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

17.09.2021

Which company will cash in on its nomination for the Leeuw van de Export Award?

On the evening of Wednesday 29 September, FIT will be presenting its Leeuw van de Export Award for the 20th time: the highest award for Flemish companies achieving outstanding export results. Will it be Camco Technologies, Container Technics, Locinox, Molecubes, OTN Systems or Sylva?

Every year, Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) awards a Leeuw van de Export to two companies that have recorded notable achievements in the field of exports in the past year. We briefly introduce the six nominees below. Be inspired by their stories of expansion abroad and find out which companies are voted the strongest exporters on 29 September at 6pm via a livestream at www.leeuwvandeexport.be.

Nominees in the category 'Companies with up to 49 employees'

Container Technics from Wijnegem

Container Technics has been a specialist in cargo securing technology for nearly four decades. The company sells materials to secure cargo on ships and has established a strong reputation in the shipping world. Since there are hardly any Belgian shipping companies, Container Technics has always been an international SME. Today, they are an all-round partner to shipowners around the world.

CEO Wim Ledegen: "For now, we're managing our central stock from our home base, but we're also considering decentralisation. Italy, the USA or Dubai are suitable candidates. The closer we are to the large ports and shipyards with our materials, the greater our response speed and flexibility."

www.containertechnics.com

Molecubes from Ghent

Molecubes develops and builds compact scanners for molecular imaging. All hardware, software and technology are from Flemish soil. The devices visualise organs, tumours or the actions of drugs. During research on COVID-19, the company supplied the only type of scanner that can be used in highly secure virology lab environments. Molecubes scanners are already used in 14 countries, with the United States at the very top of the list.

Co-founder Ewout Vansteenkiste: "Far-away destinations are definitely something we're aiming for, with China and South Korea being the 'icing on the cake'. We're a young company, and there's still so much untapped potential. Together with our partners, we'll look at how we can further differentiate our product range and explore many other areas of application for our devices."

www.molecubes.com

Sylva from Lievegem

Sylva is a plant grower and has been a family business for seven generations. Today, 25 million plants are shipped annually to 40 different countries, including a number of overseas markets. Over the years, the company has steadily developed into an established player in the field of forest plants and hedge plants, and has also been servicing the international market since 2003. Today, Sylva has six local representatives and is in the process of tapping into promising, far-away export countries such as Russia and China.

General Manager Tim Van Hulle: "North America is beckoning. However, given the phytosanitary legislation in place there, it's currently not possible to import plants from our country into the US and Canada. But we're now ready to exploit this huge potential as soon as the market opens up for plants from Belgium."

www.sylva.be

Nominees in the category 'Companies with 50 or more employees'

Camco Technologies from Heverlee

Camco Technologies is a pioneer in terminal automation. The company specialises in container identification and tracking solutions. After the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Finland, they managed to gain a foothold in the United States. Process automation, the latest camera technologies, micro-location, artificial intelligence... Technological innovation is a must for Camco Technologies.

CEO Jan Bossens: "In Europe, we're gradually approaching the ceiling in terms of terminal automation. But there are many large-scale projects on the table in Eastern Europe, Russia and China. And the African continent still offers a lot of potential."

www.camco.be

Locinox from Waregem

Locinox is a family-owned company that develops and manufactures mechanical, electro-mechanical and access control products for manufacturers and installers of fencing and gates such as locks, hinges, hydraulic pumps, electric motors and access-code keypads. Two-thirds of the added value is derived from the product range itself, while the rest is derived from services. The company is fully committed to technological innovation and sustainability.

CEO Mik Emmerechts: "Exporting is in Locinox' DNA. As a manufacturing company in such a specific industry, you simply have to expand your reach. Today, 90% of our revenue comes from exports, and we're the European market leader in our niche industry."

www.locinox.com

OTN Systems from Olen

This technology provider deliberately targets energy and transportation with its applications, two industrial sectors that are currently undergoing rapid transformation worldwide. Their technology makes it possible to migrate outdated telecom infrastructures and then efficiently manage new networks. OTN Systems is now active in more than 70 countries and on every continent.

Chief Product Officer Jurgen Michielsen: "Our technology isn't very different from that of the giant telecommunication providers, other than that we develop and implement fully customised solutions for our industrial customers. We continuously look to innovate and stand out from the major market players. We do this by coming up with clever ideas and through our human-centred approach."

www.otnsystems.com

Find out who will be crowned winners of the Leeuw van de Export Award 2021 during the livestream on 29 September at 6pm. Register in advance at www.leeuwvandeexport.be or visit the website on the day itself.

Are you ready for your first international adventure or do you want to expand your international activities? We offer you the peace of mind you need, with a wide range of solutions to optimise, secure and finance your import and export activities.

Source: Wereldwijs 2021

Article

10.09.2021

Export Lion Award still going strong after 20 years

Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) will be presenting its Export Lion Award for the 20th time on 29 September. As well as recognising strong export results, FIT also wants to use these success stories to inspire other companies to cross borders themselves. This is something that BNP Paribas Fortis, as a sponsor of this event, fully supports.

What do exporters need to look for to conquer the international market? We asked Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, and a jury member for the 20th edition of the Export Lion Award.

What can would-be exporters expect at the beginning of their export adventure?

"Exporting is an important step forward in a company's evolution. But suddenly operators come into contact with a completely different and usually unknown environment. Import market regulations are often different, as are tax and legal regulations. When making international payments, there are exchange risks. And then there are the specific documents and products required for foreign trade. There are lots of new things to consider."

How can companies prepare for this?

"By learning in advance as much as they can about the rules that apply to their new foreign market. Companies can turn to domestic institutions, such as FIT's foreign branches or their banker, to help them with this. They will help new exporters find their way around the very complex international world. I also recommend hiring a local agent or representative. This can help to resolve any bottlenecks that can't be resolved easily from home. At BNP Paribas Fortis, we have our Trade Development department that can help with this. Rob Van Veen offers companies guidance as they take their first steps in a new international market. This kind of external support may be expensive, but it's an investment that will save money in the long term."

How do companies that would like to start exporting learn about a new market? What advice can you give them?

"You learn about new markets simply by visiting as many foreign counterparties as possible. Don't bite off more than you can chew – take it one step at a time. I always say to new exporters: exports are great, but getting paid is even better. The risk of non-payment is still underestimated too often, even by companies that already have extensive international experience. We always recommend customers map out the worst-case scenarios in advance and incorporate the necessary mitigations. Prevention is better than cure!"

How can exporters better protect themselves against unforeseen circumstances?

"The COVID-19 pandemic showed how important diversification is, both in terms of supply or production of goods and in the choice of export countries. Economically, it may seem more advantageous to manufacture or import from a country far away with cheap labour, but always make sure you've got a back-up plan."

Which development would represent a significant added value for international trade?

"We need digitally-secured platforms for international trade transactions that all interested parties can use to securely view and exchange documents in digital format. This not only shortens the lead time of international transactions, but would also be a huge step forwards in terms of sustainability. Trade finance is difficult and cumbersome: it involves exchanging tonnes of data, a lot of which is still on paper, unfortunately. But I'm confident that we're gradually moving in the right direction. Many large international banks, including the BNP Paribas Group, are currently working on this."

Find out who will be crowned winners of Lion Export Award 2021 during the livestream on 29 September at 6pm. Register in advance at www.leeuwvandeexport.be or visit the website on the day itself.

Are you ready for your first international adventure or do you want to expand your international activities? We offer you the peace of mind you need, with a wide range of solutions to optimise, secure and finance your import and export activities.


Source: Wereldwijs 2021

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.

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