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The new normal of Ecover

Our interview with Tom Domen (Global Head Long Term innovation)

Tom Domen is the Global Head of Long-Term Innovation at Ecover + method. At Made, we have always loved to work with Tom because of the clear focus on sustainable and positive impact of the projects we do together, and of course, because he is a great person to work with.

Together with his incubator team, Tom goes after innovation that goes beyond incremental steps and focuses on those leapfrog jumps that require new business models, new product categories, even new operational models, to pursue Ecover’s goal to become a positive impact company.

Ecover did very well these past few months with more sales than usual as corona caused a higher demand for household cleaning products. Making sure the factory could keep up with the demand and setting up new filling lines for hand gels were big challenges that put a lot of pressure on the company. But this success also opened up a lot of opportunities for innovation!

Let’s find out what Tom has to say about the new normal of Ecover in this interview.

We can reduce the impact of our products to 'close to zero' and then compensate for the rest of the impact so the sum becomes positive.

Tom Domen

1. Regenerative: Become a positive impact company
Instead of minimizing the impact, Ecover has on the world, they want to become a positive impact company! ‘As long as you're selling products, you’ll always have an impact’, says Tom, ‘but we can reduce the impact of our products to as close to zero as possible and then compensate for the rest of the impact so the sum becomes positive.’ This will require a combination of solutions like re-use, identifying ingredients out of waste and compaction (just to name a few) with initiatives like sponsoring renaturing and rewilding projects that focus on creating biodiversity and restoring land. ‘We’re not Patagonia yet’, says Tom, ‘They have protected huge pieces of land in Chili. But we can work on a more local scale, helping communities in cities to reconnect with nature.’ Tom says Ecover will create a movement for people to renature. Sponsoring this big coronavirus hackathon and using the extra profits they made in the last months to set out this fund (Fertilize the future) to support durable, regenerative concepts is just the start!

2. Seize the momentum for radical ideas.
‘There are only a few moments like this in your career to infuse more radical ideas and new ways of thinking’, says Tom, referring to the momentum that the corona crisis brings. ‘You will have to react fast because if you wait too long, old habits will set in again’, says Tom, ‘It will take you more than 6 months to actually translate ideas into something real. So start now, while many people are still convinced that something needs to be done!’ Tom has challenged his team to get corona-related concepts out in 6 months. Not going for perfect, but for tangible results that will help them to learn and improve. ‘Presenting ideas is just not enough’, Tom believes. Of course, it’s a first step, but building prototypes or testing new systems, immediately making it very practical is what Tom believes is needed to get things done.

3. How to position your incubator team – separated from or integrated into the parent company?
Incubators are teams that can spend dedicated time on innovation. So, to get radical ideas delivered, it’s time for them to step up their games! There is the discussion about what works best: to keep these teams integrated with the parent company (location, P&L, shared team members, ...) or to let them function as a separate unit that has more freedom to operate and dedicated focus. ‘I have been in both situations’, says Tom, ‘and they both have their up and downsides. But I’m slightly more in favor of setting up a separated - yet not isolated - team to get the people into the right future-focused mindset with a full focus.’ The big challenge in this setup is the handover moment. A separated team can feel like an external agency, there is low awareness and attachment to the new ideas that (should by default) challenge the status quo. ‘You have to create the ideal situation so you know the implementation teams will “catch” your concepts and deliver them to the market’, says Tom, ‘ That means involving them in several stage gates but also making sure, in the end, you have to deliver one clear solution that ticks all the boxes so they can run with it!’

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Create a movement, not just an ad!

Tom Domen

4. Adapt your products for e-com.

Ecover already started their digital transformation, but corona is only speeding things up. Online sales have grown a lot for them and so they are exploring what this means for Ecover. Tom says that just selling the same products through a new channel is not enough. E-commerce enables new financial models, new business models, new operational models, and… new products. ‘It’s interesting to think about how products will be impacted by E-com’, says Tom. To name just one: compaction. Many people don’t realize that most cleaners consist of 90% out of the water! On a shelf in the store, seeing them next to each other, it’s hard to explain why you would pay the same for 10% of the product… It does feel strange, you have a perception against you. But online, the argument of saving packaging, transportation cost, storage costs, etc… might work out fine as the shopping experience is so different.

Create a movement, not just an ad!
For years Ecover didn’t do any broadcasting advertising. In finding their voice again, and reconnecting with their core beliefs they have found that their core message doesn’t need to be about product functionality. ‘It’s hard to convince people through advertising’, Tom believes,’ people need to use it, smell it and then be convinced.’ It’s easier for users to connect with your brand if you do good than when you're talking about specifications. Ecover is so confident about their products that they decided to go beyond regular advertising and claim their position as a societal relevant brand. They are starting a movement to get people to fight for more green for their local communities with bold statements, goals, and actions. How can we help them to reconnect with nature? And they are putting their money where their mouth is by investing in renaturing projects and creating more biodiversity again! #fertilizethefuture

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There’s nothing better than re-use! If we can make people re-use things more, that’s definitely my number one!

Tom Domen

6. We need to talk about anti-bac.
The perception of “clean” and “hygiene” is stretched during this corona crisis. The use of antibacterial products has risen massively. Also, Ecover's sister company Method has anti-bac products with a naturally derived lactic acid formula in their portfolio.

‘We should only use antibacterial products when they are needed’, says Tom. He stresses bacteria play a crucial role in our lives. Sterilization is not always the answer. If we’re convinced renaturing is important for us, then we’re not just talking about trees but also about bacteria (pre and pro) and our microbiome.’ It’s a careful balance we have to find in times of Corona. Many specialists confirm that soap and water are just as sufficient to fight the virus if you wash your hands or clean surfaces around the house.

Ecover needs to reassure people that they are safe with their products. ‘I believe some of our customers are even waiting for us to confirm they don’t have to use very aggressive cleaners all the time!’ says Tom, ‘So maybe, especially at this time, we need to start the conversation about hygiene.

7. Get inspired by De Kringwinkel
Tom says he often gets the question: which companies inspire you? And the one example that he loves to share is the Belgian second-hand store De Kringwinkel. They’re not only contributing to a circular economy by giving used furniture and clothing a second (or third) life with new owners, they are also in the social economy, giving jobs and training people who have difficulties finding a job for many reasons. It’s great to see they are economically viable and strong and constantly innovating, finding new ways to service clients, or to create more jobs.

‘There’s nothing better than re-use!’ Tom believes, ‘If we can make people re-use things more, that’s definitely my number one!’

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