Disruptive innovations in a sustainable world

Meet The Alumni: Marjolein Bakker

May 2 2019
“By now, a beautiful journey of sixteen months is about to end.
I hope this thesis will show an appropriate goodbye to my academic time here and that you can enjoy reading this thesis as much as I enjoyed writing it.”                 

Marjolein Bakker, an alumna of the Full-time MSc in International Management, has recently embarked on a collaboration to publish her thesis as an article. Joining her in this effort are Prof André Nijhof and Dr Henk Kievit, both professors at Nyenrode Business University. Her Master’s thesis, “Exploring Encroachment: value propositions and the role of disruptive innovation in attracting new customers”, examines the type of innovation that drives new customers to buy a particular value proposition. The provocative title of Bakker’s forthcoming article reads: “Can the customer still be king in the era of sustainability?”

Sustainable products

“How can a company ensure that more people choose a sustainable innovation?” By “choose” in this case, Bakker means “buy”. “I’ve always been particularly interested in social sustainability. But how can you actually influence your customers to make this choice? One phenomenon that could account for such an influence on customers is disruptive innovation: that is, when a new product completely replaces the existing market, like the USB stick did with floppy disks. This theory had never previously been examined in the context of sustainability. In the thesis, I set out to find my answers.”

Bakker explored this qualitative question at a wide range of companies within the retail sector, including: IKEA, Zara, LUSH, Nespresso, Tony’s Chocolonely and Dopper. How has Tony’s managed to attract so many consumers and achieve such tremendous growth, for instance? What makes a Nespresso capsule so special in the customer’s eyes? And why are the sustainably farmed eggs flying off the shelves at Albert Heijn?

Bakker was able to identify a new concept within the value propositions she studied: ‘Transparency Encroachment’ – the process in which a player from a new or existing market captures a portion of the market share. By implementing transparency in a particular manner, as explained later in this article, sales for sustainability value propositions can be increased. In making this observation, Bakker noticed that three aspects are crucial in order to boost revenue. The combination of these factors resulted in better sales in the cases examined.

First and foremost: awareness. Companies should create awareness among customers through supply chain transparency: in other words, being open about their processes and collaboration with suppliers and purchasers throughout the entire chain. Tony’s Chocolonely, for example, divides its chocolate bars into uneven pieces as a way of symbolizing the situation in the cocoa industry. This transparency is then seen and understood by consumers.

Second: a unique experience. This engages the customer in the current sustainability problem and its associated consequences: a negative impact on social and environmental aspects. An example is Tony’s distinctive ambition for its factory to be ‘the Heineken Experience for chocolate’. Nespresso’s pilot shops offer one-on-one in-store service and an exclusive club for ordering the capsules, among other things. This adds to the customer’s feeling of not just drinking ordinary coffee, but being a coffee connoisseur.

The third and final factor: customer contribution to sustainable solutions. When a consumer purchases a product that contributes to sustainability, the brand should make sure that he or she is aware of this fact. The customer is an essential link in this process of achieving sustainability. Bakker gives the example of Dopper: each time a consumer fills up a Dopper, he or she is helping to create a sustainable world by foregoing single-use plastic bottles. Another example is LUSH, which offers its customers the opportunity to exchange five empty containers for a fresh face mask in order to encourage recycling. In doing so, the brand is able to raise awareness, give consumers a good feeling and include its customer base in building a better, more sustainable world. The consumer is therefore part of the sustainability effort in this last step.


Bakker says the ball started rolling after she defended her Master’s thesis. André Nijhof and Frank Lekanne Deprez saw potential in the thesis and proposed writing an article based on it. The challenge: “Trim the thesis down to 10,000 words.” While Bakker doesn’t yet know exactly when the article “Can the customer still be king in the era of sustainability?” will be published, she does know that it will also appear in The European Journal of Marketing and be used as mandatory course material in the Modular executive MBA program: Future entrepreneurship and the practice of sustainability. “I had the feeling that this topic really meant something.”


In the preface to her thesis, Bakker writes that she previously wanted to become a V&D manager, but explains that times have changed since then. She is currently a Junior Buyer at construction firm BAM, a role which she really enjoys. In her work for BAM, Bakker focuses mainly on the MC2019 project at Schiphol Airport Sustainability and supplier involvement play a major role in this project. Bakker finds it difficult to say what her ambition is: “How many people are going to read this?!”, she asks with a laugh. She says that she’s just getting started and she definitely has goals. In addition to this article, Bakker has collaborated with a group of professionals from ten sectors on a second follow-up to the book “Changing the Food Game”. The book will be released this summer. Bakker explains that the entrepreneurial and international atmosphere at the airport is a very appealing part of her job. People at BAM are also open to new ideas, which brings a nice dose of freedom to the role. “I'm eager to see what opportunities will come my way in the future. For now, I’ll be logging lots of flight time!”

Experience with Nyenrode

Bakker stumbled across Nyenrode by chance, through a friend and alumna whom she met on her first trip. She knew that she wanted to pursue a master’s degree in International Management in order to maintain a competitive advantage as she started her career. She found the combination of practical and academic aspects interesting, and after the Experience Weekend she was convinced. “What really appealed to me is the way people interact with each other at Nyenrode, and the enterprising attitude. The motto around here is: Make it happen!”

Bakker describes her time at Nyenrode as extremely valuable in many ways: friendships for life, major personal development, academic knowledge and of course her forthcoming article!

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