Innovation as Opportunity


There’s an alternative to adopting a wait-and-see attitude and that’s innovation
We discussed and philosophised about the (Belgian) wood(craft)/furniture industry, change, innovation and generations with Klaas Holsters and Alan Dergent, circular economy innovation consultants at, the Belgian knowledge centre for the wood and furniture industry. What they shared with us, was refreshing, positive and never missing a humble sense of realism. If we can believe Alan and Klaas – and we should – the future of the (Belgian) wood(craft)/furniture industry is bright and filled with new dynamics and discoveries for those who dare to innovate. 
“The past few years, we’ve been noticing significant changes in the industry when it comes to sustainability and circularity. We receive more questions about this, also because of new legislations that are coming our way”, Alan begins. “Companies are looking to adjust their products to new laws, wondering how to make their designs circular and more sustainable”. 
“And that usually comes with questions about digitisation as well”, Klaas adds. “Automation, ‘Factories of the Future’, these are topics that are very relevant today”. 
We had to ask: “How’s Belgium doing in terms of producing these ‘Factories of the Future’?”. 
“Well, we definitely have a success story to share when it comes to this”, Klaas starts. “We work for ‘Valimat’, a research project for the Belgian mattress industry, which is an important and historic industry in Belgium. In this industry, Belgium is definitely one of the frontrunners in Europe”.
“Because of early adoption of legislation that motivates circularity and digitisation, Belgian mattress producers are encouraged to design and produce mattresses that, at the end of their lifecycle, are entirely and properly reusable”, Alan adds. 
“When it comes to circularity, we shouldn’t forget that we’re talking about a real transformation, a system change. It’s definitely a continuous quest for the industry” (Klaas)
“The transformation that a circular economy requires is much more than merely thinking about design, that’s only a little piece of the puzzle, there are many other aspects that need to fall into place to even begin to think about actual realisation”, Klaas continues. “On the one hand, this leads to doubts in the industry. Companies wonder: where is this all going? Do I have to take steps, make changes? Is it all worth it? On the other hand, we see companies that don’t hesitate to become pioneers. These are the companies that need to wait on how legislation and clients will respond. It’s definitely a continuous quest.”           
“Yes, there are definitely companies that are fiercely holding onto a wait-and-see attitude, this creates a false sense of safety. We believe that, when it comes to a change for circularity, taking action is the best way to go", Alan adds. "Information is key here, sharing about best practices is helpful”, Alan contributes. “This makes things practical and concrete, which is necessary in an industry filled with small and medium-sized enterprises, that run on a spirit of taking action”. 
Alan Dergent -
There is a great need for information, digitisation is pivotal in order to close the circular cycle (Klaas)
“Digitisation is incredibly important in the creation of a circular economy”, Alan informs us, “for example, by creating product passports that ensure that every link in the value chain receives the right information to, for example, dismantle a mattress or piece of furniture. There are companies that already have a long history in creating these product passports, because, at some point, they were legally forced to do so. These companies are sources of information and inspiration on the path of standardising these sustainable practices for our entire industry”. 
There’s an alternative to adopting a wait-and-see attitude and that’s innovation. Innovation can be the key element that ensures that a product is sustainable and also has an added value. A value that makes the product desirable, not just because it’s sustainable, but precisely because of its specific added value (Klaas)
“There’s an alternative to adopting a wait-and-see attitude and that’s innovation. Working with an innovative spirit to ensure that the circular component is adopted, but also creating products that, in our current market, can be successful. Not perpetuating the well-known story: circularity is more expensive and clients don’t want to pay the extra dollar”, Klaas says.
“Innovation can be the key element that ensures that a product is sustainable and also has specific added value. Value that makes the product desirable, not just because it’s sustainable, but precisely because of its specific added value. This goes further than sustainability. Applying this innovation is another method a company can use to become and be more sustainable, but also to be able to function and be successful in today’s market. A market, still transforming and learning to be more sustainable”. Wise insights from Klaas. 
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Innovation has everything to do with seeing and seizing the chances and opportunities that present itself (Alan)
“It’s part of our human nature to block and reject what we don’t know, I believe that’s exactly this attitude that we need to change if we want to be innovative”, Alan shares passionately. “Taking the subject of circular economy as an example; regarding this matter, we’re definitely facing a considerable number of challenges that need solutions, but at the same time, a great deal of opportunities are presenting itself for who sees them, like the creation of new business models, new ways of working with existing materials, realising economic and ecological cutbacks”. 
“Within innovation you’re always looking for things that are slightly different, a re-combination of sorts, but it’s just as important to create more resilience in your organisation to enable and ensure a long-lasting and sustainable existence. I think innovation is thé tool for companies to do this”, Klaas says. “Circularity pushes us to look at things in a different way, apply a different approach. It gives inspiration and that’s how innovation starts! Instead of innovation being a challenge, it becomes a source of inspiration”.
“There is this beautiful, Chinese quote: when the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build windmills”, Alan sprinkles some inspiration. “I think this summarises how innovation can bring about new points of view”. 
When it comes to generations, I believe that ‘young’ and ‘old’ are complementary to one another. It’s essential to come together, to connect, in order to avoid losing sight of context. Through this connection, we can enrich each other's perspectives and adjust our outlooks (Alan)
“Both ‘young’ and ‘older’ generations have their intrinsic qualities. Youngsters break patterns and experiment. While older generations have, perhaps, experimented and learned valuable lessons from this. It would be a shame if younger generations couldn’t take advantage from this wisdom and need to make the same mistakes”, Alan shares. “As an older generation, I think, it’s important to stay in touch with the younger ones and what lives between youngsters. It’s valuable to go along with some things and find your own way in it, otherwise you really get old”, Alan laughs. 
“You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been”, Klaas quotes. “Experience is important. Creating an overview. It’s something you can share with others”. 
“What’s really valuable in young generations is their curiosity, their desire to go out into the world and explore, experiment, discover. And let these be the key ingredients for innovation, the courage to start and jump, this is crucial. Sometimes, when you’re already used to a situation, shaped by life, let’s say, we risk forgetting the importance of curiosity. And we don’t, necessarily, need to be old to step into this trap”, Klaas shares. 
Openness & insight to build different perspectives
We finished our conversation with some philosophy, asking Alan and Klaas some spontaneous (trick) questions. 
Q: Alan, if there’s one value you could share with a young person today, what would it be? 
A: Openness. Openness on different levels. The openness of mind to see and receive different perspectives, points of view. The courage to dare to look at things in a different way, from a different angle than.
Q: Klaas, if there is one present you could give the world today, what would it be?  
A: Insight. Something that ensures that we can look beyond the things we give a lot of attention to that maybe, in the grand scheme of things, are trivial and unimportant. 

Thank you Alan & Klaas for sharing your insights and wisdom!