Netherlands | Social entrepreneurship

“We're not about 'fast, fast, fast', we're about social and sustainable”

11 December 2020 10:10

Sustainable, social and attractive: at Frisian company OPNIEUW!, employees distanced from the labour market give used materials a second life.

Woman makes lamp from recycled material

“It's not just about profit. Giving something back to society is at least as important.”

Why not treat yourself to a trendy office chair made from a train running board? And would a traffic light be nice next to your couch? Perhaps you’d like a chess table made from ceiling parts. Circular company OPNIEUW! likes to think outside the box and make the coolest office and other furniture out of used materials.

The sustainable enterprise was founded in June 2018 by Douwe Jan Boersma. The company’s location in the Frisian village of Buitenpost was a conscious choice: the headquarters are within walking distance of the station because not all employees have a car. OPNIEUW! employees are generally distanced from the labour market and are given the opportunity to show what they have to offer. The company is not only highly creative and circular in its operations, but also socially committed.

There are countless people in the Netherlands who want to work, but do not get the opportunity to do so. OPNIEUW! believes that they also deserve a chance. According to manager Kees Noordmans, the social aspect of the company is therefore essential. “It's not just about profit,” he says. “Giving something back to society is at least as important. You can witness people flourishing here. The social impact is measurable. We can show exactly how many social hours have been invested in a chair that we have given a new lease on life, for example.”

The coronavirus crisis also brought changes for OPNIEUW! On the one hand, working from home became the norm, which meant the company saw a significant increase in the demand for furniture for sustainable home offices. On the other hand, however, many companies also postponed making decisions on new office furniture.

Cactus made from recycled PET bottles

According to manager Noordmans, both circular and social entrepreneurship have to do with creating awareness, which can sometimes be quite challenging. “A new product can sometimes be cheaper, so you have to convince people about the advantages of choosing a used item instead,” says Noordmans. “And because we’re a social enterprise, things sometimes take a little longer. However, we’re not about 'fast, fast, fast', but about social and sustainable.” And the result is extraordinary products: how cool is it to have a cactus made from recycled PET bottles with a base that was originally an NS train floor in your office to improve the acoustics?

It was a logical step for OPNIEUW! to approach Rabobank, which shares the same values. Not only did Rabo Foundation provide a loan that allowed the company to grow, the company also took part in the bank's Circular Business Challenge. In the meantime, OPNIEUW! has grown to such an extent that renovations are underway, and there will soon be five times as much space as before.

Three lessons learned from OPNIEUW!

  1. Invest energy into your people. In the long term, you will reap great returns. People can often do more than you initially suspect.
  2. Be bold! Switching to circular and social entrepreneurship requires courage, but it is incredibly important to give something back to society.
  3. Positivity, trust and communication are the pillars at OPNIEUW! These ensure that people feel great about going to work.

Social enterprises such as OPNIEUW! create fair employment opportunities for people who like to work, but have difficulty finding a job. We see social entrepreneurship as the norm and inspiration for other companies. Find out how we contribute to increasing their impact.