Doing business with plastic soup

Gifts come with a story at Brandwijk Kerstpakketten. A story that is preferably sustainable. From fleece blankets and PET bottles to biodegradable ponchos.

That is me - next to my three daughters and grandchildren - couldnt be more proud, says businessman Dick Brandwijk (60), waving a backpack. This is my first bag made of 100% recycled paper with an FSC label. Together with sales and BrabantZorg employees, we developed a fully waterproof backpack for our employees. Its really cool. In Brandwijks world, as in: the show room of Brandwijk Kerstpakketten and their website, each gift comes with a story. Or better put: a sustainable story. Take these fleece blankets, for example. Theyre made of PET bottles. Go on, have a feel. They’re so soft. Incredible, right? Recycling PET bottles means we can stop the floating garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean from increasing. Picture this: an area thirty-four times the size of the Netherlands. Just filled with plastic waste. So how great is it that you can use sustainable gifts to put a halt to it? Sustainable gifts it is. The Brandwijk company made them its core business. Its a virus that grabbed hold of Brandwijk back in 2000 when he suffered three heart attacks during a flight. If it werent for the on-board nurse - and three angels on his shoulder – things would be very different now. Brandwijk himself has very little recollection about the event. I woke up in the Schiphol hospital. And that is when his vision on doing business changed. Death being that near kind of removes any desire to be the largest. But it did make me want to be the best at business with a focus on man and the environment.

Increasing commercial value

By 2005, five years later, sustainable business becomes a reality. Arjan Gündlach, the (then) head of marketing at CWS-Boco, gave him the wake-up call. He says: "Dick, were going about those Christmas boxes and promotional items differently this time. Our focus will be sustainability." He is adamant that CSR is not only good for the planet and society, but that it is also a way for companies to enhance their commercial value and reputation. Brandwijk is fascinated by Gündlachs story. When another large client, TBI Holdings, approaches him with the same message, he sees the light. Thats when this idea just grabbed me. In everything I do and make, I am thinking: How can we do this in a carbon-neutral way?

We decided to examine our transport operations. A shipping container arrives in Rotterdam, the contents are unloaded and then divided across three trailers. The products are then neatly delivered here on pallets. How easy would it be for that container to be placed on one trailer at the transporting company and unload it there, saving a lot of carbon emission? The fact that Brandwijks neighbour is also their logistics partner is no coincidence, either. When our packages are filled, we store them across the street. That way we keep emissions down to a minimum. That last part is important for the Brandwijk business, which is at level 3 of the CO2 Performance Ladder (see box). For the past five years, the company has halved its CO2 output and it aims to only sell sustainable products by 2020.

Wrapping machine 

Since 2012, Brandwijk has been running his company from an energy-efficient building at business park De Wildeman in Zaltbommel. They have achieved various savings related to energy and material use, but also in terms of economical installations, performances and flexibility of the building. Solar panels for the roof are pending, as well as LED lighting. And seeing how every little bit helps, the Audi has been switched out for an electric car. On the parking lot, next to the entrance, we see a Tesla hooked up to the charger. Another cost-saving investment. Fuel used to set me back eight hundred euros per quarter. Now its roughly 75 euros of electricity. And my addition is nine hundred euros less than with my Audi.

Century old furniture

While there are no Christmas ornaments in March, the energy-efficient orange-red building is in stark contrast with its entrance hall. The decorative white staircase with purple carpet is particularly evident. Above it hangs a shiny chandelier. My wife, Pieta, did that, Dick Brandwijk points proudly at the mood setting furnishings. Arriving