Bugaboo is well-known for having kickstarted a ‘stroller revolution’ 20 years ago, changing the game in this market with extraordinary – and very fashionable – products that had at their heart the desire to make parents’ lives easier. Today, Bugaboo´s products are a “must-have” for smart parents.
What most people don´t know, though, is that this Amsterdam-based company – that has been founded in 1999 and grew quickly to become a leader in its industry – had a strong commitment towards sustainability and environmental care from its early stages, and translates this into decisions and actions for a better world, day after day. While working with Bugaboo during the last six months, I was truly impressed by the drumbeat with which the sustainability agenda is pushed through, and believe that other companies – also bigger and acting in other sectors – can learn from them. I therefore asked Ilona Haaijer – Bugaboo’s CEO – and Lise Hordijk – Manager for Sustainability – to share with us their views, expectations, and experiences about sustainability.
Bugaboo is an iconic consumer brand – like Apple, Burberry, or Ferrari: how important is sustainability to win your customers´ confidence?
Ilona: Our customers are in general young people that take responsibility for the environment very seriously, also when they are shopping. To be able to maintain our competitive edge, we need to credibly demonstrate that we keep up addressing their needs in this respect – and that we are doing it better than others.
Lise: Indeed. You need to consider that millennials and “Generation Z” make up the majority of our customer base, and they look for socially responsible businesses and seek authenticity. To be a meaningful brand, you must make and show meaningful impact.
Sustainability is interpreted in many ways around the globe: what is Bugaboo´s understanding, and in which directions do you focus your efforts?
Ilona: Our vision of being a responsible business is that we make conscious choices about how we create our products and pride ourselves on the fact that we design products to last, built from high quality materials, replaceable parts and easily repairable designs. Ultimately, we strive to reduce our environmental impact and add value where we can.
More concretely, we have six areas onto which we focus our efforts:
First is product design: we design and build our products with long lifecycles in mind, since the longer a product lasts the lower is the environmental impact. Also, we constantly look for opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of the materials used in our products – like the fabrics on our ultimate comfort stroller – the Fox – which are made for a good portion from recycled PET bottles.
Second is sourcing & production: we want to make sure our products are manufactured and sourced sustainably and produced under safe, fair and humane working conditions. We are progressively reducing the usage of substances of fossil origin and replacing them with bio-based materials.
Third is our impact on the environment: from our own factory in Xiamen (China) to our packaging, logistics, offices, stores and warehouses, we look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint as well as our product and packaging waste.
Fourth is business innovation, which can help extend the life cycle of our products or modularize our products to reduce end of life waste. For example, in our last born stroller, the Ant, we adopt screws, nuts, and bolts instead of weldings to increase its recyclability. Also, we rolled out a program to rework textile remainders at our China factory into Bugaboo-cobranded shoppers – that enjoyed true success.
Fifth is our people: we want to provide an inspiring, open and vibrant working environment for all our employees worldwide.
Sixth is our community: we support parents or caretakers whose confidence and freedom for the journey ahead is challenged because of the effect of disability, disease, poverty or conflict. In addition, we support non-profit organizations that inspire the next generation to create inventive solutions for a sustainable world. We do this by offering donations or taking part in volunteer work.
How do you ensure progress in terms of sustainability?
Lise: We believe that “If you can´t measure it, you won´t improve it”, so that we have set quite ambitious targets to ensure we have concrete impact. Concretely, we regularly measure our impact in five areas: chemical management, product(ion) waste, water intensity, greenhouse gases emissions and social impact. For example, in production waste, we aim to divert our production waste from landfill, with a robust continuous improvement program.
What´s next for Bugaboo in terms of sustainability?
Ilona: I think that we are on the right path and sustainability is already an important part of who we are and what we are recognized for by parents. We need now to continue to consistently deliver upon our commitments. I see the next steps for Bugaboo towards sustainability as a continuous evolution rather than a revolution.
Lise: We have a series of new, concrete sustainability projects in our pipeline, that we are about to rollout. What counts more, though, is our attitude of continuously challenging ourselves and make greener products, produce lesser waste, and improve our carbon footprint.
What do you think other companies can learn from Bugaboo on sustainability?
Ilona: What makes us special is that we really “walk the talk”, and don´t just stop at a programmatic level. Here at Bugaboo we all deeply believe that it is possible to do good business while doing good: it is just part of the company culture and – because of it – virtually every decision and action tries to make the most out of it in terms of sustainability.
Lise: Just take our “designed to last” principle: it was developed in the very early stages of the company and we talk about it virtually in every meeting: it is like a mantra, a part of our DNA. And because of it, it nurtures a sense of belonging, which is also why working at Bugaboo is a very exciting and purposeful experience.
About interviewees and interviewer
Ilona Haaijer is CEO of Bugaboo with a tenure in senior executive roles in industrial and consumer products sectors
Lise Hordijk is Manager Sustainability at Bugaboo and an expert in operations management in the consumer products sector
Lorenzo Formiconi (interviewer) is managing partner at execon partners and an expert in operations management
Ilona, Lise, and Lorenzo know each other from a joint operations engagement carried out at Bugaboo