Excellent engineering: dare to make (sustainable) choices

Tobias van Sabben (25) is the global sustainability program manager responsible for accelerating Forbo Flooring Systems’ global sustainability efforts. Quite a task for someone his age. But with his education, experience and enormous drive to acquire new knowledge, one that suits him perfectly.

“I was working at Schiphol Airport as an interim service manager and missed the consulting work I had done before; coming in somewhere as an outsider, analyzing a problem, talking to the employees and coming to a solution with the information gained. That’s why I looked for a job at a large consulting firm. I was busy applying for a job when I got a call from Daan Leenman of BuildingCareers. He asked if I was open to another challenge at Forbo and suggested I talk to the HR manager sometime.

Seizing opportunities
At first, I was a bit skeptical. Being from the Rotterdam area, I had never heard of Forbo. Nor had I previously considered working for a company whose brand name I did not know directly. Still, Daan’s story made me curious and not much later I was sitting at Forbo’s table. It was unexpectedly a hugely enjoyable conversation! And the role had much of what I was looking for: a steep learning curve, an advisory role (albeit internally focused), and the chance to engage daily in solving an important problem. The HR manager virtually introduced me to the manager for the position. He saw potential, but had too many doubts given my age and little work experience, and eventually said he did not want to continue with me. Disappointed, but still excited about the position, I decided to write an additional cover letter a few days later, asking to at least meet. It took over a week until I got a response, but then word came that they found my email very persuasive and were happy to engage in the conversation. We were soon on the same page and I was hired.

I completely immersed myself in everything around sustainability, reducing carbon emissions and recycling

Finding your way
The position of global sustainability program manager is right up my alley. That does not mean, by the way, that it came easily to me from day one, or still comes easily to me. It’s a new position and even though I have a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s in Management under my belt, I had a lot to learn. But that’s what I like most, besides being able to do something good for the world. That’s where I get my drive from. I totally immersed myself in everything around sustainability, reducing carbon emissions and recycling. In addition, of course, I have to get to know Forbo’s organization, factories, products and production processes well. I am beginning to find my way better and better after eight months.
Tobias van Sabben

Recycling cutting remnants
Sustainability can be divided into people, climate and economy. From my role, I am particularly concerned with climate issues, in which the reduction of CO2 emissions and the further development of recycling technologies are high on the agenda. In the Netherlands, the initial focus is on the large plants in Assendelft and Coevorden. In Coevorden, we have now commissioned new machines (afterburners) which have significantly reduced CO2 emissions. By the way, Forbo is pioneering the recovery of cut remnants and incorporating them into a new product. For this purpose, we have built a special installation that grinds the remains. This is part of the global recycling program to recover and recycle flooring materials. I am working a lot with European colleagues to further flesh out that program. Sales countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and France, have all established their own recycling programs. It is up to me to identify all the initiatives so that we can share best practices and collectively benefit. Marketing is also a part of this; how do you market it and how do you communicate it to customers.

Fully sustainable operations will require a major organizational change

Cooperation of the whole chain
Another part of my work is collecting and analyzing the waste, water, and CO2 and energy data from the plants. This is how we keep track of where we are with our goals. An awful lot needs to be done incredibly quickly, and important choices need to be made in this regard. Established manufacturing companies with a long history of existence often have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to digital transformation. To operate fully sustainably requires a substantial organizational change. Not just within the organization, but across the chain. It is a collaboration between supplier, industry and the customer. Working on such issues not only gives me tremendous satisfaction but also pleasure.

Career tips for young professionals
Of course, I myself am at the beginning of my career, but if I were to give other young professionals something to take away, it is to not get blinded by a type of position. A clear focus is good, but also try to orient yourself to what else the job market has to offer. Talk to people around you, companies, recruiters about the work they do, dare to ask questions and take risks. In addition, I firmly believe that with enough motivation, anyone can learn anything. Of course you need to gain experience, but there is so much valuable knowledge and information available in books and online that you should be able to make any subject your own. It may be a little difficult at first and two months later you still have to draw the conclusion that it didn’t work out, but at least you tried. In any case, this attitude and commitment has brought me a lot.”

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