It’s not easy to teach old dogs new tricks, but at 135-year-old construction company Ballast Nedam, they were willing students. The Netherlands-based company has been making a transition over the past five years from being solely a contractor to a company that is responsible for the complete construction process with an emphasis on sustainable innovation.
To ensure its 4,000 employees were all on board with the changes, the company created a series of events called Innovation Day. The first Innovation Day in 2010 concentrated on employees. Year two brought external stakeholders into the fold. But the event wasn’t all talk. Ballast Nedam also walked the walk by implementing sustainable solutions into the event to make it 100 percent carbon neutral. Here’s how the company got its employees and external stakeholders excited about the future.
Innovation Day 2010
Held on Nov. 11 at the Van Nelle Ontwerp Fabriek, an old coffee, tea and tobacco factory on review to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Innovation Day 2010 brought 550 Ballast Nedam managers together to discuss sustainable transformation, eco-friendly energy and new ways to collaborate with external stakeholders through these processes. To help illustrate this message, Ballast Nedam created the Innovation Square that functioned like a market selling 60 new innovative products and ideas from stakeholders within the company.
“We have an idea system called TOK, an intranet application where our employees can share their ideas year-round and turn them into marketable products. Employees got the chance to present their innovations at the events,” says Menno de Jonge, directeur innovatie and strategisch informatiemanager at Ballast Nedam. “When companies invite employees to events it’s more like an order. There isn’t much of a choice, but within this company the employees are really proud to get to go to these events.”
The event also featured the Innovation Awards, which recognized employees’ best ideas. The awards, shaped like golden eggs, were created out of recycled wood from construction sites. “We have to be authentic for the employees to believe in the company,” says de Jonge. “It can’t just be nice to talk about it during the event; we also have to show that we really are working on these sustainable innovations.”
The company also used a sun and wind powered generator to power the event and reduced paper by distributing event content in an electronic format using the web and mobile applications to reach all employees. This included the invitation process, the teasers before the event and all communication during and after the event. The food and beverages served were all biological fair trade products. The company also saved as many materials as possible from 2010 to reuse in its 2011 iteration.
But no matter what an eco-conscious company does, Rob Captijn, partner and strategy director at BENG! Amsterdam and New York, which handled the events, says “Companies cannot reduce their whole footprint.” So whatever carbon output Innovation Day couldn’t offset on-site, it offset through the purchase of credits.
Innovation Day 2011
Innovation Day 2011 was held on Nov. 3, and this time, in addition to the company’s employees, the event reached out to a wider net of 400 external stakeholders including subcontractors, suppliers, universities, research institutes and governments.
“We knew already what the outcome of the first event had to be in order to be a credible partner in phase two,” says de Jonge. “The focus in the first event was to bring the awareness to employees and to measure that in ideas entered into the TOK system and marketable products coming out. We zoomed in this time on how to convince these external stakeholders to join the open innovation agenda.”
The centerpiece was the IQ House, a home that was built in five hours at the event to serve as an example of Ballast Nedam’s sustainable innovations.
“In the past we were building houses by bringing materials to our construction sites, so it took about six to eight months to build a house. Now we are building this house in a factory, and in the end these elements are transported to the building location and then in about three to four hours this house is being constructed,” explains de Jonge. “Around 2 p.m. during the Innovation Day this house was finished, people could live in the house, could prepare their dinner, they could invite visitors to grab some meatloaf.”
With planning underway for Innovation Day 2012, the future’s looking bright for Ballast Nedam’s new commitment to sustainability.