Alexander Heijkamp - CSR and purpose Athlon Netherlands

“Be good and tell it”

Paul

by Paul van Schie

Alexander Heijkamp is 43 years old, has three children, and started working at Athlon Nederland as a CSR director 2,5 years ago. His passionate attitude and Teflon skin helps to guide Athlon towards a sustainable future. Alexander’s personal purpose and drive are an inspiration for the hundreds of employees within Athlon, and for the spectators of his guest lectures.

“I wanted to do work that matters. I’ve never really been a green guy before, but like any parent I sometimes worry about the future of my kids. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it feels very real to me.

Personal drive & purpose

Alexander used to work for one of the biggest banks in the Netherlands, where he financed millions but didn’t always feel much impact of his work. That lack of feeling was the main reason for starting a new career adventure in sustainability.

Alexander: “I wanted to do work that matters. I’ve never really been a green guy before, but like any parent I sometimes worry about the future of my kids. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it feels very real to me. A personal wake-up call was when I stood on top of the Grossglockner (the highest mountain in Austria) with my family. I was looking for the glacier that I sled down from as a child. It pretty much melted away completely, you know. Or well maybe like a tenth of the entire thing was left. This experience hugely impacted my view on how our collective actions impact our planet.

Besides climate change, social impact themes like equality and poverty are continuously on Alexander’s mind.

“Since I’m working in this role at Athlon, I have learned that a lot of people are worse off than me. This makes me feel increasingly blessed with the life and the luxury that I have: three healthy kids that can go to school. In Almere where Athlon’s headquarters is located, there’s a lot of poverty. I know there are schools where boys and girls learn about work that possibly will be automated when they graduate. In addition, they’re not properly trained for job interviews and other crucial skills required to get a real fighting chance in today’s labor market.

The more I come to know about these subjects, the more I realize I know so little. My journey into social and climate impact has led me to this role at Athlon. I figured that even if only half of my CSR plans at Athlon would be successful, the impact that we would collectively be making would definitely be worth the effort.“

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Sustainability at Athlon Nederland

Two years ago, Alexander started at Athlon Netherlands working in the new function of CSR director with a blank piece of A3 paper and one assignment: do your best and let us know when you know how it works. “At that time Athlon didn’t have a CSR strategy in place, something that I welcomed as a challenge. My first weeks consisted of exploring the organization, and drinking gallons of coffee while meeting just about everyone to get a clear indication of my assignment.”

Alexander then constructed the two principles that now form the basis of Athlon Netherlands’ sustainability strategy:

  1. Leveraging success stories. “We collect tons of rainwater on our office parking deck on a yearly basis. We use this water to wash our car fleet saving precious fresh water in the process. A lot of people knew this internally, but we never told the story.”
  2. Lowering thresholds. “All employees have been allowed to take two days off per year – at full pay – to perform volunteer work. Not many people used it because it was not proactively promoted”

“I like to summarize our strategy as: ‘Be good and tell it”

A very long time ago (pun intended) Alexander finished a CSR management course at Nyenrode university. He remembers how he used to be taught how CSR managers are actually uber change managers. “My job is to transform thoughts and behaviors. Creating change is something that takes time and resilience, which is why I feel that any person in my position needs to have a Teflon skin. After the inevitable event of one of your plans failing, you need to be able to bounce right back up and continue your day with a smile on your face. It’s hard work, but also very rewarding and for a good cause.”

Alexander is incredibly motivated to continue and expand on his work. “One major motivation for me is the potential impact we can make as a company. The collaborative action of our employees and customers can really amount to substantial change within Athlon’s circle of influence! “

If you’re looking to learn more about how Alexander is shaping Athlon Netherland’s purpose and CSR strategy, read the full case study here.

Sustainability going forward

In the light of recent developments, we’re curious about Alexander’s view on the future of sustainability.

“All big changes are preceded by crises. What the current global health and social inequality crises are doing in my view, is that they’re increasing global awareness of how individual actions impact nature and society. People have been forced to slow down lately, which has created time for them to think. For example, about how the way in which we consume is just incredibly shortsighted. How lightly we think about throwing stuff away, using our car when we can cycle, and flying all the way to Barcelona at almost no cost is just ridiculous.”

Alexander is convinced that CSR will become increasingly important after this crisis. He feels that employees and customers will demand for something more than business as usual. And that if you don’t act now as a company, attracting talent will become a certain challenge in the near future. He adds: “Maybe I’m too optimistic about the future of sustainability, but hey that’s the part I have to play. If not me, then who!?”