Connecting SMEs for a green economy

Brabantia: Implementing green solutions across a consumer goods manufacturing model

Angele Kedaitiene's picture

From sustainability solutions in operation for decades, to the green core-values of its founders, Belgium’s Brabantia manufacturing plant has pushed over and above EU environmental regulations to make quality, environmentally friendly consumer products which are “Designed for Living”.

Brabantia is a family company consisting of several Dutch-managed medium-sized companies with global operations, but this case study solution will focus on Brabantia’s Belgium based plant in Overpelt; a local SME with around 230 employees.

Brabantia specializes in manufacturing a range of household consumer items including waste bins, cookware, pans, tableware, postboxes, food storage, laundry products, and many others. All Brabantia’s products are designed with the impact they have on both people and the planet in mind, reflecting the family firm’s values and commitment to “leave a better world for generations to come”.

Green solutions across the firm

Brabantia’s green solutions, big and small, have a long history. As early as 1945 the firm came up with the idea to recycle old condensed milk tins into cups. Then in 1975 the company introduced a high tech water cleaning system into its production process, ensuring that after use water was often even cleaner than before.  In 1990 Brabantia banned solvent based paints.

More recently, in 2006, the company took another step and began using solar PV cells and battery storage to help supply green energy to its production sites. Every year Brabantia aims to improve some aspect of business with a new green innovation. For instance, heavy metal painting processes and solvent based inks have been banned by the company since 2008 and 2012, respectively. For 2015 Brabantia plans to introduce a program to plant a tree for each of its new rotary dryers sold

Green solutions at Overpelt

While the green solutions introduced across Brabantia are numerous, Managing Director of the Overpelt plant Marcel van de Velde reveals that they have several of their own green specialisations. Firstly, there are the green benefits embedded in the waste bins they manufacture, secondly, the renewable energy solutions implemented at the plant, and thirdly the development of a stronger green branding so that ‘luxury’ consumers help pay for greening solutions.

Green waste bins

Waste bins of different size and modifications (Flat Back bin, Touch bin, Pedal bin, Retro pedal bin, Built-in bib, Slide bin, Mineral bin, etc.) are some of the major products manufactured at Overpelt. Each has been designed to integrate several green technology solutions which suit them to the European Commission’s idea of ‘Circular economy’. Each of the bins are:
- Long-life, i.e. their guarantee time is 10 years,
- Designed to save the space with Flatback+ technology solution,
- Silent with Motion Control technology solution due to soft closing and soft pedal operation,
- Fingerprint resistant, which reduces costs of cleaning, water, detergents, etc.
- Have special waste storages with two plastic inner buckets (for compostable and other daily waste, respectively) of 20/20 and 10/23 litres.
- Have 100% compostable, easy-use waste bags

Furthermore, the 30 and 40 litre Flat back waste bins are made from 23% recycled, 100% non-toxic materials and have a total carbon footprint of only 36 kg CO2-eq. The bins are for 77% recyclable at end of use. The latest model bins aim to be completely recyclable for which Brabantia has received a cradle-to-cradle certificate.

Renewable energy improvements

Brabantia first started using solar energy to supply its plants in 2006, and the Belgian Overpelt was the first to see solar PV and battery units installed. This was a relatively large investment for even a medium sized SME such as Brabantia, and the upfront cost was around €500 000 with a payback period of approximately 7 years.

Despite these large costs, the energy saving effects of the Overpelt solar energy installation is very promising, with energy costs being reduced by 50%. The firm is attempting to cut another 20% off of energy costs through efficiency improvements, such as installation of under the floor heating, energy saving bulbs, and automatic light adjustment systems. For these improvements, the company estimates that total investments will amount to EUR 1,250,000.

Since the successful Belgian rollout, Brabantia has successfully implemented similar measures at its plants in China, Latvia, the Netherlands and the UK in 2012 and 2014.

Stronger green branding

While Brabantia’s interest in sustainability is embedded in the values of the owners, managers and employees, this focus has also revealed branding opportunities. Recently, the company decided to capitalize on these and re-positioned the Brabantia brand with slogan “Designed for Living”, to taking into account the lifestyle benefits to consumers of the sustainability benefits built into Brabantia produces.

In the long run, the higher valuation of the Brabantia brand, along with increased customer awareness and loyalty, will allow for the positioning of Brabantia products as ‘premium goods’, with corresponding pricing structures. In the words of Marcel van de Velde, this allows for “the externalization of the greening costs on the market, and [serves] as the motive for further adoption of green solutions to keep [Brabantia’s] promise to its consumers.”

Proof of this concept is already visible in Brabantia’s international price segmentation strategy. Brabantia’s products are already perceived as luxury products in their category in China and other export markets, and are sold at significantly higher market prices compared to some, more competitive, EU markets. The profits from this higher mark-up allow for the financing of further green solutions, and yet more strengthening of the Brabantia brand.

In 2014, Brabantia directed 5% of its sales revenue towards this brand strengthening strategy, and in 2015 it plans to increase this figure to 7% of sales revenue.

Further details

How was the green solution financed?: 
Operating and maintenance costs: 
No O&M costs