Interview with Ekoplaza CEO Erik Does
Ekoplaza has guts. “They are just going to do this,” says Pieter Bos, director at Rabobank Wholesale and the bank’s relationship manager for Ekoplaza. Thanks to the SDG 12.3 loan, the company’s finances will be more closely linked to their sustainability mission. Today, March 12, Ekoplaza director Erik Does puts his signature on the new agreement. The date is significant: 12/3 is a subtle reference to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which aims to halve food waste by 2030.
Erik Does himself is not too impressed with his company’s step. “This loan is just in line with what we have been doing for years,” he says in a conversation via Microsoft Teams. Actually, Does would have preferred that a company with less sustainable operations had been the loan’s first customer. “We are already doing a lot of good, but for many companies this should be an extra incentive to operate more sustainably.”
From his many years of experience as a sustainable entrepreneur, Does knows that other, not-yet-so-green companies, prefer to put their sustainability ambitions into a somewhat longer timeline. “Many large multinationals say: we want to achieve our sustainability goals by 2030. Great promises, but often the current CEO thinks: I’ll be gone by then. And his successor does not feel the same commitment and then makes his own plans. I really hate all those noncommittal views. I think this loan is a good idea and I just want to do this now,” says Does.
There is no doubt that this new “sustainability-linked loan” is a good fit for Ekoplaza. Over the past thirty years, this leader in the world of sustainable food companies has grown from an organic neighborhood store in Amsterdam to the largest organic supermarket chain in the Benelux. The starting point for its growth has always been that the customer must be assured that what is on the shelves at Ekoplaza is indeed one hundred percent organic. “And that what we sell is really tasty,” adds Does. “For us, it’s all about conscious, delicious food.”
Higher price tag? That’s short-sighted
Consumers, who turn easily to conventional retail, often believe that sustainability comes with a slightly higher price tag. Does says this is a misperception. “It’s how you calculate that price,” he explains. “We also look at the farmer from whom we source our products and the way in which he treats his animals and the land. If you look to the future, our prices are not at all high because with fair prices you will save a lot of misery later. I sometimes say: if you think we are too expensive, you have to go to the optometrist because you’re myopic.”
Does believes that we should change how we consume and think more carefully about how our food is produced. And more and more consumers are agreeing with him. Ekoplaza now includes more than 80 stores throughout the Netherlands. And its growth does not appear to be over. “We see that more and more younger people are finding us. Older folks have been coming to us for years for our healthy range of products, while younger people are even more convinced that we contribute to a better environment. They see that we as humans have to change our consumption patterns because otherwise there is no future for them. And they can still make the right choices now. It’s nice to see that that happens.”
Does has big ambitions for Ekoplaza to keep looking for where things can be done better and more sustainably. And the agreement attached to his company’s new loan with Rabobank matches this ambition. “We are going to work with the bank to see how we can monitor our food waste even better,” he says. “We are already doing a lot, but we do not yet know enough about what is happening. So this is a great incentive for us to map that food waste even better.”
It is new for Ekoplaza to work with a bank in this way, but this is also a first for Rabobank. “These types of loans, where customers are rewarded with a lower interest rate if they achieve their sustainability goals, have been around for some time. But we have now added this variant on food waste,” says Pieter Bos. The essence of this new loan, he explains, is that the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) derives from SDG 12.3, including a translation of the global standard for measurement. “Together with my colleagues Margit van den Berg from Sustainability and Oyumaa de Jong from Debt Capital Markets, we have worked closely with the global Champions 12.3 coalition and the Dutch foundation Together against Food Waste.” In this way, the bank’s ambitions, aptly expressed a few years ago in the mission statement “Growing a better world together,” are increasingly taking shape.
“Make clear choices”
Erik Does thinks this is a very positive development. And he is also positive about Rabobank: “Our relationship with the bank is good and sustainable.” He believes the bank is moving along with the trend towards more sustainable business. But he also has some advice: “As far as I am concerned, Rabobank can make even clearer choices. The intentions are good, but it can all be faster and more convincing. Don’t make justifications or excuses. Be clear.” He believes that the SDG 12.3 loan fits in perfectly with the latter. “This is going to help us very concretely and that’s good.”
Rabobank Chairman Wiebe Draijer on the SDG 12.3 loan
“Our clients are working hard to strengthen their businesses for the future. They face many challenges in the transition to sustainable food systems. As a Champion 12.3, I truly believe that this new SDG 12.3 loan is a perfect example of how we guide and support our clients through the challenge of reducing food waste. This is exactly how Rabobank wants to embrace finance as an essential enabler in the food transition!”