3 Valuable sustainability lessons from my interview with Karin Nettenbreijers

3 Valuable sustainability lessons from my interview with Karin Nettenbreijers

A conversation about Sustainability, Education and the Future. 

A while ago I contacted Karin from BewustWijzer to ask if she was interested in participating in a series of interviews I’m conducting on impactful sustainable entrepreneurs. I’m so happy she agreed to participate. 

Karin founded BewustWijzer (EcoConscious Learning) in 2012. She was asked by the school director of her kids to develop a method to implement sustainability at his primary school. The program she developed in close cooperation with the teachers "was so powerful, that it fulfilled [her] dream of just having some impact in changing the world into a sustainable planet." Today the method is in place for both primary- and secondary schools.

Definitely a changemaker!

We talked about the value of education, the importance of social enterprises (in relation to non-profit organisations) and the new economy. And I'd like to share some of the highlights with you.


Sustainability and awareness by education

After some short introductions, Karin enthusiastically starts talking about her mission:

"It’s really important that we do this now. However, sustainability is not hot, hip and happening in education right now. It is not the mainstream way of thinking, working and living yet. When you ask on the street, how do you feel about preparing our kids for the future cradle-to-cradle economy, almost everyone agrees that this needs to be done. However, when we ask the schools to participate, they are bound to other priorities. Sometimes we feel like the [Dutch] engineer in 1953* who warned that the dikes were not strong enough. Then the high tide and storm showed up and the dikes broke. Although different, we have a similar feeling. We think that the need of urgency is high. It is not ‘a nice subject to have along the already existing curriculum’, sustainability in education is a ‘must have’.

If we want the next generation to have a mindset like ‘hey, there’s only one planet Earth and we need to rebalance it’, the primary- and secondary schoolkids need to undertake some action. Because scientific research shows that the earlier a child learns the better it is. But when students leave school and the most important thing that matters is ‘are you able to reproduce the lessons learned in the old economy, they go into the funnel of the linear system. That is something I do not wish and I feel the urge to change this, to add value and to create measurable impact. That is also the strength of our organisation, impact first!”

*The 1953 North Sea flood (Dutch: Watersnoodramp, literally "flood disaster") was a major flood caused by a heavy storm that happened in the night of 31 January 1953 - 1 February 1953. The floods struck the South of the Netherlands. More than 1.800 people lost their lives and widespread property damage affected villages and farmers.​


Karin's bottom-up approach to change is really inspiring. Through education we’ll be able to achieve the level of awareness we need to start making a difference.


Instead of a non-profit institution

Karin is really driven to make a difference. Here’s what she says about that:

"What I’d like to prove is that, if we look back ten years from now, the students that have participated are significantly more aware of sustainability and closing to loops on behalf of the circular economy. Especially because I want to do things that have meaning and are measurable. And not that people will say: Karin’s hobby has gotten out of hand, it’s nice, but… it shouldn’t be occupational therapy. That’s also the reason why we chose to be a social enterprise, and not a non-profit institution. So we’re not subsidy driven, and don’t rely on one way sponsorships.”

"[We provide] good quality and [are] distinctive.
We want to make a difference."

 —Karin from BewustWijzer

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When I ask her why it’s so important to be a social enterprise, she quickly replies:​

“We're running into a wall, especially due to the highly subsidized environment we’re in and the fact that the education world is a settled and closed network. We choose [to be a social enterprise]. I feel we need to do it this way, because if we look for subsidies, we would go to the schools and they get it for ‘free’. There will be no client-supplier relationship and they do not feel the urge to imbed the method in their curriculum. That’s what I’m struggling with as a sustainable entrepreneur.”

“Companies and schools pay us for our services. Our services differ from the established order. We do support the teachers in making and giving the ‘sustainable’ lessons, we connect schools and organization and we offer a platform where experiences and skills can be exchanged. Schools and organization who worked together with us are satisfied with the product that we deliver. We do not talk about innovation in education we just do it!”


I totally agree with Karin. When you offer your services for free or highly subsidised, it’s so much harder to motivate people to participate. I’m happy that Karin takes a different approach. She offers her services, clients pay her and they get a great product in return. They buy the service because it’s good quality, not just because it’s sustainable. You need to provide a service or product that is great and delivers results. And the way Karin talks about the ‘BewustWijzer’ approach, it does.

So, as sustainable entrepreneurs, we need to start by sending out messages focussing on the benefits of our products and services —not only the sustainable ones, but also (read: mainly) the functional benefits. What’s in it for our clients, our customers? What problem does it solve in their daily lives? This —in combination with our sustainable message, will enable us to make that difference.


We zoom out a little bit and have a look at it from an economic perspective. Karin shares her view on how we should approach sustainability on this level:

“What is happening right now, with sustainable business models and the sustainability mindset —if you take a look at what’s happening with for example Uber and Airbnb etc.— they are in really tough competitive areas. Areas that belong to the old economy.​

What it’s all about in the new economy we’re all talking about here —the circular economy and thinking in cycles— is that we’re competing with each other, we envy each other and only go for margin and growth. But that’s probably not the ultimate sustainable way.​

If we’re going for closing the cycles and prepare the students for doing so they’ll create a new business model, where the client literally is the centre of attention and our world will be in balance. Profit will not be the reason to do business but prosperity counts. They will make it happen, they will make that transition.”​


We need to move away from competition, margin and growth —towards customer-centered entrepreneurship. The route of education that Karin is taking, sounds like a really promising one.​


I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Karin for participating in this interview and sharing her thoughts! We definitely need more changemakers like her.

If you think: “I like these kind of articles, and I have a great story that I’d like to share as well.” Great! Just fill out this short questionnaire and I’ll contact you as soon as possible to schedule an interview.

​And if you’re interested in learning more about Karin and Bewustwijzer (EcoConscious Learning), definitely visit:​

Atelier Pan | Interview BewustWijzer

Sustainable together!


Atelier Pan | Outstanding Visual Identities for Changemakers

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