CEO Philip Eklöf: "I Never Once Thought About Giving Up."
Reducing waste and promoting triple bottom line thinking has become increasingly integrated into companies’ operations around the world. In Sweden, Philip Eklöf, CEO of Office Recycling is largely responsible for stewarding better corporate practices around environmental impact in the country under the government’s “Fossil-Free Sweden” initiative, whether it be minimising transportation air emissions, developing sustainable procurement policies, or educating employees on environmental regulation and issues. Founded in 2011, Office Recycling grew quickly thanks to offering full life cycle environmental service packages to their clients. They now have over 1000 customers and were the first recycling company to obtain the Good Environmental Choice ecolabel. It takes very determined individuals to introduce new thinking into a traditional company and change the office culture. An individual like Philip Eklöf we had the chance to interview:
Eklöf: I am a very stubborn person. I never once thought about giving up. People have asked me often how it was that I could be so sure. And as I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been remembering how I started to work early in life. My interest in the transportation industry started back when I was a 10-year-old working extra to keep the doors of removal men. And then when I started to run courier, I discovered what was needed there was for environmental recycling services.
Recycling started in the 1960s as part of the manufacturing supply chain and was later adopted by offices. But the office containers used were very ugly and not suited for being seen by clients. It was then that I came up with the idea of designing stylish containers for offices to throw papers for recycling. Bit by bit, we started offering more services.
Before I knew it, I had 70 customers. I started Office Recycling and left my job. I knew that where I was working, management wouldn’t approve of my ideas to promote environmental services because they didn’t understand how it could be profitable. But our environmental services offer a unique competitive advantage to our clients that keep them coming back.
Barchan: What drives you in your work?
Eklöf: What is driving me now is - freedom! To be able to do what I want and I think it is a reaction to my childhood in witnessing how businesses were run and realising how they could be improved. Also, protecting the environment is very important to me, so how we can operationalize it in practice is a big part of my passion.
Barchan: How determinant of a factor is the type of organisation for the success of your ideas?
Eklöf: The culture in an organisation makes all the difference. To change something demands support from others and for employees to be engaged. I believe that we all can want to learn something new, but the question is how well can it be done.
For example, we believe in environmental stewardship but don’t want to promote “greenwashing” in our clients’ behaviour.
Barchan: What do you think about the younger generations and their concern for the environment?
Eklöf: The younger generations are very engaged and understand the implications of our current consumer lifestyle. I am hopeful that they will encourage employers and suppliers to change for the better.
Our core value is to be entirely fossil- free and to push our competitors to become so as well. We have done it now successfully for five years and hope to continue and have an even greater impact in the future, especially in dense urban settings.
I decided from the start that the company will not be dependent on me. Our ego is overly dominant for many people that run companies. But I just want to generate a positive impact on society and to have the best people to do the different tasks in our company. And that is not always me. What is best for the company is more important than what is best for yourself.
Barchan: Do you have any advice for our readers that want to become leaders?
Eklöf: Look at what already exist in a market and find its weak spots. Create a model for others to follow and that embodies your inner values. Be prepared to adjust to the circumstances. If you are under 40 and have a clear vision – just go. You have time to recover. What is needed for your vision to happen is a better question to ask than what you want from the vision.
We make a difference every day with people that can see the big picture. Everything we do affects the planet’s life cycle. It is up to us to make it a circular and positive one.