2021: To fulfill Ekopak’s mission, we must grow even faster
In a world full of change, Pieter Loose, CEO, looks back with satisfaction, as Ekopak achieved its ambitious goals & targets in 2022, so the company started 2023 with confidence.
This is the second annual report since Ekopak went public in March 2021, and you’re already opting to release it as an integrated report, just like the big listed companies. How important is that to you?
For me, integrated reporting is not the most important thing. What really matters is integrated business operations. The economic dimension of business is obviously important, but everything we do with Ekopak also involves environmental, social, societal and ethical dimensions. For me, this has never been different. My personal ambition goes beyond just making money. I want to make the biggest possible difference, not only for myself, but also for my team, for society and for the world we live in. Some people call me a dreamer. I take that as a compliment. I am a dreamer and I want to do everything possible to realize my dreams. With Ekopak, my dream is to switch the industry completely to circular water use, so that no more drinking water is taken away from those who need it, so that there will always be enough drinking water available for society. That is the “water brand” of Ekopak. At the same time, I want to lead my organization, my employees, society and the world to ever better levels.
That does indeed sound … dreamy. Especially for a CEO. How about this?
What is the difference between a dream and a mission? It just depends on which terminology you use. The strength of the underlying methodology is that it translates a dream into a strategy, which is based on a number of pillars, which in turn must be “translated” into concrete actions, plans,… Attention is paid to financial capital, but equally to production capital, intellectual capital, human capital, natural capital and the capital of social values and relationships. And it goes even further: annual stress tests, key performance indicators,… Then as a CEO you can no longer float with your head in the clouds, but you are put with both feet on the ground….
Pieter Loose – CEO
My dream is to switch the industry completely to circular water use.
Key performance indicators? That sounds like reporting, doesn’t it?
Indeed it does. A company that assumes a responsibility must also be accountable. A company that assumes purely financial responsibility only has to report on it to investors and financiers. A company like Ekopak that assumes a broader social responsibility finds it normal to be accountable to all stakeholders. By the way, I don’t see that as a burden nor as a one-way street. By reporting openly and transparently on our performance, we invite all stakeholders and interested parties to provide feedback and suggestions. This keeps us on our toes and, if we are lucky, it also generates new ideas and insights.
New insights? Such as?
Like the insight that we need to grow faster and get significantly bigger to realize the Ekopak dream so that society can continue to have sufficient drinking water. Ecology and growth do not need to clash. (laughs). Ekopak is growing fast, but it actually needs to grow much faster. We must also dare to think beyond our home market. We must not only dare to strengthen our organization to cope with this growth, but we must also look for collaborations. These two insights largely determined my agenda as CEO in 2022.
How did you align Ekopak’s organization with that growth strategy?
Despite the scarcity in the labor market, we were able to double our workforce. During the recruitment process, I noticed how important our DNA is for future employees: how valuable they find it to be able to contribute to a circular water supply, how challenging they find it to work in an environment where they can develop themselves to the fullest, how nice they find it to be part of a team where everyone is valued regardless of origin, age, and so on…
In addition, plans for new premises are ready. It will offer sufficient space, because our current buildings are too small. The new building will be energy neutral or even energy positive. Investing in buildings is one thing, but we have also invested heavily in processes and structures, in Finance, HR, IT and many other areas. Everyone at Ekopak is convinced that enthusiasm alone will not get us there. We need to build solid foundations in our organization today in order to face tomorrow’s challenges with confidence.
Is Ekopak ready to take the step abroad?
Yes, although we realize that we cannot take five steps at once. We started small in France, but in the meantime the organization there has already expanded. The acquisition of the French company H²0 Production has further strengthened our presence on the French market. As a result, we have even better access to the business networks. This will undoubtedly still result in great projects. Moreover, H²0 Production’s technological know-how offers great opportunities for Ekopak. We are going to write another fascinating Ekopak story in France.
Growing faster through collaboration… What should we imagine?
Our stakeholders include governments and drinking water companies. They realize the threat that at some point there will be insufficient drinking water to supply everyone on the grid: Day Zero. In all prevention plans, the strategy of disconnecting large industrial users of water from the drinking water network is quickly adopted. Ekopak can give them a helping hand. With the same objective in mind, cooperation is an obvious option. This is how Waterkracht saw the light, our joint venture that will supply circular water to companies in the port of Antwerp from 2025. It will convert wastewater from Antwerp households into process water for industry. During the development of the Waterkracht concept, we met companies that are willing to disconnect from the drinking water network, but do not have enough water of their own for full circular use. So Circeaulair was born, also a joint venture in which Ekopak participates. In fact, the Circeaulair concept can easily be applied in many other cities and can very quickly take on a huge dimension. This really could be a mega leap, which Ekopak could not achieve alone, and certainly not within such a short time span. This illustrates the power of cooperation!
With Waterkracht and Circeaular, you also attracted the attention of the media, all of whom suddenly wanted to interview you. Didn’t that time come at the expense of your duties as CEO?
It’s not my dream to become a media figure. But through the media, I can reach companies and raise awareness about switching to circular water use. Moreover, questions from potential customers flood in after every interview. So from both an ecological and economic perspective, the time I invest in raising awareness is very well spent.
Doesn’t it all become a bit too much for you?
The time when, as CEO of an SME, I could be personally involved in all aspects of the business is indeed over. That is precisely why we have started laying solid foundations on which we can further develop our organization. This concerns buildings, installations, systems and processes, but above all, people. Despite the difficult conditions on the labor market, Ekopak is able to attract skilled and motivated people.
A nice conclusion?
In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to all stakeholders – and especially all employees – for their commitment and dedication. With them by my side, I look to the future with confidence.