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Believers and Non-Believers

 

What does Schiphol Group’s process director for Corporate Responsibility do? Erik Lagerweij, also Managing Director at Lelystad Airport, focuses on innovation and lasting results. “Create energy and be patient…”

What does sustainability involve?
“For us, Corporate Responsibility (CR) is about connecting people, planet and profit. It is the way in which you design processes. We do this together with the main stakeholders in our environment and with our staff. It also relates to our own processes and our objectives with regard to CO2 reduction, energy efficiency, sustainable building, the creation of a pleasant working environment, the use of electric cars and other company vehicles on the site, and increasingly cleaner taxis and buses.”

What is Schiphol’s ambition?
“As far as renewing is concerned, we pave the way in the world of the big airports. We do, after all, have quite a large airport for such a small country. Our ambition is to be – and continue to be – Europe’s preferred airport. As a hub airport with a strong hub carrier, Schiphol is the pioneer of the AirportCity formula. This is a highly successful and important part of our vision, in which the growth of the airport is combined with the development of the network of destinations and the competitive strength of the region. Corporate Responsibility is an integral part of our strategy. And sustainability is not something abstract. The visitor needs to be able to experience it. I would like to see us recycling everything: routing water from the sanitary facilities to a water purification plant, and separating waste for reuse. An airport has both a positive and a negative impact on the environment. Hopefully, we will become a source of inspiration with regard to innovation and sustainability.”

How does a process like that work?
“The initial idea was to tackle Corporate Responsibility on a project basis: implementation in 9 months and embedding in the control and planning cycle. However, this subject requires a change in culture, and that takes more time. People, planet and profit don’t always have to be in balance, but they do require constant consideration. Sometimes a business case that works out negatively is implemented anyway. It is a major challenge; not just getting a CR project off the ground in the first place, but carrying on with it for years afterwards.”

Why are you doing this?
“I want people to have more attention for each other and for the planet, because the way things are so often going now, with a unilateral focus on profit, our world’s never going to get any better. I’m not overly focused on the environment; for me, people are the most important factor! I have a vision, I’m a facilitator and I like to encourage change. It’s not always easy. I hear a lot of people say: “Yes, but I can’t do it alone’, or ‘I won’t get very far on my own.” My reply is: “Just start, and look for allies. That’s how you create energy.” And then you see things start to bubble. It enriches the company, also in how it deals with its environment and stakeholders. I also encourage initiatives that draw attention to sustainability in a fun way, such as setting out fruit baskets all over the place or unplugging computers at night.”

Do you have any tips for other organizations?
“Don’t design your plan with external parties, but with your own people so that you create support from day 1 and embed it in your operating processes. Include the young staff members too, and pay attention to your acceptance policy. Embed it in the measuring instruments. At Schiphol, CR has become an integral part of the reporting. And make sure that sustainability is also supported by the managers, as they always set an example. Don’t blow your own trumpet too much, don’t be overambitious, and don’t be afraid to say when things aren’t working. Keep your promises, otherwise you’ll lose people’s trust and with it the credibility of CR; there will always be believers and non-believers.”

Schiphol takes part in Sustainable Road Forward (www.debaak.com/SRF) in which different organizations gather round a neutral table to share each other’s learning experiences.

Wassima Zkiek, Program Director (w.zkiek@debaak.nl)


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