Article

27.04.2018

Progress towards the circular economy

Generally speaking, companies have strategies, structures and operations that remain entrenched in the linear economy. But is this still tenable? Here are five business models to help you think circular.

Today, it is no longer enough to invest in sustainable development here and there. Natural resources are becoming depleted and the environmental impact so serious that we can no longer be satisfied with doing things "less badly" than in the past. Companies are now expected to make a positive impact by breaking the link between growth and the use of natural resources. 

The head of any company that claims to be responsible will be curious about the opportunities for growth that will present themselves if they do things differently, and wonder about the environmental, social and societal benefits (aside from financial) that they could generate using their own resources, technology and time frames.
To produce a positive impact, companies will need to free themselves from linear thinking before they can embrace the circular economy. They probably also have to reconsider their value chain, though they will not be able to do so overnight. In their quest for inspiration and greater momentum, some have been quick to emulate innovative SMEs. 

How can transformation occur, what are the priorities and where do we start?

An analysis of 120 cases carried out by Accenture drew out five business models representing the same number of approaches to the circular economy.

Introducing sustainability in the supply chain

The first potential way to change your business model involves modifying the choice of raw materials used to make the product. This entails looking for alternative, renewable materials by adapting the supply chain upstream in order to achieve the long-term goal of a sustainable product and a process that is ideally waste-free. For example, industrialists can replace plastic, a linear component, with bioplastic or another material that is renewable or can be recycled. Ecover is the best example to cite in this respect: by introducing a sustainable chemical ingredient when it launched the first phosphate-free washing powder in the 1980s, it reduced the demand for toxic and non-recyclable substances. It has since expanded its business to produce a vast range of products.

The same approach can be taken downstream in the production chain. An excellent illustration of this is Sigma: in the knowledge that our homes are generally full of toxic products, Sigma marketed the first paint that purifies the inside air.

Recovering rather than producing 

Among those inspired by this second model are certain carpet manufacturers including Desso and Interface, who are switching to 100% recyclable products. The challenge for them is to maintain contact with customers in order to recover their carpets as cheaply as possible when they are no longer needed. For carpets with an aluminium backing (a pure product that is easy to recycle), the companies may even need to make contact 20 to 30 years later and put in place a reverse supply chain.

What are the other challenges for carpet manufacturers who wish to recycle the potential residual value of their products? One is not to destroy the item during recovery. This is why Desso invented Refinity, a technique enabling it to separate the fibres – from the thickest to the finest. At the end of the purification stage, a new carpet can therefore be manufactured from the old one using their Cradle to Cradle® technique. This process significantly reduces the amount of resources used and waste generated. It allows the product to be reconstructed without the need for new ingredients, closing the circle with almost zero waste.

Quentin Denis, from Accenture, says: "This choice to recover waste materials can produce surprising results, such as the metamorphosis of a mining company with processes that were 100% linear into the number one defender of recycling technical materials. This is the way in which Umicore drastically changed its core business to move from extractive mining to what is known as 'urban mining'. DSM is another mining company that has completely transformed itself to become what it describes as a manufacturer of circular products."

What is waste to some can become an ingredient for others. In other words, there is a different way to close the circle in a way that bypasses waste. For Engie, this meant establishing operations in close proximity to ArcelorMittal in Ghent so that it could transform all steam produced – wasted energy in theory – and feed it back into the electricity network. Another example from Switzerland is IBM, which transforms the hot air produced at its centre in Uitikon into hot water for the local public swimming pool. The company says the volume of heat produced can heat the equivalent of one swimming pool or 80 houses. 

To sell or lease? When obsolescence becomes taboo

Product-service systems, whereby a company prefers to sell its product as a service, are now in vogue. This third business model can occur alone or in conjunction with other concepts currently also emerging, such as the shared economy or the hub economy. But they can all operate in isolation, and confusion awaits the uninitiated.

An excellent example are the product-service systems operated by Rolls Royce, which has been producing turbines for aeroplanes and leasing them to airlines since the 1960s. How does Rolls Royce benefit? According to Quentin Denis, they "retain the right to carry out maintenance, allowing them to derive an additional source of revenue and improve performance. By leasing products instead of selling them once, they make their revenue more predictable because aeroplanes fly for decades. What really stands out is that this completely changes their focus on quality since they are concerned to ensure long-term performance in order to avoid breakdowns, for example", Denis continues. Which is one way for companies to turn their backs on built-in obsolescence...

The shared economy frequently illustrates that it can boost revenue insofar as it multiplies the number of users who can access an asset that is under-utilised. 

The hub economy: fighting against waste

Using an app to share information about a provider's excess capacity or to allow users (private or professional) to publicise an under-utilised product or service is the concept underpinning a further model based on the hub economy.
Lyft, a resource for sharing lifts in motor cars, was born from the observation that 80% of seats in urban vehicles are empty. Thus the app allows a user who needs transport to identify the vehicle of another user exactly when it is needed. The journey is paid for via the app and costs 20 to 30% less than a taxi, including the commission of 20% paid to Lyft.

The bicycle delivery service Deliveroo is another example. It allows restaurant kitchens to exploit their surplus capacity and to add a new facet to their business – home delivery. This then provides an additional source of revenue despite limited human resources in their restaurants. This idea can also be found in the logistics sector in relation to online hubs set up in order to share lorry capacity and prevent vehicles from returning empty.

Quentin Denis is in favour of the concept, providing its stated aim is to achieve a positive impact for all actors involved: "These hubs operate via a network effect", he says. "This is achieved when there is significant volume, both in terms of offer – service providers, owners of Airbnb properties or Uber drivers, for example – and demand from holidaymakers or passengers. This network effect gives the players a strong competitive advantage that they can potentially abuse to change the rules of the game overnight, increase commission or reduce earnings, for example." 

Products with longer lifespans

Components lost to the linear process once worn out can become useful again: this is the principle that motivates the final model. By improving a product, repairing it or making it again we can give it a new life, and the product can then go on to be resold or even personalised. And it is the challenge posed by obsolescence that Google is tackling by reinventing mobile phones that no longer meet the needs of users. By breaking them down into units it can choose to repair only what is broken and reduce costs, for example, and/or upgrade only the functions that are needed. The device lasts longer, and extending its use in this way can also lead to additional revenue. And as the need for resources diminishes, waste and cost amounts reproduce the same sort of curve. 

Are you ready to embrace circular thinking? Throw off your shackles and go for it wholeheartedly – but be aware that quick wins closely connected to the product are also a responsible step forward before transformation is possible.

Article

31.05.2021

Optimise your working capital with factoring

How can you keep your working capital healthy while incorporating the requisite financial flexibility? Factoring helps you to finance your cash requirements in a proper, timely and suitable way.

Securing liquidity is the key to financing your working capital requirements and keeping your business running smoothly at all times. That's exactly what factoring offers.It is a structural solution for optimising working capital. In the video below (in Dutch) in less than half an hour you will gain a clear picture of what factoring has to offer.

If you prefer to watch the video in French, click here.


Factoring: a tailored structural solution

In exchange for transferring your invoices to an external factoring company, you can count on fast, flexible financing, monitor the collection of your invoices, and protect yourself against potential bankruptcy among your customers. Each factoring solution is tailored to fit the needs of your business. This includes companies operating at international level. In Belgium, one in six companies currently outsource their invoices to an external factoring company. The same trend is evident in other European countries.

Do you have any questions, or would you like to discuss how factoring can help you? Contact your relationship manager or send us your details via the contact form and we will get in touch with you.
Article

27.04.2021

Will you be Entrepreneur of the Year 2021?

Will you succeed Stow and I-care as the Entrepreneur of the Year for 2021? Why shouldn't you? Apply before mid-May and your company may just win this prestigious award.

A dazzling event honoring the very best companies

This annual award ceremony is an EY initiative in collaboration with De Tijd and BNP Paribas Fortis. Last year the event had to be celebrated online. The advantage was that the general public was able to live stream the event and watch Prime Minister Alexander De Croo present the Onderneming van het Jaar® award to Stow and Entreprise de l'Année® award to I-care. Jan Jambon presented the Flemish government's Scale-up of the Year award to Robovision and David Clarinval the French version tot Proxyclick. The new winners will be announced on 6 and 7 December, 2021.

Big picture and little picture

The coronavirus pandemic is still affecting businesses this year. The new Entrepreneur of the Year and Scale-up of the Year will have undoubtedly shown excellent growth, innovation and governance as well as a sound approach to the pandemic. Bill Schley's book The Unstoppables calls this the big picture and the little picture. Successful entrepreneurs always keep a close eye on their core business and the financial side of things as well as on the little picture. This is the right emotional mechanism for properly dealing with obstacles, failure and risks.

From an entrepreneurial viewpoint

Didier Beauvois, Head of Corporate Banking at BNP Paribas Fortis, is proud that his company has been a partner of this event right from the start. “Alongside the current pandemic, two major challenges that businesses have to address in 2021 are new technologies and sustainability. Companies that want to remain relevant need to be flexible and creative and must keep reinventing themselves. Our mission is to guide them through this transformation process in the best way possible, because those entrepreneurs are the driving force behind the Belgian economy. Therefore, we like to put these innovators in the spotlight every year and is why we encourage Belgian companies to apply."

Why take part?

Winning the Entrepreneur of the Year award or Scale-up of the Year award offers your company many benefits. These awards have a strong national and international reputation that will help you to strengthen your company's brand awareness. The awards ceremony attracts a great deal of media interest in the winners and finalists, and offers excellent networking opportunities. A place in the finals is also a great way to boost employee motivation at your company.

So don't wait any longer: apply for the Onderneming van het Jaar® 2021 award, Entreprise de l’Année award or Scale-up of the Year award via the Dutch EY website or the French EY website before mid-May. All information on the criteria, selection procedure and registration process are available there. The finalists will be selected in June.

Article

27.04.2021

Our bank's experts help advance energy transition via Solar Impulse Foundation

Two specialists from our bank are among the top experts in this international foundation, which collects profitable solutions for a faster transition to sustainable energy.

Sustainability has been an important pillar for our bank for many years. For example, we have been carbon neutral since 2017, accompany companies in their energy transition and support start-ups and organisations that work with renewable energy. The Solar Impulse Foundation therefore has been benefiting from the sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Group from its inception.

Reconciling ecology and economy

The Solar Impulse Foundation was founded by the Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer, Bertrand Piccard, who makes it his life’s mission to demonstrate the opportunities of sustainable development. In 1999, he was the first to make a non-stop balloon journey around the world and, in 2016, he completed that journey again with a solar-powered aircraft. Since then, Piccard has used his popularity to publicise solutions that can protect the environment profitably. The ultimate goal? Motivate decision-makers and companies to set more ambitious environmental targets and better energy policies in order to achieve carbon neutrality.

1,000 sustainable solutions

Four years ago, Solar Impulse Foundation announced that it was looking for 1,000 sustainable solutions worldwide to accelerate the energy transition. That unique portfolio of solutions should then become an essential part of all environmental decisions, debates and political negotiations. Specifically, these are solutions that companies already have or will introduce to the market and that are economically profitable and technologically feasible, but do not yet have the visibility they deserve.

The targeted 1,000 solutions were reached on 13 April 2021. But because innovation never stops, the Foundation continues to add solutions.

Expertise from our bank

To gather as many innovative solutions as possible, the Foundation receives help from many partners and an extensive pool of more than 300 experts from companies around the world. Since any company may present its product on the Foundation’s website, these experts must assess the registered solutions objectively and in detail in three areas: profitability, environmental impact and technical feasibility. For a few years now, BNP Paribas Fortis employees have also devoted themselves to this task.

Quentin_Nerincx_2

One of them is Quentin Nerincx, Senior Advisor Cleantech at our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, who advises companies on becoming more sustainable. “I didn't hesitate to apply," says Quentin enthusiastically. “It’s an exciting project with a wonderful and ambitious goal. Every month, the Foundation sends me a file for analysis. Each solution is studied by two different experts and, if they both make a positive judgement, the solution is labelled by the Solar Impulse Foundation. This quality feature can help to accelerate the implementation of the proposed solution - for example, a new technology or a product.” 

Gunther_Brems

Gunter Brems, Sustainability Expert Housing & Sourcing Services, also lends his expertise: “It is an honour to be part of this prestigious project. I have assessed several files in 2020, which was an enriching experience not only to share knowledge but also to acquire new knowledge. It is great to see how innovative some companies are dealing with a changing world, just as our bank does, and how to look for sustainable alternatives together.”

 

Helping our corporate customers with their energy transition

“This project is also interesting for my job as a sustainability advisor at the bank, because I keep up to speed on new solutions that are being developed worldwide. This allows me to expand my expertise continuously and to contribute broadly to corporate clients looking for solutions for their energy transition", adds Quentin.

At the end of last year, Quentin was informed that he is one of the top 20 experts providing expertise to the Solar Impulse Foundation. Gunter even made it to the top 10. These rankings are mainly based on the number of solutions analysed and the quality of the reports. “We are delighted that our input is appreciated”, the two experts say.

Government guides

The collection of more than 1,000 approved solutions can be found on the Solar Impulse Foundation website. This summer, the Foundation is also publishing a Solutions Guide that will enable governments, companies and individuals to find and implement concrete solutions on a large scale. With this tool, everyone can find solutions to problems in specific geographical, industrial or financial environments in just three clicks.

The Foundation will also provide various public authorities with a Cleanprint, a kind of report and plan for governments and companies to achieve their climate goals using the solutions collected, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement. The report will also indicate where public authorities can modernise their legal frameworks for the ambitious implementation of these solutions. The first Cleanprint will be presented by Bertrand Piccard at COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow in November 2021.

Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of BNP Paribas: “There will be no future for society without a successful, long-term energy transition. This transformation can only be undertaken collectively and requires technical and technological service solutions. In taking up the challenge to select 1,000 solutions which encourage environmental protection while also being profitable, the Solar Impulse Foundation is helping us to reach this goal in a very practical way and in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement.”

Seeing that the solutions collected are actually followed up by government leaders and other decision-makers will be the crowning glory of our work", conclude Quentin and Gunter.

Need advice on how to make your business more sustainable?
Contact our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre
Article

25.02.2021

How can the blue economy make a difference?

What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.

Blue is the new green

71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,

With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.

Offshore sustainability

What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.

For your sector, too

The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.

Another scoop of microalgae?

Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.

Sustainable plastics

When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.

Who will pay for it?

Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.

This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).

Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.

Several experts will share their insights, while our experts from the Sustainable Business Competence Centre will also take part. They can advise you on innovations and guide you through your sustainable transition. Feel free to get in touch.

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