Sustainability is in the small things

11th of July 2023 Article by John Griep
Sustainability is in the small things

ECJ Dutch correspondent John Griep tells us about an inspirational speaker at a recent VSR event.

Sometimes you have good intentions, and yet there’s still commentary on your actions. That means climate activists can never quite get it right – after all, they also drive a car sometimes, get on an aeroplane or eat the occasional hamburger. Something similar happened to us during our VSR Spring Event.

In an old building in the middle of the meadows in Lopikerkapel – a village somewhere in the western Netherlands – VSR members gathered for the event. The theme was sustainable and social enterprise. We at VSR may not be climate activists, but we are convinced of the need for change.

It was a beautiful location, there in Lopikerkapel, although keynote speaker Alycia Biekram viewed it differently. And she made that known at the beginning of her speech. This was because she could not reach the location from her home in The Hague by public transport. In other words, not sustainable.

Biekram works at Facilicom, one of the larger facility management service providers in the Netherlands. She has two passions: facility management and making an impact with sustainable and social business. Sustainable business, she said, is in the little things – like choosing an event venue.

Dreaming big while focusing on small goals at the same time is the secret, she says. Biekram confronted her audience by pointing out personal responsibility: “Everyone is a link. Don’t look at politics or the company you work for, but what are you doing as a person? What are you doing that will make it a little better tomorrow?”

For example, the sustainability expert prefers to travel by public transport (except to Lopikerkapel) and uses erasable cards rather than paper ones as reminders during her presentations. This doesn’t mean she’s perfect, she believes, as long as the intention is to improve.

According to Biekram, it is time for change. “In doing so, be positive, enthusiastic and critical,” she urged. “We all need each other. We need cleaning companies and they need suppliers. And we also need the planet, nature and our social capital – people.”

The big picture

Look at the whole thing – that’s her motto. Because you can choose a product that is very circular, but what good does it do you if there’s a high CO2 footprint afterwards? What matters is the whole picture: what does the production process look like? How is the transport organised? Does a product retain its value (how long does a machine last for)? And also: can employees make ends meet? Can people express their opinion?

A few examples of some goals you could set yourself (and which, according to the speaker, are “not mega-ambitious”): zero kg of residual waste, 100 per cent of your employees can make ends meet, CO2 emissions reduced by 60 per cent, and no use of primary raw materials. How we treat each other as entrepreneurs – and sometimes competitors – also plays a role. “We must share the enthusiasm. That means faming each other instead of shaming. Emphasise what is being done, which then makes a connection, and then it happens,” Biekram said.

I have nothing to add to that.

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