‘Dealing with excess materials in a creative and practical way, that is CE’

‘Dealing with excess materials in a creative and practical way, that is CE’


‘THE GREAT 8 OF CE’ is a blog series in which we ask Gispen employees eight questions about the circular economy. From our managing director to our factory workers, from the receptionist to the Support Manager. Every department is paid a visit, going through all layers of the origination. Transparency is vital for making the circular economy a success, and for this reason we are showing you how we are transitioning towards fully circular entrepreneurship.

The professional’s thoughts

In a circular economy, you not only use existing resources, but also the existing shape of a product. Clients can sit on a cabinet, for example, or hang their coat on an old tabletop that was made into a coat hanger. People are always very surprised when they find out. That is what’s great about it.

Robbert de Jonge Project Manager CE

Contact me

* Required Fields

What is the definition of CE in your opinion?

What pretty much sums it up for me is the way we are able to process excess materials in a very creative and practical way. Working with workstations that are dated and reusing excess materials. Also the way we make something new out of all these materials while staying true to the ‘zero waste-formula’. Whether this means that we make a workstation out of a workstation or a cabinet out of another cabinet doesn’t really matter, the method is the same.

However, it’s so much more challenging to try and make something completely different out of that cabinet.

Whenever a project leaves us with left-over components, we look for a way to use them in other projects. This is how we meet the demand of the furnishing market. Take filing cabinets, for example, of which many have become redundant due to digitisation and more open office environments. Various projects show that we can alter the purpose of such cabinets by transforming them into lockers, wardrobes or seats; all examples of how we take old cabinets and make them compatible with a contemporary interior design. A process in which we sometimes add, but never throw away.

Kast wordt circulaire werkplek reurpose | Gispen

The best example I can think of would be the time that we used plastic tambour doors from old cabinets to 3D print our SETT sofas with. This is how we closed that particular loop. This makes it special and unique. And I’m extremely proud of that. Especially since our clients are willing to follow our lead and that they see the significance of it. And not only because it looks good in the annual report, but also because they truly want to take part in the circular process. What it means to me personally is that we are working toward it, albeit on a small scale. But I’m convinced that even our small operation will contribute to a better world. Take one of the initiatives of the Dutch government, for example, which declares that plastic bags are no longer to be handed out blindly. Three million plastic bags used to be handed out in shops annually. This number has now been significantly reduced. The awareness that such an action promotes. At home. With my daughters. Because that’s the real reason why I’m involved in this. Making the world a slightly better place by not blindly throwing everything away.

Repurpose: bank SETT 95% plastic | Gispen

When you think about it, it’s ridiculous that a mobile phone only lasts two years. A washing machine that breaks down after a couple of thousand wash cycles. This should stop. The fact that we are reusing old materials in a creative and practical way and, by doing so, significantly reducing our CO2 emissions. Vastly reducing waste production, while creating fantastic products that positively surprise our clients time after time. That is arguably the best thing about the circular economy.

You not only use existing resources, but also the existing shape of a product. This is what makes the surprise effect even greater among our clients. You have a product that tells a story. Not a product that comes straight out of a catalogue, but a product that people recognise. From being part of the working process or because they have sat at that particular workstation for a certain period of time. Or simply because they find themselves sitting on a cabinet. Or that they are hanging their coat on an old tabletop that was made into a coat hanger. Our clients are always surprised when they find out the story behind these products. That is what’s great about them.

What does the circular economy mean to you?

It means that I want to be responsible in how I treat the world we live in, both at work and at home. And I mean this in the broadest sense of the word. This applies to resources but also to labour. That is what CE means to me. Making the world a better place. The fact that we all want it and should want it. Because if you really think about it; of course you want it. But making CE tangible is where the real challenge lies. It requires a different kind of thinking. Whether this is at home, with my daughters who now take their own shopping bags when they go out shopping, or here at the Gispen factory. That it’s no longer strange when a desk or a selection of components come in from a fellow furnisher. That is where we need to go. Making that switch and getting that transition into gear, that is what does it for me.

How do you apply this philosophy at home?

Obviously, I have some Gispen classics at home, which I bought off Marktplaats (Dutch equivalent of Craigslist). In addition, we fix a lot of our stuff ourselves to make them last longer. I also like to browse through Marktplaats in search of clothes. This is something I do intentionally because I want to see how far I can take it. What’s funny and enjoyable about it is that I’m especially successful in buying good brand clothing; like Gispen, the importance of a good and strong brand also applies here. Something that illustrates this is the fact that aesthetic design always does well in thrift shops. In other words: it is important to not lose sight of the aesthetic part of the design within the circular process, because it simply extends a product’s lifecycle.

Why are you engaged in this at home?

Because I have come to the conclusion that you can’t ever set the bar too high. The following quote is included in our circular brochure: ‘It was a widely known fact that it was impossible...... until someone came along who was unaware of this.’ From the philosopher Epictetus. This quote is so incredibly defining. I could never have imagined that we would ever print a new sofa from old cabinet doors! The fact that we just threw everything away for years, while the same materials are now crucial to our future. Change is moving in such a rapid pace, there are so many good initiatives out there.

Are you noticing that Gispen is in a transition toward a circular economy?

I mostly notice this in colleagues who are very interested, and from whom you would not expect it. They ask questions and realise that there are many different ways of conducting business in a responsible way. We also engage in more and more circular projects at Gispen, mainly because our organisation is changing in favour of it. An increasing number of people are actively involved in CE, which I find impressive. They deserve a compliment! After all, completely changing your business model is not something you would do every day.

What makes this transition so special, is that you create something from semi-finished goods that come in from different suppliers. Or you make something new out of used products from colleagues. We are all very proud to be part of this process, which is noticeable at every level. This is how we distinguish ourselves as a company, but also as individuals. I’m very glad that Gispen is taking an increasingly prominent role in this field of expertise.

Which country/company/initiative serves as an inspiration to you?

This might be obvious, but what has been most inspiring to me is the way in which Alliander’s old building in Duiven was transformed into what it is now. All that green and all that recycled timber. The location has turned an ugly duckling into an elegant, circular swan. The drab grey walls that have always been there, now form the basic structure of one large building with a new roof on it, designed by Thomas Rau. I used to drive by that building all the time without even noticing it, now you really can’t miss it. I’m not surprised that I’m not the only that has noticed it, it has caught the eye of about everyone in my region. Everybody knows about it. Extraordinary. This project has proven to me that a circular economy can also be achieved on a large scale. I’m very proud that we were able to furnish the building and make a substantial contribution to the project.

Circulaire project Alliander Duiven door | Gispen

I believe that organisations such as Ikea have also taken this quite far. They are developing smart ways of product packaging and all kinds of clever fixation systems. Ikea products are in great demand and have made their way into so many households. They are very involved in applying all kinds of recycled materials, including recycled cabinet doors that are made from a PET material. There are many similarities between our working methods and those of Ikea. And I find it all the more impressive that such a large organisation is managing to do it in such a way. This is certainly a company we can learn from.

What is the best possible circular service for our clients?

I dream of the day that we will have a fully circular range of products in the future. Both when it comes to new products and solutions for existing products. And that we, as soon as we receive a request for proposal, offer the client a circular option without being explicitly asked for it. This will allow us to create substantial awareness among our clients and ultimately put the circular economy on the map. And it doesn’t need to be all that complicated, a clear description of the process will suffice for our clients. Leave the problem solving to us. After all, that is what we do best. Offering a package of strictly circular products in combination with REMADE/ repurpose or REVIVED/ refurbished products is what I dream of. This is the future.  

Please share your CE success story

What I still think is a good story: after being told not to and ignoring it, I once took a tall cabinet to an upholsterer’s shop, after we had screwed down all the shelves at the factory to strengthen the structure. We dropped the cabinet on its doors and a sofa came into existence. I would call this a CE success story because it paved the way for products that are now being created. Our REMADE cabinets, which were shown at the Beurs Facilitair 2017, are in fact version 2.0 of that very concept. The surprise element, when people ask you, ‘how do you do it, a cabinet like that?’ indescribable. I could go on and on and name another 30 examples just like this… but when we think about the future, this is our biggest success story yet.

Thank you, Robbert. To whom will you pass on ‘THE GREAT EIGHT OF CE’?

I would like to pass on the baton to William van Beurden, our CE guy from the factory floor!