My job is to identify the needs of everyone in the team

Journalist: Julia Decker | Photographer: Markus Bertschi | Magazine: Work in progress – November 2020

A customer need, an ecological goal and a major social commitment: these are the ingredients of Mr. Green’s secret to success. The innovative Zurich-based company relies on collaborating with people who are faced with difficult life circumstances or who have disabilities. We spoke with the founder and Managing Director Valentin Fisler about the working world of tomorrow. 

Why is your business model so successful?

There’s a very practical reason for this: we look at the recycling market through the eyes of the customer. Nobody else does this to quite the same extent as us. Recycling used to be a supplier market. There were recycling centres and collection points, but nobody actually asked the customers what they really wanted. What’s more, recycling is a hugely important trend market. Today, people want to be more ecological. A trend that will undoubtedly become even more pronounced in future.

What do diversity and inclusion mean for your company?

Diversity and inclusion are in our company’s DNA. Ever since the foundation of Mr. Green, we’ve been working with social foundations that support people with disabilities, for example. Our customers value the fact that we offer work to these people, which includes helping to collect and sort the recyclable materials. Without this social aspect, the Mr. Green model would be inconceivable. 

What do you mean by difficult life circumstances?

People who’ve been unemployed for a long time, and who’ve left the mainstream employment market. Some people are just kept occupied in any way possible, and others receive government support to help them get structure and routine in their lives so they can re-enter the mainstream employment market. I hear these stories and am moved by them. People have problems that could affect any one of us, like addiction. By working together, there’s a really strong sense of togetherness at Mr. Green.

“From nothing comes nothing – we need more people who are passionate about their ethical and social values.”

Do problems sometimes arise as a result of diversity and inclusion?

Things don’t always run smoothly. Some things have to be explained a number of times or in a very clear way, and we also have to check things sometimes. And although it shouldn’t happen, occasionally a Mr. Green bag might not be collected. But if this does happen, we come back for it. A healthy service mentality is vital of course for our business. But one thing we’ve noticed: if we’re generous, we also find generous customers. In a world of diversity and inclusion, you’ll have issues if you're too strict with yourself and others. Besides a healthy service mentality, what also helps of course is a sense of humour and a big smile. 

Valentin Fisler (33) founded the company Mr. Green ten years ago when he was a student, together with his three flatmates. The qualified business economist is Managing Director of the recycling service provider. Together with another partner, Fisler also runs the project lab “Who is Nik”, an agency for sustainable business. He lives in Zurich.

An attractive work environment is also key to successful company management. What do you offer your employees?

Our corporate culture involves having a purpose that applies to all our activities. People apply to work here because they want to do something meaningful. Mr. Green doesn’t offer a 14-month salary or an extra bonus, but everyone who works here can have a go at something and learn some­thing.

What does success mean to your employees?

Consider this: people with disabilities often make things in workshops that then end up in an online shop and are never ordered. But with us, our customers pay for recycling services and at the same time are offering people a chance to perform meaningful work. This means that the work they do has real purpose. The people who collect and sort the waste feel how valuable their work is. And for them, this means success. And thanks to this, there’s a very special spirit within the company.

How do you motivate your employees?

I’m a motivated person myself, and so I try to motivate others. People are all motivated by different things. My job is to identify the needs of everyone in the team. This way everyone performs their best. Some people feel the benefits of jogging for an hour during the day, many employees have a set day during the week when they work from home. And others, like me, are happy when they can bring their dog to work, for instance.

“All our employees can implement their ideas and are allowed to make mistakes from time to time.”

How do you promote the individual nature of your employees and their own special talents?

At our company, people can’t just do as they please, but they’re given a great deal of freedom. We give them a lot of flexibility to organise their own working hours, for example. All our employees can implement their ideas and are allowed to make mistakes from time to time. If an employee is convinced by a particular idea of theirs, then I would never try to talk them out of it. Instead, I would try to give them my input.

In terms of managing employees, what do you do more successfully today than you did ten years ago when you founded the company?

I’m more patient. I think. Or at least I hope I am. I’m 33 years old now – when I founded the company I was 23. I’ve grown up with Mr. Green. Today, I have a more moderate and more understanding approach.

In which direction might your company develop?

Waste avoidance is the key word. We want to work more in the reduce and re-use sector. When more people use reusable products, then recycling will no longer be needed. We’re aware of this and we see this as an opportunity to expand our offering.

Mr. Green is a recycling service provider. Mr. Green’s private and business customers receive special bags delivered to their home or office. Recyclable materials like plastic, metal, old electronics and drinks cartons can be collected in the Mr. Green bags, without having to first be sorted. The team at Mr. Green collects the full bags from the customer’s premises, sorts the recyclable materials and forwards them for recycling. These materials include drinks cartons and plastic film that private individuals are often unable to recycle otherwise. The company offers employment to people with dis­abilities or who are faced with difficult life circumstances. Mr. Green operates in the cities of Zurich, Bern, Basel, Winterthur and their surroundings.

What new challenges do companies need to meet in future?

I’m seeing a trend towards ecological behaviour, and ideas for alternative business models like post-growth often pop up. Social inclusion and conscious consumption will also play a role. These are things that speak for Mr. Green. But only if we continue to reposition ourselves.

What do you feel society is lacking today?

More people should perhaps stop defining themselves solely by their work. Admittedly, coming from me this may not sound credible, as work is a huge part of my life. But even I need to change how I think. Companies require new models if they don’t want to simply chase profit maximisation. So far, the focus has been on doing things more quickly and more efficiently. We need more people who are passionate about their ethical and social values. This will add a greater human element to business. And maybe we need more wide-reaching measures like alternative economic systems? 

What is your view of the future?

I have a positive outlook. We combine a customer need with social commitment and ecology – this appeals to people. By signing up for our service, customers feel as though they are making a donation in some way. People are happy to be involved in something that is for the greater good. Without just thinking about what’s in it for them. And we’re always keeping an eye on new fields of activity. We see this as an economy with a future.


Valentin Fisler – In the spotlight

What were you doing 20 years ago?
I’m Zurich born and bred. I attended Aemtler secondary school in Zurich. Just around the corner from where our office is today. 20 years ago, I was probably just staring out of the classroom window or playing basketball.

20 years ago, could you have imagined that you’d be a CEO today?
Never. I prefer not to present myself as CEO of the company. I don’t like the idea of there being one person who sits at the top of the tree. I simply find flat hierarchies more pleasant.

Do you have any entrepreneurial role models?
In terms of ethics and ecological values, I look to the American founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. His actions have always been true to his values. No matter whether or not this resulted in short-term gains. This has strengthened his brand and has paid off economically as a result.  

Do you have a personal superhero?
Mr. Green, our company mascot: taking on huge challenges like saving the world while tripping over one’s own feet, but always with
a smile – I can relate to that.

Where do you get your inspiration for good ideas?
I go for walks with my dog. I find inspiration when I’m feeling relaxed rather than when I’m tense. Whether it’s when I’m taking a shower, hiking or having an extended lunch break.

Do you have a good motto?
Yes! Mr. Green’s motto, which is: Together we’ll save the world – a little.