Accountability and Sustainability are Necessary to Reach the Finish Together

The new chairman of the MPS board, Marco van der Sar, has a clear goal in sight: 2040. That year has been designated by Glastuinbouw Nederland as the target year for making the sector climate neutral. “That’s why we need to pick up the pace together,” Van der Sar says. In this introductory interview, he explains more about how the ornamental horticulture sector can do that and what role MPS plays in it.

Marco van der Sar (41) has no specific roots in horticulture, but he grew up in the Westland area. “Needless to say, I worked in a greenhouse, and after graduating in Business Administration I joined Royal FloraHolland and then Dümmen Orange. I got to learn a lot in those years, but most of all I became passionate about ornamental horticulture and the complexity of such an emotional consumer product in an international supply chain. Since 2020, I have been running my own business. I was chairman of Unicum Freesia and am still chairman of the Flower Council of Holland. I also work for other clients on an interim basis.”

Delivering executive capacity to implement plans
MPS is now one of those clients. “Last year, the MPS board was looking for an independent chairman. That search brought them to me. I spent a while thinking about it: am I the right person? I spoke to various growers and exporters and got the confirmation: MPS is relevant and helps businesses to operate more effectively and more sustainably. But MPS is not a given; it needs to continue to adapt to the market.”

With his network, knowledge and enthusiasm, Van der Sar wants to help boost the visibility of MPS in the discussion about sustainability, but above all to enhance the executive capacity needed to implement the sector’s ambitions. “We need to pick up the pace now if we are to realise our ambitions by 2040. I see MPS as a prerequisite for growers to be able to meet the requirements of the market.”

That’s a challenge, but one that Van der Sar is well suited to handle: “I like complex challenges and achieving things through collaboration.” To do so, the chairman can rely on a network that he has built up both within and outside the sector through his work experience. “If you add to that the fact that MPS and MPS-ECAS are mature, professional organisations, I am confident that we can get things done together with entrepreneurs.”

Flowers and plants for a better world
Van der Sar sees plenty of opportunities to help producers – through MPS, but also through MPS-ECAS. “MPS delivers data registration, certificates and footprint calculation and ensures that the reports help producers become more sustainable. MPS-ECAS is a separate company focused on validating information, but it therefore also plays a crucial role in achieving the ambitions. Or as I see it: 1 + 1 = 3. With MPS and MPS-ECAS we help producers organise their data and we can ensure sustainability and reliability across the board.”

As prosperity increases, he expects that more people will buy more flowers and plants. “Flowers and plants make people healthier and happier, which is why I believe that there is a strong market for floriculture, provided that it is produced sustainably. So you have to ask yourself what the best solution is for doing that, in what circumstances and where.”

The Netherlands as a hub
The Netherlands is an important hub for that production in Europe, although you should also look further afield, according to Van der Sar. “I very much believe in producing in the most efficient place. A greenhouse is the best place for producing most flowers and plants in the Netherlands. Producing in Africa or South America can also be a good option, as long as we make sure that conditions at the production sites and logistics are as future-proof as possible.”

MPS can contribute to this with data registration and validation, he adds. “Accountability is becoming increasingly important for producers, both to customers and legislators. As MPS, we must support growers with good tools and provide insights and inspiration. MPS-ECAS can then validate that.”
As an example, Van der Sar cites the HortiFootprint Calculator, which complies with the European FloriPEFCR standard. This is currently being tested with customer data. “Customers are already asking for a footprint number. In the future, it’s certainly conceivable that this will become a statutory requirement or that a bank will make it a condition of a loan, for example. MPS can assist businesses with validated data, independently registered and verified, to strengthen the position of producers and ensure the data is well-protected.”

More technology for more nature
The ultimate aim of all this data registration and validation is to leave the planet in a slightly better state than we received it. Van der Sar envisages a positive role for horticulture in this. “We can already see that consuming less isn’t working and doesn’t necessarily need to, so we have to look at the footprint. Fortunately, this is getting lower for European consumers compared to twenty years ago. People abroad look with admiration at our horticulture cluster here and how we get innovations done. At the same time, there is still a lot to improve on the production side looking ahead.”

With production growing in the Netherlands – but also elsewhere, for example in Southern Europe, Germany, Kenya, Ethiopia and South America – and market rules tightening, it is important to remain positive and, above all, to help. “So I am definitely not negative about horticulture. I believe in the power of technology and that, as people, we can solve things. The greenhouse is a very good example of this: you can maximise production using as little land as possible. You can then use the rest of the land for other things – hopefully for nature.”

Crossing the finish line cheering
To achieve these goals, Van der Sar is primarily seeking allies. With the Tour de France in the diary – and the Tour de France Femmes, which will traverse the Westland area – Van der Sar illustrates his point with a cycling metaphor. “We are here for the breakaway and the peloton, and we want to focus our time and energy on them. FSI, Royal FloraHolland and numerous other organisations have already done a lot to get companies involved.”

Now the ball is in the growers’ court when it comes to the energy transition, labour, crop protection, water and biodiversity. “MPS can offer solutions for moving in the right direction to achieve the ambitions by 2040. And then I hope that MPS will be in the breakaway and that as a sector we can cross the finish line cheering and offer consumers a fantastic product.”