Q&A with Joakim Karlsson, CEO of Envac

With growing international pressure to recycle and a rapidly growing global population, Envac looks set to become the natural smart waste collection solution. But who is responsible for leading the company towards continued success and what is their vision for the future? This Q&A with Envac AB’s Chief Executive, Joakim Karlsson, reveals all.

Describe Envac in three words
Smart waste collection.

What is your vision for Envac over the next five years?
To double our daily users to 10 million, establish Envac as a utility that’s a natural component of a city’s infrastructure, similar to electricity, gas and telecommunications, and ensure that out of all the waste collection systems currently on the market, people prefer using Envac than any other.

What can we expect from Envac in 2017?
We have just launched the next generation of our automation platform, which will add value to our customers and their users through making the process of underground waste transportation more efficient. We have finalised our WasteSmart solution, which is a new development that will significantly reduce the operational cost of waste collection for our customers. I expect these projects to deliver huge gains in 2017 and coming years as we can also integrate them within existing installations.

The hospital market represents a huge opportunity for Envac and we expect to see our sales within this particular sector double next year. Finally, 2017 will be a big year for Optibag given the rate at which we’re developing the international market for optical sorting waste technology and we also expect to strengthen our position in China, India and North America.

What three key factors will help drive Envac's future global expansion?
There are currently three overriding elements that are pushing global communities towards embracing resource efficient waste systems. Not just systems that meet countries’ environmental obligations but also those that make them more resilient, safe and inclusive. For example, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to transform the world by 2030, calls for resilient infrastructure, inclusivity and sustainable industrialisation and innovation. The very fact that Envac has proven to be a resource efficient, resilient and inclusive solution to the waste management challenges facing cities around the world means that it meets all aspects of this target.

Similarly, the Paris Climate Agreement that resulted from the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015 is a legally binding global climate deal that requires governments and societies in 195 countries to limit global warming through carbon reduction. The nature of our technology, which reduces waste collection vehicle movements and the associated carbon emissions by up to 90 per cent, means that Envac has an opportunity to play a large role in shaping sustainable communities and contributing towards achieving targets laid out in the agreement.

Finally, the EU Circular Economy Concept, which aims to promote greater recycling and reuse, has set a common EU target for recycling municipal and packaging waste by 65 per cent and 75 per cent respectively by 2030. This will drive behaviour change, which, in turn, will see more and more cities and countries move towards systems that minimise negative environmental impact. Fortunately, Envac is well positioned to meet the goals and targets set out by these three prominent global political agendas and this, against the backdrop of growing urbanisation and densification, is creating more demand for smart urban management solutions such as ours.

Similarly, what are Envac’s main barriers to future growth?
For innovative technology such as Envac to succeed, it needs strong political leadership and a commitment by countries’ governments to integrate cleaner, smarter and more sustainable technologies within the urban realm. Whilst governments in many of the territories in which we operate fully support our technology and welcome the opportunities that it brings, there are some that are not yet fully ready to break away from the traditional way of doing things.

Another key barrier is the short-sighted, profit-driven nature of many developers in the western world. To combat this, developers need to understand both the immediate and long-term benefits of installing Envac and be made aware of their role in shaping an area’s legacy. We recognise that this is a critical component of Envac’s growth strategy and plan to embark on a programme that seeks to communicate this on an on-going basis.

Out of over 800 installations worldwide, which one are you most proud of - and why?
I’m particularly proud of our installation in Bergen, one of the most beautiful and oldest cities in Northern Europe. Not only does it demonstrate the full potential of our system but also how much can be achieved with strong leadership at local government level. Bergen is a trailblazer and a city that reflects Envac’s vision and values. It has taken the bold decision to integrate our technology within  its century old city centre, in addition to other environmental technologies such as citywide district energy, and reaped the rewards as a result. When it comes to showcasing how Envac works within inner-city environments and in conjunction with other environmental technologies, Bergen is groundbreaking.

What - or who - has been your main inspiration throughout your career?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that I’ve had the privilege of working with some exceptional people who have taught me a great deal and been a great source of inspiration. My first manager, the former President of Envac North Europe, Staffan Eriksson, had a simple approach to business, which was know your clients, help your clients and build friendships with your clients. He had a huge and positive impact on my professional career.

When not at work, how do you like to unwind?
An early round of golf on a beautiful, sunny day and playing tennis with my family.

You’re a keen sportsman. What are your sporting passions?
Sport plays a big role in my life. As a child I dreamt of becoming a professional footballer however like my children, I now play more tennis than anything else. I believe that there are many similarities between sport and business; just as I love to win at sport I love seeing the fruits of a team’s work when those in it work well together.
Which living person or people do you most admire, and why?
My children. They’re amazing.

What is your favourite book?
The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life, by Robin Sharma.