Breedweer social enterprise - making people happy

28th of September 2018
Breedweer social enterprise - making people happy
Breedweer social enterprise - making people happy

Social enterprise cleaning services company Breedweer is based in the Netherlands and headed up by Jack Stuifbergen, a man with a vision of making a true social impact with his business. The company won the European Cleaning & Hygiene Awards Workforce award in 2017 for its policies concerning employee relationships, training and diversity & inclusion.

ECJ editor Michelle Marshall spoke to Stuifbergen about the company’s range of inspiring initiatives and his objectives for the future.

Breedweer is a business that is not just about cleaning and facilities services. The focus of its founder Jack Stuifbergen is on spreading a wider message around the business community and the world at large. That message centres on diversity, inclusion, offering opportunities to people from all parts of society, and the circular economy. “But you have to do more than just speaking about it,” he says. And he is living proof of that.

Stuifbergen was running a conventional cleaning business in 2009, when he decided he would convert Breedweer to a social enterprise after meeting a lady called Linda. “At that time it was difficult to find good staff, we had to go to Turkish coffee houses to inspire enthusiasm for the profession,” he explains. “I came across an advertisement from a benefit agency seeking jobs for 30,000 people who were currently away from the labour market. I went to that benefit agency looking for nine people, unfortunately I only got two employees. One of them was Linda.

“Linda was an insecure lady, she always stood at the back and had nothing to do with people around her. We trained Linda and when she was presented with her diploma she told us that at home her family had said she would never be able to do it, that she was too stupid. But she had done it. It was then I decided our company would become a social enterprise.

“At that time it was very difficult to set up a social enterprise without a stigma being attached to it,” Stuifbergen continued. “And the greatest challenge was to completely change the culture of our company. The focus for me was no longer on making profit but on making impact. And social entrepreneurship is like learning to ride a bike – you fall off 10 times before you get it. In the same way someone who is away from the labour market for whatever reason learns very slowly that he can have a job again.”

Breedweer employees come from all sections of society and many of them have difficult backgrounds. The business sources its staff from benefit agencies, reintegration agencies, social workshops, refugee organisations etc. “We want to help everyone who is on the sidelines of society to build up a fully-fledged existence,” says Stuifbergen.

In the security part of the business, for example, Breedweer is recruiting ex-prisoners – with the aim of rehabilitating them. “It’s true there is a great deal of prejudice around that which we must overcome,” admits Stuifbergen. This does not deter him from his objectives however, and he is content with taking small steps. “I want to show other companies it can be done so we will persevere.”

The business also employs people who have been homeless – providing them with a home, and some security as well as a job. “I want to give people the chance to rebuild their lives,” says Stuifbergen. “We also try to help employees to tackle issues such as addiction, financial difficulties, etc. And we have recruited refugees, the unemployed. What we offer is some structure back in their lives.” What Breedweer is achieving goes far beyond simply giving people a job, as the issues surrounding new recruits can be complex – but for them the opportunity can be a life saver.

Sign Language Coffee Bar

Other inspiring initiatives from Breedweer include the Sign Language Coffee bar, which was developed to offer deaf people the opportunity to work. Stuifbergen explains: “Seventy per cent of deaf people are unemployed in the Netherlands. So on some of our contract sites where we have coffee bars as part of our catering business we employ deaf people. We developed an app so people in the building can order by doing sign language – we teach them what to do. This brings a double benefit in that the deaf people benefit from professional barista training and the app users are learning sign language.”

The business’ objectives do not end with the workforce, however. Now Stuifbergen has become more and more passionate about the circular economy. At client sites he also encourages people to get involved, for example by sharing knowledge on becoming a paperless office and spreading the word about the benefits. On some contracts Breedweer has installed machines to make spinning top toys from plastic that would otherwise be waste. “We also handle client waste for free, it doesn’t cost us money so we do not charge. We can then use it to make bottles, cardboard waste bins etc.”

And Breedweer’s commitment to education in the wider community includes a primary school programme whereby members of the business’ team visit children and show them just how much can be done with what would otherwise be rubbish. “We even have a machine to show them how recycling happens, and we hope this encourages young people to be aware of the issues around the circular economy from an early age,” Stuifbergen says.

Now Breedweer has broadened the reach of the circular economy culture it has created within its own business to that of the company where it buys its cleaning supplies. KBL is the distributor that works alongside Breedweer and its founder Hilco Kooistra is now fully committed – it was Stuifbergen who convinced him to become a circular economy business after they had started to work together.

Now KBL sells chemicals only in bottles made of recycled plastic, it takes back bottles and paper from Breedweer contracts. Paper goes back to a mill for recycling and KBL takes all the packaging for recycling so there is no waste. And Kooistra is now convincing other cleaning companies to pay more for cleaning chemicals in recycled bottles rather than always opting for the lowest price products. KBL also refurbishes cleaning trolleys and sells them on, or sells components to dealers in metals, plastics, copper, etc.

Kooistra explains: “One in five vehicles in Amsterdam is a garbage truck. We must change that. The circular economy is local, it’s about selling to your neighbours. The bottleneck is logistics, it’s about reducing CO2 emissions.

New way of thinking

“This is a new way of thinking – sharing out the business, co-operating, everybody benefits.”

KBL, like Breedweer, is now a social enterprise. “Making impact is our objective, money is not the key driver. We are still, however, an economically viable business, and we can make money,” Kooistra says.

Breedweer too is a highly successful business financially – in fact it is one of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Netherlands, having grown by 100 per cent over three years. “Our primary objective in running the business is generating profit, of course, however the key driver of generating that profit is to reinvest in order to continue making an even greater impact on society,” Stuifbergen emphasises.

“Our goal is to make people happy, not only our customers but also our employees. And we enjoy the strong links we have with charities and other social organisations. We want to work with them, they want to work with us. We try to work together to make the world a better place.”


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