Roetz: 'Circularity with Social Impact is in our DNA!' | Knowledge Hub | Circle Lab
Business case
Roetz: 'Circularity with Social Impact is in our DNA!'
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ABOUT ROETZ BIKES

Roetz, a social enterprise founded in 2011 in Amsterdam, aims to achieve circularity and boost inclusive labour participation. Its initial business was based on the reuse principle: ‘rescuing’ discarded bikes and recycling their parts. Founder Tiemen ter Hoeven had a eureka moment when he noticed that repurposing and remanufacturing in the automotive industry was quite common, but lacking in the bicycle industry. And the result? A collection of sustainably repurposed bicycles ready for a new life. With the motto, ‘every bike is unique’, Roetz has made repurposing an integral part of its commercial and operational activities since 2015.

Beyond manufacturing, Roetz operates as a social enterprise. The Roetz Fair Factory Foundation was established in August 2016 with the goal of empowering people who are in a vulnerable employment position and have difficulties finding a job. Since its inception, the foundation has enabled more than 70 people to find or regain their happiness at work and to participate in the labour process. Once the worker comes on board, a dedicated mentor guides them. Production of the bicycles is done in a space curated to include those with special needs or long-term unemployment. In addition, Roetz encourages its workers, and makers, to study for a diploma which improves their job prospects, after which it assists them in finding suitable employment—for example at one of Roetz’s suppliers or dealers.

Currently, Roetz has approximately 45 makers in the factory. In 2021, over 1,600 bicycles were designed and almost 8,000 bicycles were repaired.

OPPORTUNITY FOR HRM IN ROETZ 

1. The main opportunity in Roetz is achieving its dual mission of operating a standardised training programme for skilling people distant from the labour market while simultaneously having to innovate and develop new skills for creating the circular bike. 

2. Following the covid-19 pandemic, bicycle assembly factories and distributors are facing difficulties in fulfilling the growing demand for bikes (and especially e-bikes). As more distributors turn to remanufacture as a viable solution, Roetz has a huge potential to streamline this momentum and capitalise on this opportunity by unlocking partnerships with companies that rent and lease bikes. Their recent partnership with Swapfiets serves as an example of this opportunity. HRM can support the development of such partnerships by assessing the opportunities and deploying the best mix of internal resources. This is also an opportunity for Roetz to increase the company’s visibility to a larger audience. 

Solution

ROETZ’S CIRCULAR JOURNEY 

- Roetz is an exemplary case of a socially-minded business that is incrementally embracing circular principles, starting in the bike refurbishing sector. It has gained expertise in remanufacturing and has recently set itself the goal of producing the world's first circular bike. To deliver this ambition, it has embedded the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy in its operations.   

- Currently, the company achieves 30-40% circularity in its Roetz Bike Collection, and 70% circularity in the OV-fiets bike fleet—largely due to the homogeneity of the OV-fiets fleet. 

- Aside from the technical and skilling aspects, what sets the company apart from its competitors is its Fair Factory and its mission. This foundational social perspective of the company is a critical—yet often overlooked—pillar of the circular economy. When the company hires employees, they do not ask for a résumé or recommendations. Instead, they look for certain characteristics such as strong-mindedness, honesty, and an exceptional eye for detail. Further, an important aspect of the Fair Factory is that it gives workers the chance to obtain an industry-recognised and publicly accredited ‘Certified Bicycle Technician’ diploma. After receiving the diploma, workers are counselled, according to their skills and mindset, and matched to the most suitable employment option. In 2021, Roetz guided twelve people to a paid job, for example at Urban Arrows (an e-cargo bike manufacturer).

- Roetz actively collaborates with public agencies: mainly with vocational (MBO) VET institutions and unemployment agencies. In 2021, five makers followed a secondary vocational education (MBO) course in Cycling Technology at the Roetz factory, leading to two makers obtaining the Roetz practical skills certificate. Currently, there is an effort to synergise the Roetz skill certification with official VET certifications.

- In 2021, the company launched a campaign, ‘One Planet One Bike’ to support consumer awareness about the scarcity of raw materials and the importance of preventing waste streams by showing how old bicycles can be reused.

- Another way the company has embraced circularity has been through partnerships with various companies in order to assist its business partners with their ‘end of life’ bicycles. For example, its 2021 partnership and pilot project with Swapfiets (a bike fleet of over 200,000 lease bikes across Europe) and CycleShare (a bike rental and lease company with rental operations at holiday parks, resorts, and hotels across the Benelux).

“Our key to success? We involve our people! We look at each station and ask: what could be improved here? What does the employee need to do something better or faster? So really looking together at how we can optimize something, not imposing anything. In this way people's self-esteem also grows, which is really key.”

- Ellen Heeres – Director of Fair Factory Foundation 

Additional information

HRM SPECIFIC OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN THE CIRCULAR JOURNEY

1. What sets Roetz apart is its operations and how they involve its workers in optimising their processes. And how do they do this? By focusing on creating an enabling environment that promotes employee initiative and out-of-the-box thinking. The golden rule is open communication and understanding that everyone makes mistakes, but that learning from them is key. Such a learning approach has been instrumental in the production of the circular bike; a novel product that requires skills and knowledge that are still under development. 

2. From the beginning, Roetz has been a training centre for sustainable bike production. The in-house job coach at Roetz is in charge of training and upskilling, a process that is seen as a task-based improvement journey that equips workers with new capabilities. The job coach watches over everyone in the workplace and ensures a safe atmosphere among the employees. Its people-centred optimization approach is focused on understanding what each person needs in order to perform their job and then adjusting the tasks accordingly within the possible capacity of the person. 

3. One of the most refreshing, yet challenging, aspects of the company has been working with employees who are distanced from the labour market. Working with such a diverse group of employees has made the company culture much more empathetic and sensitive. However, because of language and cultural barriers, the company has to continuously adapt and tailor their approaches