Success Story imec

Sustainable procurement as a catalyst for innovation and value creation

imec – a world leader in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, with a global team of over 5,500 talented employees has its primary presence in Flanders, Belgium. We speak with Wouter Machiels, Chief Procurement Officer at imec, about our partnership, which is based on shared values and a strong bond of trust.

Commencing our story, we introduce imec, which is more than just another R&D hub. The combination of top talent, unique infrastructure, and a worldwide partner network makes them a world leader in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. With a track record of 40 years in driving the microchip roadmap, imec remained at the forefront of advancing chips to be smaller, faster, more affordable, and more sustainable. Every smartphone includes microchip technology invented by imec.
With a global team of over 5,500 talented employees from more than 95 nationalities, imec has its primary presence in Flanders, Belgium. The seamless fusion of cutting-edge microchip technology with profound data and AI knowledge is what sets imec apart. While microchip technology is at the core of what imec does, their impact extends significantly across key application domains, playing a vital role in advancing innovation in health, mobility, energy, agrifood, industry 5.0, and data- and telecom.
The foundation of imec’s strategy and success is reflected in their collaborative ecosystem, bringing together the entire nanoelectronics value chain. Competitors work side by side in imec’s world-class cleanrooms. Imec fosters a strong connection with the academic world which nurtures their innovative excellence, and is committed to stimulating entrepreneurship and kickstarting remarkable technology start-ups by offering easy access to chip development, prototyping and production services.
This is how imec is actively shaping the future and embracing the promise of a better life.

We speak with Wouter Machiels, Chief Procurement Officer at imec, about our partnership, which is based on shared values and a strong bond of trust.

Wouter, you are inspired by all things related to procurement. Can you elaborate a little on that?

I’m inspired by procurement and leadership topics. What is inspiring to me about procurement is that it is crucial to running a successful business! To leverage its full potential, it is essential to establish procurement as an end-to-end business function, positioning it as a hub of value creation, rather than a cost center. We are dedicated to delivering value for our internal stakeholders, while consistently aligning these efforts with the corporate strategy. Our storyline is therefore always about value delivery, whereas when we talk about costs, it is always from a total cost of ownership vantage point.
I have been Chief Procurement Officer at imec for three years now. Before that, I was in charge of global procurement at a large industrial company for more than ten years. And in addition to my main job, I am also a member of the Board of Management of SCORPEON, the largest procurement and supply chain networking organization in Belgium. In fact, one of my goals there is to take the procurement and supply chain function to the next level.

You also have a strong focus on sustainable innovation. How do you reconcile strategic procurement with sustainable innovation?

Your question strikes at the heart of the problem, because it suggests that procurement and sustainability are somehow incompatible. However, this is a prevailing misconception today that I would like to make a thing of the past. After all, sustainability is not more expensive, more time-consuming, or only relevant for a small subset of society. On the contrary, we can drive innovation and competitive advantage through sustainable development. But if we want to convey the benefits of sustainable procurement, we need to think about our messaging.


Wouter Machiels, Chief Procurement Officer at imec
imec headquarter in Leuven, Belgium

And what is the right messaging in your opinion?

Sustainable procurement contributes to reducing risks associated with climate change and resource depletion. This statement is absolutely correct, but generally it does not tend to excite people (I am lucky to work in a company that differs from the norm). So instead, I say: “Sustainable procurement ensures long-term resource availability and reduces vulnerability to supply chain disruptions.” The content is essentially the same, but I shift the perspective. If we set up our supply chains in a sustainable way, with sustainable procurement at the core, we will drive resilience, and that should be a strong motivator for all of us today.  Especially since it also answers other corporate headaches, caused by geopolitical tension, etc.

How are you implementing this at imec? Are your suppliers required to meet certain criteria?

As a research and development center, we want to come up with disruptive innovations that make the impossible possible – reflecting our corporate tagline ‘”Embracing a better life”. To realize sustainable value, you need a long-term mindset. You don’t get the ROI within one fiscal year. So, my call to action is to integrate sustainable innovation into the procurement strategy to gain a competitive advantage in the market.

Sustainability and innovative strength are part of our DNA. Organizations like imec – pioneers of innovation – must set a positive example and stay true to their core identity. To do so, we need like-minded partners. When I joined imec, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we had a long-standing partnership with CHG-MERIDIAN, which has the same values enshrined in its DNA.

A look inside imec's cleanroom.

What were the key factors that led to the trust and partnership you have today?

It started in 2018 with a leasing agreement for laptops and infrastructure, for which annual investments range between € 2M and € 5M. Our engineers and scientists require high-performance IT equipment. Of course, it is part of my role as a purchaser to challenge costs to ensure that our business remains competitive. And I am choosing my words carefully when I say that, to me, CHG-MERIDIAN is not just a supplier but a partner who delivers added value for imec in ways that are not immediately obvious from our balance sheet. Sustainable procurement is not just about buying sustainable products but also about finding suppliers that operate sustainably. It is extremely important to think about how we do business and what we do to protect the environment and take account of social factors, so that we can use procurement as a driver for sustainable innovation.

Could you give an example to illustrate this point?

One of the key objectives of my procurement strategy for imec is to become more sustainable every year. With the help of CHG-MERIDIAN, we can give our capital assets a second lifecycle in alignment with the principles of the circular economy. This circularity aspect is very important to us. The best way to minimize our environmental footprint would be to not procure any new devices at all. But that is simply not compatible with our business model. When CHG-MERIDIAN presented its carbon-neutral leasing model, carbonZER0, I was on board straight away. Together with Joelle Tcherkezian, Senior Key Account Manager and Rony Timmermans, Executive Vice President Finance South-Western Europe, we presented the added value of this solution to Filip Merckx, our Chief Financial Officer. Herein lies the value of our partnership.  

I also have a very good collaboration with Wim Fyen, our Sustainability Director, which is based on mutual trust where we keep each other informed, discuss issues, occasionally resolve disagreements and constantly challenge the status quo. This cultivates fertile ground for sustainable innovation. We are not looking for one big breakthrough that eclipses everything else. Consequently, we present an alternative solution to outright purchasing to our internal customers, prompting them to reconsider their business approach, thereby increasing awareness and fostering a shift in mindset. Last year, to give one example, we transitioned from purchasing to leasing for our material handling equipment.

Could this be best practice for other companies that want to make their procurement more sustainable?

What we strive for, are lots of small steps, that together have a big impact. It starts with me, generating the impact I can have on my microscale and inspiring my co-workers. But to be able to deliver value through sustainable development and innovation, you need a mandate from top management and an overarching strategy to tie into, and I am lucky enough to have this at imec. Imec, as a company that is always at the forefront of innovation, takes the responsibility to be inspirational to the outside world and be true to its DNA. These steps prove that procurement is a key lever that companies can use to boost their value creation and sustainability.

Our collaboration with CHG-MERIDIAN is extremely helpful to me in achieving my goal of giving imec a competitive edge by becoming more sustainable every year.

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