The Voka Charter Sustainable Entrepreneurship, your stepping stone to a sustainable organisation
Since the United Nations launched their “Agenda 2030” in 2015, everyone has been talking about sustainability. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as the SDGs) map out a path towards a sustainable world. Sustainability is not only the responsibility of governments, but also of citizens and businesses.
How can we, as companies, contribute to the SDGs?
At first sight, it may not be obvious how companies can contribute to the realisation of the SDGs. That’s the reason why a practical program has been developed by the Flemish Chambers. Sttarting from the concrete activities of each company, They develop together with the management an action plan that contributes to the realisation of various SDGs.
For the sake of convenience, the SDGs are sometimes grouped into five pillars called the 5 Ps (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership). Several themes within these pillars are certainly relevant for companies.
quality of the living environment, waste reduction, CO² reduction, biodiversity
rational energy use, risk management, sustainable procurement policy, mobility
good governance, good dialogue with stakeholders, clear communication
cooperation with other organisations, engagement in international projects
What are the different steps of the VCDO?
The Chamber and the company study each challenge and draw up a plan of at least 10 action points that take into account the specific characteristics and possibilities of each company. After one year, the plan is evaluated by an external evaluation committee. A positive evaluation leads to the award of the Voka Charter for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (VCDO). If the company receives a positive evaluation three years in a row and realises actions within each of the 17 SDGs, it receives the SDG Pioneer certificate from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). This is an official recognition by the United Nations for efforts made in the field of sustainability. It is awarded by CIFAL Flanders, the international training centre affiliated with UNITAR.
The international allure of such a UN certificate should not be underestimated. It is an important added value for exporting Flemish SMEs, or those planning to do so.
Working on sustainability is a medium- and long-term investment. It pushes business leaders to reflect on their current way of working, to look for improvements and to seize opportunities. But it also helps them to proactively address risks and better prepare for future challenges. Being sustainable becomes a synonym for being future proof.
Companies that invest in sustainable entrepreneurship are not only more resilient and efficient, but can also attract and retain more talents. Moreover, customers, suppliers and employees increasingly expect that products and services are made and delivered in fair conditions.
VCDO: business testimonials and examples of concrete actions
In 2020 and 2021, a total of 123 VCDO participants received the SDG Pioneer certificate from the United Nations. The companies have successfully implemented the Sustainable Development Goals in their business over the past three years in the Voka Charter for Sustainable Entrepreneurship programme. They prove that innovation, reducing the climate impact and investing in people contributes to the development of a sustainable futureproof company.
But Voka also developed a continuation programme for companies that want to go the extra mile. Through a step-by-step approach they can become SDG Champion or even SDG Ambassador. For SDG Champion, companies have to carry out a pilot project about transition, for example within the circular economy or developing a sustainable business model, and all this within a period of 2 years. For SDG Ambassador the bar is set even higher and companies must undertake actions in due diligence (companies and human rights) within a timeframe of at least one year.
A detergent company has replaced the use of drinking water with canal water at certain stages of its production process. By making the detergent more concentrated, less water is also needed for each laundry load.
A company active in the roofing industry has invested heavily in R&D and has developed a biological alternative to bitumen, a petroleum derivative, which is the raw material for many of its products. It has also developed a specific range based on 25% high-quality recycled waste that is no longer landfilled but reused in the production process.
A company selling fresh fruit and vegetables optimized their packaging range using life cycle analysis, among other methods. By introducing and switching to cardboard punnets for strawberries, they reduced plastic consumption by 500,000 kg per year.
Ergonomics - Testimony of TVH Parts (West-Flanders)
The Voka Charter for Sustainable Entrepreneurship was an extra stimulus and source of inspiration for our ergonomic office refurbishment. The audit provides feedback on your plans and actions, and suggestions from other companies’ projects. But we didn’t forget our logistics department either. Together with our facility and automation department, an ergonomist and the supplier, we converted standard picking stations into an ergonomic version in many respects, which can also be adjusted in height so that employees of any size can use them. All these efforts together are in line with our goal of allowing our employees to retire in good health at the end of their careers.
Sustainable mobility - Testimony of Sofico (East Flanders)
Sofico, a fast-growing Ghent-based tech company specialising in software solutions for leasing companies, is now looking beyond the choice between petrol and diesel. In pilot projects with various customers, Sofico’s Miles platform was expanded so that, in addition to car financing and leasing, other sustainable mobility solutions could also be managed.
“Co-creation with our customers is central to all our developments around new forms of mobility and their management. Interacting with our customers helps us understand their practical needs and to make meaningful adjustments to our Miles package in a targeted way.” says Jan Bouckaert, business development manager. The integration of mobility budgets, cafeteria plans, bicycle leasing, shared car systems… must enable the companies to which our customers provide mobility solutions to develop a dynamic mobility plan. At the same time, this must remain clear and manageable. From classic leasing business to smart mobility, as it were.”
Sofico will also make the best practices from this pilot project available to other customers, in order to make full use of its role in the transition to sustainable mobility. For example, Miles is ensuring that the car fleet of a customer in South Korea will not only be used for leasing, but that these leased cars can also be shared by their drivers with a local community. This peer-2-peer car sharing cars then compensates part of the monthly lease price to be paid.
This is also what BattMobility in Ghent, with which Sofico recently set up a joint venture, is aiming for.The electric car-sharing community and Sofico partnered to give users maximum support in sharing a car. Multimodality is attractive, but it must also be feasible. By focusing on sustainable product innovation, Sofico helps companies have a real impact on everyone’s mobility.
Water management and renewable energy - Testimony of Citrique belge (Flemish Brabant)
In Tienen, Citrique Belge produces citric acid for soft drinks and medicines, among other things. To do so, it needs a lot of water: about 3.5 million cubic metres a year. But water is an ever scarcer commodity, which is why the company is investing heavily in innovation. “By focusing more on reuse, we become less dependent on a few sources, such as the Gete and groundwater, and we limit risks caused by drought,” says Citrique Belge.
To avoid water supply problems in the future, Citrique Belge is trying to use less and less water. For example, the company is working on a water scan in production and plans to make adjustments in order to reuse more condensation water. In addition, a new water plant will be built in 2021, in which used cooling water will be upgraded to drinking water quality instead of being discharged directly into the nearby river. In addition, outdated cooling circuits will be converted to modern and more efficient ones, which will result in the removal of an open cooling tower in 2020. All these initiatives will lead to more closed water systems and thus lower water consumption.
Sustainable energy is also high on the agenda. A new combined heat and power plant has replaced the outdated power plant. Citrique Belge is now producing its own steam and electricity. The new power plant also emits significantly less NOx gases than the old one. It also allows for further energy savings. In 2021, for example, a heat network will be created that extracts residual heat from the flue gases.
Do you want to make your organisation more sustainable?
Any Flemish enterprise or organisation can apply to join the VCDO, regardless of its size, number of employees or the nature of its activity. The only condition is the commitment to comply with social, welfare and environmental legislation and to draw up and implement an action plan.
If you want to participate yourself or if you just want to know more about the VCDO, please contact:
Helen Jacobs, project manager sutainable entrepreneurship