Sustainability for products and companies

You can take small and large steps to get started with sustainability in your company. Whether you replace your lamps with LED lighting, switch to an electric delivery van, or design a product for reuse. Read in this article what you can do in your company to make your products and company more sustainable step by step.

Definition of sustainability

Sustainability is a broad concept and a combination of several aspects. For companies, it means 'doing the right thing' for people, the environment, society, and animals. In other words, protecting the earth, preserving natural resources, and preventing pollution and waste. And treat people and animals with respect. As a tool for a sustainable world, the United Nations has drawn up 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the so-called SDGs.

Why get started?

One reason to get started with sustainability may be that you want to leave the world in a good state for those who come after you. Or maybe you see innovation opportunities for a new product. But sustainability is becoming less optional with all the agreements and rulings of judges. The government also sometimes sets 'environmentally friendly business' as a condition for financing. In short, sustainability creates a new playing field that you as an entrepreneur can use.

Improve the sustainability of your company and products

Sustainability is as versatile as your company itself. Where do you start with sustainability within your company? Map out your sustainability route by determining which external developments will affect your company first. For example, a gas station will have to deal with electric driving and a bakery with natural gas-free baking. Then choose roughly 7 changes you want to make. Start small and make your products and company more sustainable step by step.

1. Product and production process

Can you still produce or sell your product in the future in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations? Or will your customer still be able to use it in its current form? If not, this is where innovation opportunities lie. If you want to make your product (more) sustainable, you can pay attention to various aspects. Such as the use of materials, the design of your product, and your production process.

Material

If the raw materials you need become scarce in the future, choose environmentally friendly materials that are recyclable or biodegradable and for which the production process is sustainable. You check this with the Resources Scanner (for English, select the UK flag at the top of the page). An example is the sustainable disposable straw (in Dutch) from Straw by Straw. A lightweight product produces less polluting exhaust gases during transport. And with the lightweight powder paint from RAW Paints, you no longer have to transport litres of water back and forth.

In some cases, you have to comply with legislation when choosing your materials. There are product requirements and requirements for packaging. And since July 2021 there is a ban on single-use plastic.

Design

You can also make a big difference with the design of your product. For example, design it in such a way that you can easily separate waste for reuse. An example is a plastic yogurt container with a paper wrapper: the wrap goes with paper waste, the container with plastic. Sustainable design can also mean that you can easily repair a product if 1 part is broken.

Production process

Check whether you can reduce the emissions from your production process, for example CO2 and nitrogen emissions. In the future we will stop using gas. There are alternatives to, for example, gas-fired production equipment. Finally, use environmentally friendly cleaning products. Rules for emissions from installations and noise regulations apply to your production process.

Sustainability subsidies

Do you want to adjust your product or production process? See if you can make use of innovation and sustainability subsidies. Are you going to produce renewable energy or apply CO2-reducing techniques? You may be able to make use of the Sustainable Energy Transition subsidy scheme 2022, SDE++. The SDE++ subsidy closed in November 2021. It is not yet known when applications for 2022 will open.

2. Property

Making your building more sustainable can be done with small and large measures. It varies from switching to LED lighting to switching off the gas.

Do you want to know where you can make the biggest impact to save energy? Learn about the effects of different measures, such as wall insulation and double glazing. You can also, for example, switch to a heat pump, electric boiler, or the heat network. Regarding the energy efficiency of your building, there are a number of rules that you must comply with.

From 2050, all buildings must be CO2-low. This means that 1.5 million homes and buildings must be free of gas by 2030. Between the end of 2021 and 2050, companies will also phase out the use of gas. Willem Kesteloo (PHYSEE) came up with a solution. He developed power-generating windows (in Dutch) for buildings.

There are a number of sustainability subsidies to encourage sustainable investments, such as the Energy Investment Deduction (EIA) and the Sustainable Energy Transition subsidy scheme 2022, SDE++. The SDE++ subsidy closed in November 2021. It is not yet known when applications for 2022 will open.

3. Transport

The simplest way to drive more sustainably is to drive less. Entrepreneurs in the construction industry limit their nitrogen emissions, for example, by having their construction staff carpool (in Dutch) and have materials delivered in a bundle.

More energy-efficient driving

You can also drive more energy-efficiently. For example, with electric cars or vans, or by switching to green fuels. The government is taking various measures to encourage this and to discourage polluting transport. For example, check the financial benefits of electric driving or other schemes. Do not just think about greening your company cars. There are also ways to make your staff travel more sustainably. For example, take advantage of the national cycling ambitions.

There are entrepreneurs who have been working on sustainable transport solutions for some time. Multi Tool Trac BV came up with an electric tractor (in Dutch). And GoodFuels turns waste flows into a 100% sustainable fuel oil for, among other things, the shipping industry. Experts believe that hydrogen (in Dutch) will become an important source of energy in the future.

4. Sustainable purchasing

With sustainable purchasing you not only look at price and quality, but you also pay attention to the effect on the environment, people, and society. Such as use of raw materials and CO2 emissions. On the website of the Public Procurement expertise centre PIANOo you will find a checklist with points to keep in mind when purchasing sustainably. Could you use some help in determining your sustainable procurement specifications to your suppliers? In the Sustainable Public Procurement criteria tool you will find criteria for 45 product groups.

5. Waste

Separating waste is mandatory. Use the Company waste separation tool to check which waste you need to separate. You may be able to separate more within your company. For example, collecting (compostable) coffee cups. Reducing waste is also sustainable. Keep your waste bins empty with these 8 tips (in Dutch).

With ‘cradle to cradle’ you make new products from residual waste. For instance, Leadax makes a lead-free lead replacement for the construction industry from recycled foil from safety glass. Bio Bound BV makes various concrete products from elephant grass. And Nijhuis Industries BV recovers fat from wastewater for biofuel or cosmetics.

If you are going to recycle, you may be able to receive a subsidy. There is also a scheme (in Dutch) if you are going to invest in the recovery of materials during waste processing.

6. Staff

In addition to the environment, sustainability also affects personnel policy. From decent working conditions to fair opportunities on the labour market. The government is taking various measures to encourage diversity in the workplace and inclusive organisations (in Dutch). Because a diverse team of employees results in better turnover and employee satisfaction. You encourage sustainable employability by allowing employees to develop digitally (in Dutch) and by creating a sustainable company culture (in Dutch). Also see the article More inclusive hiring practices.

View the sustainability subsidies for your staff. There are various government regulations for hiring people with an occupational disability.

7. Business model

Many entrepreneurs consider not getting their business model finalised the biggest obstacle toward sustainable entrepreneurship. Because it is no longer just about making as much money as possible. The emphasis shifts from having to sharing and from profit maximisation to well-being. Social entrepreneurs have a mission. For them, money is not a goal, but a means.

A sustainable business model can be good 'advertising' for your company, says sustainability advisor Edith Kroese (in Dutch). “By presenting yourself on the labour market with the way you are committed to the world, you attract young, enthusiastic employees. And if you can substantiate that what you are doing makes sense, that in turn has a favourable image for your financiers.”

Kroese mentions 'product as a service' as an example of how you can build sustainability into your business model. “At MUD jeans, you lease a pair of jeans and give them back, limiting the amount of waste in the chain.”

Be inspired by 6 other revenue models. The business model canvas gives you tools to complete your green business model.

Success factors

Increase the success rate of your sustainable plans and ensure:

Support

Realise that you need others to move forward. Invest in the willingness of employees to join you. Or involve cooperation partners, such as customers and suppliers, and take up sustainable plans in co-creation (in Dutch). Explain what you want to achieve and why.

Visible results

Make the results of your efforts visible. For example, with the life cycle assessment (in Dutch) you measure the impact of your product on the environment. From the production process to the moment the user throws it away. You can measure whether you are reducing CO2 emissions with Stimular's Envirometer or the Climate Square's CO2 calculator (in Dutch).

And with the CSR performance ladder you focus on people and society, including fair trade and the prevention of child labour.

Current knowledge

Make sure you and your employees keep up-to-date with the latest developments. Like the use of raw materials or circular design. For example, work with and learn from students (in Dutch).

Quality marks or certifications

Show your customers and suppliers that you operate sustainably with a quality mark (in Dutch). You can also have your company certified. For example, ISO 14001 is about the environment and ISO 26000 is about CSR.

Examples of sustainable entrepreneurship

Sustainable paint powder

“Take small steps,” Willemijn Wortelboer (RAW Paints) offers as a tip. “First go and see in practice whether what you have in mind works. And talk to customers to learn from them. And when you are ready, go to the next phase.” She tells her story in the Webinar Duurzaam Vooruit (in Dutch).

Conscious personnel policy

Invest in conscious personnel policy is the advice of entrepreneur Laamia Elyounoussi (De Zaak). “Provide training opportunities. You will have earned back your investment in no time.” The absenteeism rate in her company is below 1%. That is 3% lower than the national average. “And we do not have to put up job ads for new employees, thanks to our ambassadors.”

Circular and climate positive business models

“As a baker, you have to be able to do more than just bake bread,” says Maurits Groen about the business model (in Dutch) of his company Kipster. “Write a story with high-quality ingredients from ecological suppliers and long-term relationships with customers in the lead.” Wouter Staal (Yoghurt Barn) adds, on a practical note: “If you know exactly how much CO2 you emit and where, you must have a good plan for reduction and compensation.”