it and strive to use businesses as a force for good.
S: Profit for business is like oxygen, but business is not just about profit, or creating it at a cost – instead, it’s about creating it for the benefit of all.
What can companies use as a starting point for sustainable or circular approaches?
C: You need to start with yourself, ask yourself for the “why” of your motivation, use the 5 P model. Why is sustainability relevant, talk to the team, and explore it at various levels: at a family, organization, brand and ecosystem level.
S: It starts with leaders striving to leave the world better than they found it – to achieve this, you can act as a family member, business associate, or citizen, putting the planet first and adopting a growth mindset.
Is there anything you’d like to mention that we haven’t talked about?
S: We invite all businesses to get going, because the window of opportunity is only still open which needs to be explored!
C: We’re always willing to share knowledge, work with universities, and template approaches are shareable.