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Greater impact from corporate social responsibility & sustainable business practice


During the recent Multi Sector Day at PUM, Bouwe Taverne (CSR sector) headed an extended inspiration session about corporate sustainable business practice. One of the core questions that emerged was: How can PUM achieve a more visible and measurable impact in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility?  

The heart of this meeting consisted of presentations by 3 speakers who used example cases to show how a CSR approach cannot only be successful, but can also create considerable added value. The kick-off session was headed by Kim Geleynse, Business Development Manager at Philips Medical Solutions, who in her presentation ‘Sustainable business practice in the healthcare sector’ introduced the concept of the ‘Community Life Center’. Philips has announced the ambition of improving the lives of 3 billion people by 2030 – 400 million of them in so-called underdeveloped countries. To reach out to these people, Philips is focusing on primary healthcare. To achieve this goal, the company builds ‘Community Life Centers’, supplies all the equipment – including major innovations such as a portable echoscope – and works together with partners to ensure that the ‘Community Life Centers’ are brought to life and function smoothly.

Every project is a new challenge, not least in financial terms: It all starts by coming up with a new business model.

A number of proof-of-concept sites have already been established in Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia and the Congo, which are not only resulting in improved experiences for patients and staff, but also better health outcomes. And they bring about cost reduction. In other words, a win-win situation all-round. Moreover, Philips is achieving these results while still sticking to strict conditions in terms of the use of sustainable materials and renewable energy: 90% of the company waste is recycled and the business will be 100% energy neutral by 2020. Every project represents a new challenge, not least in financial terms. “It all starts by coming up with a new business model,” explained Kim. In conclusion she said, “I am extremely proud to work for Philips.”


Building for people, society and the environment

Emilia van Egmond-de Wilde De Ligny has also faced challenges with financing, right through to attempts at crowdfunding. Her specialist field is innovation, technology and knowledge exchange in the construction industry, with a particular focus on innovative construction techniques in tropical countries. At present, she is in charge of the multiyear PUM programme ‘Sustainable building in Indonesia’. The underlying principle behind all these activities is the transformation of the Atma Yaya University in Makassar (Sulawesi) into a centre for innovation and sustainable building. Emilia is currently supporting her colleagues in developing a research and development programme. At the same time, agreements have been reached with Real Estate of Indonesia, an interest group in the construction sector, that aims to actively spread the acquired knowledge, and to ensure that innovations are put into practice. Given that 50% of worldwide raw material flows are construction material related, and the construction industry is responsible for between 10% and 20% of all global CO2 emissions, a transition to sustainable materials and methods in the construction sector will have a huge impact.

The transition to sustainable materials and methods in the construction sector will have a huge impact.

The key to bringing about that transition is knowledge, suggested Emilia. Techniques and materials have traditionally been available; the only problem is many have been forgotten because building is focused on Western methods. Take for example bamboo, that is now in use all around the world. It is a fantastic material. It grows quickly, is a champion in absorbing CO2, helps prevent erosion and can be used in a wide range of applications from construction through to the food chain. “We as PUM experts must adapt and combine our knowledge with local knowledge. At the same time, we must make sure that that knowledge is accepted, adapted and applied,” argued Emilia.

100% taste – 0% waste

Carolina Verhoeven is another perfect example of the crucial importance to the success of a PUM project of careful preparation and acquiring a good knowledge of the local situation. Her advice missions generally take her to small-scale businesses. During her recent trip to Uganda, the product in the spotlight was pineapple. Women in Uganda had learned to make jam from pineapples, but with moderate success because ‘they had no empathy with what they were doing’. The starting point for all of Caroline’s projects is ensuring that the people feel something for their product, by organising tasting sessions. On day one she records everything that happens, and from day two onwards, she starts to introduce structure into the production process and suggests potential solutions. Her motto is always‘100% taste – 0% waste’ and that guiding principle remains in place throughout. Carolina has not only helped ensure further diversification of the product range. In addition to jam, pineapples can for example also be used to make juice. She also looked at improving working conditions. When cooking on gas, make sure the burner is located next to a window, and never wear synthetic clothing. The 0% waste part of her message involves processing all waste products. She succeeded in finding a company in Tanzania that purchases pineapple fibres from farmers which following addition of an enzyme can be turned into leather, which in turn can be used for handbags and shoes. This not only ensures a second life for a waste product but also creates employment opportunities for local people. The farmers today are earning more from this product line than from jam sales. “I take CSR with me wherever I go,” concluded Carolina. “It is the only way forward.” 

We must view CSR as an essential tool for achieving SDG 8 – ‘Decent work and economic growth’.

It rapidly became clear during the various discussion sessions that PUM staff regularly still come across obstacles, resistance and scepticism in practice, when they try to promote CSR. However, as Bouwe concluded, the three practical cases show that we must view CSR as a common thread in all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and as a vital tool for achieving SDG 8 (‘Decent work and economic growth’), the goal that PUM is all about.


Read more about the sustainable building programme in Indonesia here.
Read more about Carolina's advisory mission to Uganda here.


Author: Sylvia Szely

Photography: Magda Ehlers from Pexels and Opmeer Reports