Interview Coen de Ruiter

Since November 2018, Coen de Ruiter has been general manager of Greenchoice. Before that he worked at Unilever, Max Havelaar and Apenheul, among others. Although he has not always worked in the energy sector, he sees a common thread in his career. In the organizations where he worked in recent years, commerce and idealism reinforce each other. He has therefore found his new goal at Greenchoice: to share the benefits of climate solutions with consumers and companies. Because only “when people directly benefit from the energy transition, they no longer see it as a burden, but as something positive!”

The energy transition attractive for all users

Greenchoice was founded in 2001 out of sustainable idealism. The company distinguished itself by being the first energy supplier to supply only green electricity and, from 2008, also forest-compensated natural gas. The fact that this vision still works is clearly shown by the fact that in 2020 Greenchoice again scored the highest of all energy companies in the Sustainable Brand Index. “We are consistent and that makes us credible, to both customers and employees.”

Personally, de Ruiter also contributes to the energy transition. He describes himself as pioneering but practical. In this way, step by step, he makes his house climate neutral. “I live in an old house. In recent years I have insulated my house better and better and I recently installed a hybrid heat pump.” During working hours he only travels by public transport or by electric pool car. “In this way, everyone can take steps that together lead to big change.”

According to Coen, the climate goals are something that Greenchoice alone can never achieve. Other parties in the chain are essential. The difference with a few years ago is that Greenchoice has also come to understand the importance of partnerships more and more. “We tackle projects together with our sustainability partners.” In addition to financial incentives, this collaboration also focuses on ideal considerations in both the Netherlands and abroad. For example, Greenchoice recently initiated a project in Guinea-Bissau together with Wetlands International with the aim of restoring one of the largest mangrove areas to its former glory. This ensures biodiversity but also CO2 reduction.

Every small step help

The major challenge in the energy transition is the collaboration with companies that have not yet started. For these companies, it is especially important to make them aware of the impact of incremental changes, which can eventually lead to a major transformation. If you start now, you will still make a significant contribution!”

In order to help these companies further, Greenchoice has already expanded its range considerably in recent years. Most striking is subsidiary KiesZon, the largest solar power developer in the Netherlands that makes solar power projects accessible to consumers and businesses. In the coming years, Greenchoice wants to expand further with tailor-made advice and by helping companies to become climate positive. By making the sustainability steps as concrete as possible, you remove obstacles in an organization and Greenchoice can commit itself to the organization as a sustainable partner. It fulfils a hub function in which it links the challenges of companies to the range of various sustainability companies, ranging from solar panels to, for example, insulation and electric transport.

Culture within the company

One of Greenchoice’s most important assets is its employees. Coen is impressed by the intrinsic drive of the colleagues to bring about change. The culture is open and active. “Everyone realizes that every step counts, no matter how small.” In this way they know how to enthuse consumers and companies for the transition.

A conscious choice was therefore made for a non-hierarchical business model in which de Ruiter tries to involve colleagues in Greenchoice’s strategy as much as possible. “I want to remove the barrier to coming up with initiatives.” After that, the trick is to implement new plans as efficiently as possible.

The future of Greenchoice

Any organization based on an idealistic change hopes to be redundant in the long run. De Ruiter believes that his company can and must contribute a lot in the coming years. “We now help people much more emphatically to become climate positive. We ensure that customers can benefit financially from the energy transition in various ways.” De Ruiter sees that many Dutch people are positive about sustainability, but may also be concerned about, for example, a windmill or solar park in the immediate vicinity. Only by giving consumers and companies a platform in which they benefit from the transition can you remove the obstacles. “Those who benefit quickly feel differently, as recent research by TNO shows.”

The strategy towards a climate-positive society

In five years’ time, de Ruiter hopes that this platform transition will have become a reality. “Besides that customers live without a footprint, I hope we can give non-customers the feeling that they can contribute to the solution to the climate problem.”

The management focuses on the strategy to achieve this, but also on the consequences thereof. The consequence of many climate goals is that closer cooperation in the chain is necessary. “We must continue to say that the energy transition is a joint action.” De Ruiter likes to enter into discussions with other organizations about how this collaboration can best be achieved. How do you go from shared interests to intensive collaboration? And, how do you ensure an optimal effect?

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