20 February 2024
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Does your company want to become more sustainable or do you want to get started with Corporate Social Responsibility? But don't you know how? In this series of stories, we speak with entrepreneurs from the Brainport Eindhoven region who are already well on their way in the transition towards a sustainable economy. What can we learn from these pioneers? We start with Niels van den Beucken, general manager at Arte Group. The company is based in Helmond and produces and sells sustainable worktops.
Have you ever wondered where your kitchen worktop comes from? The materials that are applied in the Arte worktops, among others, come from Spain, Italy and India. The stone slabs arrive in Helmond via local sawmills, where Arte processes them into, for example, kitchen worktops. Arte supplies to kitchen specialty shops, interior builders and hotel chains
After the financial crisis of 2008, Arte started with sustainable business practices. “We started to reposition ourselves then,” says Van den Beucken. “Although we are not a philanthropic institution, we do not just believe in price. The price has to be good, of course, but we chose to focus on corporate social responsibility. That fits in with our intrinsic value: being good to the world.”
But how do you start? Niels immediately has an important tip: 'If you want everyone to be intrinsically motivated to perform business in a sustainable way, then you don't work top down, but bottom up. At our company, it is mainly up to the staff.' And so Arte opted for working in project groups, that consist of employees from all kinds of layers and from all kinds of departments. One project group focused on the application of legislation, the other on the dialogue with stakeholders and another on new ideas to make Arte more sustainable. Employees did research, made policy and involved other colleagues during breakfast sessions.
One of the first successes was achieving level 3 of the CSR performance ladder system standard, which companies use to demonstrate their progress when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility. Arte is now at level 4 and recently the company obtained the B corp certification. They also have a biodiversity garden with vegetables for free daily salads and all employees participate in the annual volunteer day. Last year they organized an afternoon for Ukrainian refugee children. “All these sustainable steps started with ideas from the shop floor. So my advice is to give your staff space. As a result, we have a distinctive marketing story which also attracts new employees.”
What Arte does, does not only have impact on the organization and immediate environment, but also far beyond. In 2010, when Van den Beucken was just getting into CSR, he traveled to a quarry in South India. He saw children on their knees working and selling stones. It made a deep impression on him. "Our supplier claimed that it was not child labor, because they actually provided these poor families with an income." Still, all ethical alarm bells ringed. “These kids should be in school. If there's ever a way to tackle child labour, we'll do it,' he thought. A new sustainable goal was born: around the quarry, Arte wanted to create a zone where child labor does not occur.
But how? Van den Beucken soon learned a valuable lesson. "We thought: we're going to arrange it all over there. We will build new schools, install beautiful playground equipment and provide clean drinking water.' But the Indian organization Arte works with put a stop to that. According to them, a change of mentality is much more important. ‘In that part of India it is not normal to go to school. That is why we work with so-called mobilizers: local people who visit parents whose children do not go to school. We explain to them how important education is.' And with success. All four-year-old children now enroll in school.
Back to Helmond. Done with CSR? "Never, there's still a lot to do. We are looking at options for circular production with all our partners. For example, our ceramics supplier will soon be switching from gas to hydrogen.' The first circular line at Arte must be ready in three years' time. ‘We have not yet named a year, but ultimately we want to be completely circular. Our customers are also becoming increasingly aware of CSR. We want to continue to inspire them so that they follow our example.”
1. Map out where your materials come from
'I think just installing solar panels and planting trees is buying off your CO2 emissions. Take a critical look at your chain: where do your materials come from? How do your suppliers work? What emissions do they have? Question your suppliers, so that you make the chain transparent. And then make that clear to the consumer in a brochure, for example.”
2. Establish long-term partnerships
“We only work with a few suppliers, who we truly consider as partners. We make time and space to sit down together, with the aim of making a working method more sustainable. We simply do not walk away from our partners suddenly because we discover another supplier who is more advanced when it comes to sustainability. That is not how we work. For example, at the moment we are investigating how we can reuse kitchen worktops together with our Spanish supplier. This way of working has also been incorporated into the Sustainable Development Goals. Take a look there for more sustainable goals.'
This series of stories is made possible by Brainport Development in collaboration with Rabobank.