Article

02.05.2023

Travelling to work: the rise of cycling!

More and more people are cycling to work. Mobility solutions expert Philippe Kahn explains how and why.

People are changing the way they travel to limit their environmental impact: behaviours are starting to shift, and the use of bicycles is rising, including and especially for travelling to and from work. We spoke to Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert at Arval BNP Paribas Group, about these developments. 

Two out of three Belgians use soft mobility, mainly bicycles

CB_Soft_Mobility

According to Profacts’ “Mobility Tomorrow & Beyond” survey, two out of three Belgians have adopted soft mobility. "But the biggest change is the increasing use of bicycles for business travel and commuting. People are also using bicycles more on the school or nursery run, facilitated by the arrival of electric cargo bikes on the market," says Kahn.

A favourable regulatory framework

But what are the reasons for the increased use of bicycles for business travel?  “Let’s first take a look at how the regulatory framework has changed," says Kahn. "In Belgium, the creation of the federal mobility budget has made alternative ways of travelling attractive for all employees. The budget makes it possible to choose a comfortable company bicycle as part of a tax-friendly salary package. Moreover, this mobility budget can even be used to cover housing costs if you work from home more than half the time or if you live within 10 km of your place of work. So instead of having a company car, people can choose to have a combination of an electric bicycle and a contribution to their housing costs. Furthermore, two measures effective from 1 May 2023 should reinforce this trend: the bicycle allowance for commuting is increasing to €0.27 net per km travelled, and all Belgian employees will be entitled to this allowance. In practical terms, this means that those who choose to cycle for these journeys will be substantially rewarded.”

Investment in public infrastructure is paying off

Another important factor in the increased use of bicycles is the development of road infrastructure.

Philippe Kahn: "One factor that can convince people to cycle to work is the certainty of a safe journey. A few years ago, cycling to work in Brussels, for example, could be dangerous. But today, cycling infrastructure is making these journeys increasingly safe, in particular thanks to the cycle motorways on which only bicycles can travel. Infrastructure investments are now also happening in the rest of Belgium, not just Flanders and its major cities. In recent years, Brussels has undergone significant changes, and things are also starting to move in Wallonia.”

Half of all Belgians live within 15 km of their place of work

Distance from the workplace is also crucial in determining how attractive cycling is. "One in two Belgians lives within 15 km of their workplace, a distance that you can easily cycle," adds Kahn. "Along with the Improved infrastructure, this means that cycling to work is a realistic option for many Belgians. And the €0.27 per kilometre allowance will be an added incentive for them to make the change.”

What is the federal mobility budget?

This scheme allows the budget initially allocated to an employee’s company car to be divided into three pillars within a salary package. These three pillars are:

  • a car with no or low CO2 emissions (less than 95 g/km), such as an electric vehicle;
  • sustainable means of transport, including cycling, but also in some cases this pillar can also cover housing costs, such as rent or mortgage repayments;
  • the balance of the mobility budget, which is paid in cash.

The mobility budget makes it possible, for example, to replace a combustion-powered company car with an electric car and a bicycle, with the same tax-friendly terms for both the employer and the employee. 

78% of leased company bicycles are electric

To meet the needs of companies and their staff, Arval is now offering bicycle leasing. This full-service lease covers maintenance, breakdown assistance, insurance and repairs, as is traditionally the case for a car. Philippe Kahn points out some very significant trends in this area: "60% e-bikes and 18% speed pedelecs: in total, 78% of our leased company bikes are electric.

CB_Soft_Mobility_bike_leasing_en High-end bicycles costing several thousand euros, such as electric cargo bikes, are also highly successful, which is probably due to opportunity: the mobility budget or employer “cafeteria plan” benefits packages are making it possible for people to acquire these bikes. But it may also be a consequence of Belgium’s specific tax regulations: the more expensive the bicycle, the more significant the tax incentive. Another interesting observation is that when a  bicycle replaces a car, it’s usually the family’s second car. So we’re not yet seeing any radical replacement of cars by bicycles, but the emergence of the company bicycle is definitely reducing the total number of kilometres travelled by car.”

Digital applications: shifting up a gear

Lastly, Kahn points to another factor that could encourage more people to take up cycling to work. "I think that technology, and in particular digital applications, can make a big difference. We can expect strong growth in the market for apps dedicated to commuting by bike. The business model for on-the-go electric bike rental is already based on a smartphone app. So imagine the success of an application that gives you a safe and bicycle-friendly route for travelling to and from work, and the boost that this could give to this type of travel," concludes Kahn.

A subscription to build customer loyalty, reinvent yourself in times of crisis and buy better: Emna Everard saw that as exactly the right way to launch and maintain her Brussels-based start-up.

Born into a family of dietitians, Emna Everard knows what it means to eat healthily. "At the age of 12, I was already deciphering packaging labels. My dream was to open a supermarket one day where you could shop with your eyes closed", she recalls.

And because Everard has entrepreneurship in her bones, that’s exactly what she did. In 2016, just before the end of her university studies, she launched the “healthiest online supermarket on the market”: Kazidomi. Her standards are high, both in terms of composition and taste. Kazidomi selects products carefully, enabling its customers to buy healthy, mainly organic, plant-based products with complete confidence.

The loyalty programme

Six months after its launch, Kazidomi’s growth is accelerating thanks to the launch of its loyalty programme. A 59 euro subscription offering 20–50% discounts on all food, cosmetics or care products available online. Profitability and savings guaranteed.

This was followed by a first fundraising of €50,000 in 2017. Kazidomi is growing, expanding the size of its stock and developing its marketing. Everard hired her first two employees. Sales grew rapidly and literally exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Consumers suddenly had time to think about their health and well-being and were doing most of their shopping online," she adds.

How did you reinvent yourself?

The post-crisis period was a turning point. "Kazidomi had to reinvent itself. We wanted to have financial stability and avoid any dependence on external resources," continues Everard. Together with her teams, she looked at their cost structure, operational efficiency and marketing. After these reflections, the aim was no longer growth at any price, but the company's long-term viability and financial health, thanks to an intelligent reorganisation.

Two acquisitions would subsequently enable Kazidomi to boost its growth, creating significant synergies: "Smart Fooding" in August 2022 and "Bébé au Naturel" a few months later, a business specialising in healthy products for babies and their parents. "With Bébé au Naturel, we doubled the volume of orders sent out," adds Everard. "This has allowed us to get a better rate from our carriers and reduce costs."

A responsive and attentive bank

As the Brussels start-up’s bank, BNP Paribas Fortis granted it three loans for its launch, between 2016 and 2019. This support came naturally, with Kazidomi’s commitments in terms of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives perfectly aligned with the bank’s strategy. "We joined the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation Hub programme and our relationship manager – who knew the start-up environment extremely well – was immediately enthusiastic and very attentive. He believed in our project, followed it closely, advised us to participate in a series of events to meet other players whose background and profile would be of interest for us," explains the Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.

But the support didn't stop there. "In December 2022, it was thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis, among other things, that we were able to acquire “Bébé au Naturel”. Start-ups like Kazidomi need a high level of responsiveness from their bank. When there is a company to buy, or another opportunity, things have to move fast. Analysis of the file, provision of funds: BNP Paribas Fortis has always been responsive and enthusiastic and has supported us in 99% of our requests," says the CEO enthusiastically.

Eight years since launching, Kazidomi today has 4,000 products that it delivers across Europe. The Belgian start-up makes 90% of its sales on its website and 10% via external resellers, such as Delhaize.

Kazidomi has also launched its own brand “Kazidomi”, which has 200 products on offer. By working directly with producers, we can offer the best possible quality products at the best price.

https://www.kazidomi.com/en

Kazidomi is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.

Cosucra is investing in the decarbonisation of its production processes. Their focus is on using plant-based protein from chicory and peas for a healthy and less polluting diet.

Belgium’s Hainaut-based Cosucra has been operating since 1852. The company is quite small with 365 employees, but its activities have evolved over time. From the 1980s onwards, sugar beet processing gave way to chicory and yellow peas. Also, sugar was replaced by inulin and pea protein.

"Many families lack the time to put a fresh meal on the table every day. With our products, the industry can offer them easy, quick and nutritious meals," says Eric Bosly, CEO of Cosucra. "Nutritionists stress the importance of fibre and plant proteins for health, and such a diet has a positive impact on our carbon footprint."

New investors

To take their decarbonisation a step further, in 2023, the company launched a seven-year investment plan worth EUR 150 million. “We are keenly aware of the climate crisis, so we wanted to make this transition fast,” says Bosly. “That's why we brought three investors on board who share our values and are willing to commit in the longer term.”

Long-term relationship

Cosucra and BNP Paribas Fortis have a long-standing partnership. "The bank has supported us in expanding to Denmark and the United States. It's of great value to have the same contact person for setting up the financial structure of subsidiaries, opening accounts abroad, etc. We also meet regularly, which means we can count on the expertise of teams specialised in the food industry. Their macro vision complements that of our local account managers who know our business well."

Same market conditions

Cosucra’s efforts will result in a 55% reduction in CO2 emissions within three years. Yet, decarbonisation is just one of Bosly’s bold ambitions. "We are pushing for the same market conditions as animal proteins. Why, for example, is 20 per cent VAT levied on pea-based milk while for cow’s milk, this figure is under 6 per cent? Plant-based products are also more expensive because you can't achieve economies of scale due to the lower quantities required. If you consider all the “negative external effects” of animal products on human health and the environment, our sector deserves support until we reach a certain scale."

Change of mindset

The entrepreneur also laments how the retail sector uses meat as a decoy product, lowering its margins to offer consumers an attractive price. "In times of inflation, that price difference is all the more detrimental to us. This is why a change of mindset is essential. Nutritionists say that a weekly serving of just 200 to 250 grammes of meat is enough to get the nutritional benefits with no negative impact. But at the moment, most Belgians consume 200 grammes of meat per day."

Bosly also cites competition from imported agricultural products as an obstacle.

Cosucra is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.

"The European Green Deal aims to reduce inputs by half, leading to the ban of many herbicides, among other things. Farmers should be supported in this transition. And a company like Cosucra, which buys chicory and peas within a 200-kilometre radius, is not on an equal footing with strong Chinese competition."

Since 1796, Brepols has been producing diaries that allow you to better plan your time. The team is fully committed to people, the planet and prosperity.

"From Turnhout to a branch in Paris, our 110 employees create tools that help our customers manage their time better. And that benefits their work-life balance," says Finance Director Philippe Pissens. "Quality, craftsmanship and creativity are at the heart of our products. Brepols’ diaries, calendars and notebooks are not disposable products - they easily last a year. We also make business leather goods under the Maverick brand and and we have launched a brand-new collection of high-quality notebooks under the brand name "de KEMPEN". In addition, we distribute the famous Moleskine notebooks. Finally, there are our bookbinding activities," he says. Brepols’ main markets are the Benelux and France.

Financially on track

Since starting out in 1796, Brepols has seen many trends and developments come and go. The last few years have been marked by growth. This is thanks to the Financial Director, who came on board in 2000. With turnover of EUR 17.4 million in 2021, EUR 19.6 million in 2022 and EUR 20.8 million last year, the company is clearly on the right financial track. "These figures are not just a result of price increases. We are a strong company with a solvency of 70 per cent, which means that we only finance 30 per cent with external funds," he explains.

More than planting trees

"Since 2009, we have only used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-labelled paper. For every tree cut down, a new one replaces it. But there's always room for improvement. In 2022, we launched a project group comprising staff across the company. We call it P3, because we focus on people, the planet and prosperity."

The project group analysed the company’s strengths and weaknesses, with the employers’ organisation Voka acting as a sounding board. “We certainly didn't want to make the mistake of greenwashing,” says Pissens. Specifically, Brepols developed 18 action points, which means it already covers nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to a charter, there is a code of conduct that suppliers must sign and respect. Other initiatives include focusing on local production, limiting residual waste, reducing energy consumption and developing a HR policy that takes diversity and inclusion into account. “The aim of this project group is to create internal and external support and communicate clearly with all our stakeholders.”

Fluid organisation

"Honesty and transparency towards our employees are top priority," Pissens continues. "We have intensive consultations with them, both formal and informal. We deliberately opt for a fluid organisational model, between the hierarchy and the self-managing teams, and there has been a high level of participation. This is crucial as a quarter of our employees will be retiring in the next three years. In this context, we also purchased cobots, which makes the work less physically demanding for our staff."

Clear communication

Pissens emphasises the importance of clear communication to all stakeholders, including its financial partners, such as BNP Paribas Fortis. "The bank has become key to our business operations. We provide our relationship manager with detailed figures and keep her up to date with our sustainable ambitions. Our contacts at BNP Paribas Fortis not only provide us with information about financial products; they also give us tips, such as measuring our energy consumption and the possibilities for subsidies to install solar panels, for example. We have an effective two-way communication. Our collaboration has grown into a real partnership. In our business, paying attention to Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) aspects is the benchmark in every consultation," Pissens concludes.

Quote

"The bank has become a key figure in our business operations”
Philippe Pissens, Finance Director Brepols

Brepols is ready to change the world. Discover even more great stories from entrepreneurs.

Article

06.05.2024

Ecosteryl decontaminates medical waste

Thanks to its low-pollution solutions and the arrival of new investors, the Mons-based company has every intention of continuing to grow. Discover more about this inspiring success story.

Eradicate the environmental and health problems associated with medical waste on a global scale: Ecosteryl's ambitions match the technical expertise of this Mons-based company. Founded in 1947, its core business was equipment and machinery for the mining industry. Around twenty years ago, it completely reinvented itself by specialising in the treatment of (potentially) infectious waste from the healthcare sector.

A global player with high-profile clients

Today, Ecosteryl is a globally recognised player in its sector, exporting 100% of its production to more than 65 countries. Its customers? Hospitals, of course, but also organisations in the waste recycling sector and international institutions such as the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as cities and states. The company employs around forty people and has an annual turnover of over €20 million.

Medical waste, a critical public health issue

Syringes, dressings, masks, sharp instruments... 15% of medical waste is considered hazardous and therefore requires special treatment. Given that a single hospital bed produces between 0.5 and 3 kg of this waste every day, it's easy to imagine the scale of the problem. The infectious, toxic and sometimes even radioactive risks associated with hazardous medical waste are far from minimal: among other things, it can trigger or accelerate a pandemic, and even give rise to new diseases. Decontamination and recycling of this waste, the only solution to eliminate this health risk, is therefore a global public health issue.

An environmentally responsible process

Direct incineration or autoclaving: these are the two methods used by Ecosteryl's competitors to decontaminate hazardous medical waste. The problem is that these processes are far from being environmentally neutral. Incineration causes significant CO2 emissions and harmful emissions, such as dioxins, and is also energy intensive. And autoclaving requires large amounts of water and energy, again with significant environmental consequences.

It is in this area of the environmental footprint that Ecosteryl has made a difference, thanks to a technological breakthrough developed in collaboration with the University of Paris. The decontamination and recycling process uses microwave and dry heat technology to disinfect hazardous waste. The decontaminated waste is then shredded to reduce its volume, after which it can be processed in the same way as non-hazardous waste. Or better still, it can sorted and recycled.

This process requires very little electricity to operate, and its environmental performance compared to incineration and autoclaving is incomparable in terms of emissions and water consumption.

Too much plastic in medical waste: recycling instead of prevention

Single-use plastic products, equipment and utensils are a fact of life in hospitals. In many cases, this single use is justified, for example for syringes. The problem arises when this waste is directly incinerated. But thanks to pre-treatment, decontaminated and dried waste can be given a second life.

Until now, there has been no machine for this final stage. Ecosteryl's latest development, R-Steryl, fills this gap. It is a unique sorting centre. Placed after the decontamination machines, it can sort decontaminated waste and recycle up to 80% of it. The major players in waste collection and treatment know that recycling is and will be a real challenge in the coming years. Ecosteryl is also positioning itself as a key player in this field, and is investing in a number of analyses to this end.

Private equity to accelerate development

Despite its size in the medical waste decontamination sector, Ecosteryl has no intention of slowing down. The company intends to continue and accelerate its international growth, and welcomes new investors: BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity,  Wallonie Entreprendre and IMBC, an investment company focused on the Mons, Borinage and Centre regions. Philippe Dufrasne, Chairman of Ecosteryl, comments:  “With these new shareholders, we have found the right partners to help us stay ahead of the game and achieve our long-term goals, particularly in terms of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) performance.”

A priority to invest in the transition of companies

BNP Paribas Fortis is also enthusiastic about this new project.

“We are particularly proud to support this company, which has developed a unique expertise in the production of cutting-edge equipment specialised in the environmental field. Over the years, Ecosteryl has succeeded in expanding worldwide in a niche market at the intersection of environmental and health issues. This investment is fully in line with our ambition to invest €1 billion in venture capital by 2025, focusing on funds and companies that respect environmental, social and governance criteria,” explains Raf Moons, Head of Private Equity at BNP Paribas Fortis. 

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