…to boost the adoption of sustainable technology
In 1972, the emissaries of the world descended upon the mythical Kingdom of the Swedes to found a new order. Representatives of 113 countries, along with numerous NGOs, set their sails to Stockholm to attend the United Nations’ first environmental conference where reducing humanity’s impact on nature was on the way to become a global cause.
The new mission spread across continents, and in 1992, a follow-up meeting in Rio de Janeiro advanced the mission to new heights – to pursue a course of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – otherwise known as sustainable development. As a cross section of environmental, social and economic dimensions, sustainability means endurance, whether of an ecosystem or a business model.
A visionary approach
As in 1972, we are feverishly looking for ways out of the slump and, as economies slowly and hesitantly look for signs of recovering, technology is often cited as a means of solving some of our current headaches. During these challenging times, it is visionary technology-driven companies that will most certainly contribute to the next wave of growth with the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes them.
One such company is the Dutch Lemnis Lighting B.V., a frontrunner in the field of sustainable lighting solutions (based on LED technology). Lemnis was named Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2009 and its cofounder Frans Otten is a fervent believer of the cause.
During a recent conversation with Swiss Style, Mr. Otten explained his views with typical Dutch clarity and pragmatism. “To successfully and sustainably emerge out of the current economic situation,” he says, defining his philosophy, “we need to implement a new business model. Globally, energy saving technologies will only have impact if we set aside our agendas as commercial entities and start sharing our knowledge with partners worldwide. Doing so will not only boost the adoption of sustainable technology but also have the potential of greatly enhancing participating companies’ growth and bottom lines.”
Developing global business
Lemnis Lighting was started by Otten and Warner Philips, both greatgrandsons of the founder of Royal Philips Electronics. Lemnis Lighting has been recognised as a market leader in the field of LED lighting since 2006. In addition to the company’s large scale rollout programme of consumer, street and greenhouse lighting in the Netherlands, Lemnis is also active in the areas of development, production and sales, with offices in the Netherlands, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore and Johannesburg.
Technology sharing has been a top priority for him and this is a man who walks his talk: Otten is the architect of the joint-venture with the Chinese Tsinghua Tongfang Group, active in the information and energy industries. The agreement, signed in early June this year, is proof that his partnership model works. He enthusiastically clarifies his strategic thought: “We had been looking for the right partner in China to give us access to the one of the largest and fastest growing markets. Again, the process of sharing our innovative technology, in this case with a large Chinese Company, is the new business paradigm that technologically oriented companies should adopt. For us, this move is an essential building block to further our mission to help cutting energy use in lighting as soon as possible globally.”
Sharing works both ways and Tsinghua Tongfang’s connection with Tsinghua University, will offer new opportunities to expand Lemnis’ R&D and manufacturing capabilities.
Frans Otten admits that his approach is not necessarily an easy one to embrace. It takes a healthy dose of audacity, risk management and tact to let go of proprietary secrets, but the results can be rewarding both for the business as well as for the planet. “Opportunities in emerging markets are abundant but not always accessible” he continues. “I believe that there are times when trying to conquer an unknown territory that it is wise to join a local entity with an already established brand instead of going it alone. By importing innovative technology and combining it with local partners and their distribution and the marketing knowhow we can achieve progress more efficiently and rapidly. Also, by producing locally, we can circumvent procurement regulations that favour national sourcing.”
A preamble to solving climate issues
Frans Otten’s attempts to respond to environmental concerns while doing good business were echoed at the otherwise disappointing Copenhagen Climate summit last year. “I believe that the Summit’s resolution for making sustainable technology more widely available worldwide, as a preamble to solving climate issues, was an important step,” he comments. “Even though budgetary concerns weigh heavily in the balance these days, I am certain that governments can make important contributions to climate matters by simply reviewing their procurement policies. As an example, converting inefficient traditional lighting to LED technology on a national scale leads to immediate energy savings and makes perfect ecological sense.”
He is convinced that policy makers have a major role in supporting a technological solution to global growth concerns. Not without a modicum of national pride he continues, “The Dutch government has the potential to become an exemplary case of sustainable technology expertise.” Otten invites us to take a look at the numerous research laboratories Dutch universities breed and the multitude of innovations that Dutch companies patent and the opportunities become clear.
Walking the talk
Mr. Otten takes the notion of walking ones talk to new heights – as proof of his commitment to his Chinese partners and with the support of his family, he has decided to move his residence from the Netherlands to Hong Kong. “In order to be taken seriously, you cannot just fly in and out of the region. You have to show by your actions that you really believe that the region is important enough to make a few sacrifices, otherwise you’ll wind up giving the wrong signals.”
As a man of his word, a “cleantech” pioneer, an innovator and adventurer, Otten will continue his fight against climate change, hoping that that he can influence regulators, industry and even the local grocery store to opt for sustainable solutions.
Article by Rodica Miron