"It is essential that you think ahead to where you will be able to see yourself as a business in ten years’ time, especially with the way that our technology is developing."
With two Master qualifications to his name, Global Head of Long Term Innovation at Ecover & Method Tom Domen sheds light on the importance of understanding the bio-based industry. Ecover is a Belgium based company with an environmental ethic which started business in 1979. They were one of the first companies to develop phosphate free washing powder and use plant-based ingredients such as aloe vera, coconut oil and sugar in their products. The company’s sustainable ethos even extends to their office building which was the world’s first ecological factory in 1992. However, the road has not always been easy when the business came into financial difficulties in the early 1990s and was sold to owner Frans Bogaerts’ son Gunter Pauli who rescued the business. Since then, Ecover has won awards for their pioneering efforts and bought another natural cleaning brand, Method Products in 2012. Tom has been working for Ecover for six years, where he is now responsible for the long-term innovation and sustainability for the business’ product range which includes: laundry and cleaning products, dishwashing, home care and personal care. Emily O’Dowd caught up with Tom to find out where the company’s ambitions lie for the future and what he enjoys about his current role.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What has led you to this role?
Tom Domen (TD): I started my career with a masters in Industrial Design before working in two electronic companies Philips and Panasonic for a total twelve years. These jobs allowed me to move from design to a more marketing/managing role. However, I have always had a focus on the environment because my final MA project specialised in this area.
In 2007 I decided to do another Masters in sustainability. After this, I was exposed to more eco-friendly businesses and the new products ranges that were being developed. When I began working at Ecover ( @EcoverUK ) I started to market their products and develop the product innovation pipeline. Then I concentrated more heavily on sustainability in the company which combined the marketing and technical knowledge that I have. At Ecover, we have a long-term ambition to make a positive impact on the environment and people which does not always fit into the conventional innovation ways of doing things. When we looked at the innovations that were in the pipeline, we noticed that some ideas needed improvement, more innovation and the potential to start change.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
TD: For me, it has to be going after the big changes that we hope will make a difference. I enjoy seeing ground-breaking changes take place and usually these projects are the most exciting but also the most difficult. However, this gives us the opportunity to have more success with it. Whist I enjoy the short term innovations coming to life, it’s the long-term ones that keeps me going.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
TD: It is about remembering to have that long-term perspective. It is essential that you think ahead to where you will be able to see yourself as a business in ten years’ time, especially with the way that our technology is developing. Another one of our biggest difficulties is trying to influence consumer behaviour; it’s really hard.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the bio-based industry?
Just don’t get completely blinded by the technical challenges that the industry faces even though there are a lot of technical hurdles that need to be overcome. It is also important to create a story that will help bring bio-based products to the market and appeal to customers
EOD: What single change would help develop the bio-based industry further?
TD: I think there are two sides. Firstly, it is to have that long-term perspective that I have already mentioned. The reason for this is that the industry is still very volatile because it all depends on the prices of raw materials or oil. Therefore, the market is fluctuating all the time and makes it unstable to invest. Bio-based businesses are risky start-ups and there isn’t a clear, steady policy to push bio-based products to the market.
Then secondly it has to be consumer education. At school, children need to be taught about the biological world and how we can close the gap between technology and nature, rather than separate the two.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
TD: I think Ecover are moving forward in the innovation process. When we merged with Method Products ( @ ) four years ago now it brought a lot of change, but now I think we are ready to pioneer our new innovations, and bio-based ingredients will be a crucial element of this.
Additionally, we will continue to get all our projects fully bio-based, because at the moment this figure stands at around 80% and we are definitely thinking about how we can make our branding more sustainable. This will require us to look from a supply chain perspective as well as through a consumer perspective. Then we will need to consider how bio-technology can become an exciting proposition for customers – but at the moment, this will always be a challenge.
EOD: Thank you for taking time to talk with us to today Tom, we hope your long-term ambitions are a success.
Bio-Based World News will bring this new 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week's 5 minutes with... Puneet Trehan, Material and Innovation Development Leader Polymers, IKEA.
Next week's 5 minutes will feature... Sophie Mather, Founder and Director of Biov8tion.
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