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Sustainability on the frontline

10 July 2020
Leander van der Wal
Leander van der Wal

Where do our SE alumni end up? For this edition of Connect we talk to Leander van der Wal, who graduated last year and has worked for the Ministry of Defence since November. His goal? To contribute to society by increasing sustainability within the Department, and, by doing so, gaining enough inspiration and experience to start his own sustainable enterprise. After all, an entrepreneurial mindset is not easy to lose.

By Fardau Bamberger

Within the department Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), Leander has the task of advising in the field of sustainability in the broadest sense. He advises on acquiring clothing and weaponry, but also heavier materiel, such as trucks. “Like most organizations we are constantly aiming for a balance between sustainability and affordability, but as the Ministry is expected to respond to conflict situations as well, we are dealing with a certain time pressure on top of that. Moreover, the sustainable way is not yet the most logical way for everyone. The Ministry of Defence is a large department, which means that many old, ingrained processes are at work. I see it as a positive challenge and despite having worked here for just a few months, I can already see results. Such changes in company culture take a lot of change management to succeed.”

Links to practice

To achieve these results, Leander applies many skills he refined during his master’s at Campus Fryslân. After gaining a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, a master’s degree in Strategic Innovation Management and subsequently working for the UG’s Green Office, Leander decided to start the Sustainable Entrepreneurship master’s in Leeuwarden, in search of a study programme that links to practice. “In Leeuwarden I found what I was looking for: practical training, a lot of guest speakers, tutorials and more focus on personal development.”

Entrepreneurial mindset

“To be honest, in my current job I use everything that I learned during the master’s,” he laughs. “What really stands out is the necessity of an integrated approach: involving all stakeholders and making it clear that you can only reach sustainability when it’s a collective effort. I quote papers and make use of the theoretical knowledge I have, which effectively activates people.” His master’s thesis on circular business models turns out to be of good use as well. “It’s an emerging topic, as many organizations are starting to realize that circularity is not only better for the environment, it’s also an opportunity to save and make money.”

So even though Leander is now employed by the government, his mindset will always be that of an entrepreneur. “In the end I would love to start my own sustainable enterprise, but what shape that will take is still unclear. I have so many ideas, but for now my focus is on gaining more experience.” He is not in a hurry; for the time being he is happy to work at the Ministry. “This position just happened to come my way. When you start to take action, things get set in motion. Recently a political party in Amsterdam invited me to brainstorm with them about waste processing – so who knows what that will lead to!”

This article originally appeared in Connect summer 2020.

Last modified:23 July 2020 1.50 p.m.
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