The lines of communication were already there. Gispen had already furnished the offices of the social employment agency a number of years ago. Some years later, this project developed into a wonderful, long-term partnership. The result speaks for itself: large numbers of refurbished Gispen office chairs that are hardly distinguishable from new can be used again for years to come. The chairs are given a second life within the offices of the Dutch government. And the employees of Werkzaak Rivierenland refurbish these chairs with great pride and joy. In short, a win-win-win situation.
Robbert de Jonge, senior project manager Circular Economy at Gispen: "We design, manufacture and supply furniture based on circular principles, i.e. based on reuse, value retention and waste reduction for as far as possible. Moreover, as a commercial company we strive to actively create opportunities for those who are struggling in the labour market. This partnership is perfect for bringing that all together." There is also demand for it in the market. Gispen is often asked to meet a certain percentage of social return on investment (SROI) in major procurement projects. In other words: creating job opportunities (and experience) for people who are distanced from the labour market.
This also applied to 2020. Robbert: "We received a request from the Dutch government to refurbish a large number of office chairs. I sought out possibilities for outsourcing the work to a social employment agency and soon thought of Werkzaak Rivierenland." The social company in Geldermalsen was interested straight away. Director Elfriede Boer: "We are always looking for challenging and meaningful new jobs for our employees. Moreover, the circular economy is an important focal point in our long-term policy plan."
The partnership set off with a pilot. Elfriede: "We invested a lot of time in the preparation phase. We were taking over an entire production process, which was quite an undertaking. Robbert: "We have set up a complete production line for the refurbishment of a single type of popular office chair in Geldermalsen. Gispen delivers the written-off chairs as well as some new components, after a team from Werkzaak starts working on the chairs using our instructions and then returns the fully refurbished chairs to us." The pilot involved a first batch of 66 chairs, which were waiting in the workshop of Werkzaak Rivierenland to be dismantled and refurbished. Everything went smoothly. After the successful pilot, a team of ten Werkzaak employees started with the first large batch of chairs and in the spring of 2020 no fewer than 1,080 office chairs were delivered in an as-new condition.
Unfortunately, things came to a standstill for a while due to COVID. We are currently up and running again and a total of 1,400 chairs have been refurbished so far. Robbert: "We are working towards having all office chairs of this type refurbished by Werkzaak Rivierenland in the future. The quality of refurbishment of these chairs is extremely high. Whether it concerns checking a lever or fitting a backrest; the employees take their jobs very seriously." Elfriede: "Our people work with such pride and excitement! As soon as we announce the arrival of new Gispen chairs, the applications flood in. They are eager to get to work, and you can see their confidence grow."
For Gispen it is not more cost-effective to have Werkzaak Rivierenland handle the refurbishment than keeping it in-house. This was never Robbert's intention, "nor the client's", he adds. "Whether it concerns the central government or other clients, for them this is a great way to meet their SROI obligations. Many clients like to buy furniture with some kind of social added value." A fun detail: all refurbished chairs come with a label containing a QR code. When scanning this code you will see a video in which employees of Werkzaak Rivierenland proudly explain what they are doing with the chairs. Robbert: "This is what you call a product that tells a story!"
Elfriede: "Right from the start, we expressed to each other that we wanted to be partners in this, not client versus contractor. Gispen wants to give people a chance, and so do we." Robbert adds: "Should something go wrong, we simply solve it together. We can tell our client, for example: we've had a bit of a setback, it's going to take a week longer." He praises the courage and entrepreneurship of Werkzaak Rivierenland: "They think in terms of possibilities and dare to take on a challenge. This fits in perfectly with Gispen's philosophy. We seize every opportunity to conduct business in a more sustainable way. Even better if we can do so at a regional level."
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