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How can the board shape a winning strategy that happens to be sustainable? An Interview with Arne de Vet

We recently sat down with Arne de Vet, Board Member of Chapter Zero Brussels to discuss his experience helping companies and boards build winning strategies, using sustainability as a competitive advantage. You can read a summary of our discussion here.

Chapter Zero Brussels: Many companies wonder how ambitious their sustainability strategy should be. What do you think works best?

Arne de Vet: I see companies take different approaches. Some companies are defensive and limit their actions to comply with regulations and minimise reputational risks. Other companies are more focused on the opportunities, such as saving costs by reducing resource use and creating new sustainable propositions with premium pricing. 

Chapter Zero Brussels: Can you tell us more about these sustainable propositions?

Arne de Vet: Premium pricing can be achieved in two ways, either by focusing on consumers or business customers who are willing to pay more just because your product is sustainable, or by creating new propositions that deliver a new source of value, and happen to be sustainable. 

Chapter Zero Brussels: The idea of creating new, sustainable propositions sounds intriguing. Can you give some examples of this in practice?

Arne de Vet: Some sustainable products are what I call 'No-Sacrifice' products. They are almost direct replacements of the  traditional product. For example:

  • Oatly is a sustainable milk-alternative, and is (nearly) as good as milk.

  • Beyond Meat is almost indistinguishable from a classic burger.

  • Ecover is a brand of detergents that is sustainable and as good as traditional soaps and washing liquids.

They are sustainable and you do not have to sacrifice, they are (nearly) as good as the “real” thing. Sustainability minded customers are willing to pay a premium for these products.

But there is a different category of sustainable products, that I call the 'New Value' products. These take sustainability, not as a goal, but as a constraint. The constraint serves to trigger their creativity to completely reimagine the product.

  • Pure Watercraft are electric outboard engines and the new value is that they stink less, make less noise, break down less and require less maintenance. Oh yes, they are also sustainable.

  • Solidia is a type of cement that dries much faster than normal cement, and oh yes, it does so while fixing CO2 from the air in the cement.

  • Bamboo clothing is softer and absorbs sweat more easily, and oh yes, it is better for nature.

  • Electric lawn mowers are quieter, stink less and require less of your time.

  • Electric ferries are 20% faster allowing more trips in a day, reducing not just transit time but also waiting time.

  • Houses and apartments built with construction timber are more comfortable to live in. 

Chapter Zero Brussels: It sounds like a win-win! Why do you think this second category of "New Value" propositions are so important?

Arne de Vet: Because with such 'New Value' propositions you are not limited to the segment of customers who are willing to pay more for sustainability. Now the entire market is in play. It’s great value creation and it’s also another way for sustainable products to go mainstream.

Chapter Zero Brussels: What is your call to action for board members to guide their companies towards winning & sustainable strategies?

Arne de Vet: Don't see sustainability as a goal per se, but challenge management to see sustainability as a constraint and to completely reimagine products that delight customers. This creates a 'blue ocean' of opportunity.


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