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Commitment is at the heart of their business. These men and women are inspired by the world to act differently and sustainably, making their environment a channel for expression, creativity, innovation and solidarity. Finance, culture, crafts, industry and the media are just some of the fields embodied by these personalities, who agreed to take part in the Proust questionnaire in La Mèche mode. What are their enduring secrets? As far as you’re concerned, they’re spilling the beans.
Production: Cornland Studio

Nicolas Freudiger is co-founder and CEO of ID Genève Watches. After completing his studies at EHL in 2015 and a short career in the corporate world, Nicolas decided to pursue his childhood dream and create a new identity in the world of watchmaking, based entirely on sustainable development and the integration of circular materials with a carbon footprint below the industry average.

As a true agent of change, the brand injects a positive force into the world of watchmaking, striving to prove that luxury, watchmaking expertise and sustainability are not mutually exclusive concepts, but can on the contrary generate a new vision of watchmaking that responds to the challenges of our time, provided we have the courage to question our achievements and explore new avenues, sometimes beyond the boundaries of the industry. ID Genève watches are not mere accessories, but true statements of style and conviction.


I think it really clicked when I asked myself, “What do I do every day and what impact do I have on society?”


Transcription

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Nicolas Freudiger and co-founder of ID Genève. It’s a new identity in the world of watchmaking, based on a value chain that promotes sustainable development.

What’s your current state of mind?

Quite dynamic I must say! We’re  in the middle of our launch, we launched in December and now it’s April* and I still feel like we’re in the starting blocks.

What’s your main character trait?

Very resilient. When I set myself an idea or a goal, I normally achieve it. It’s important to me.

What does it mean to be green today?

I don’t think being green is enough anymore. I always say in English that “now sustainability is cool” but I think the idea with a circular economy is to go further than that. We want to go one step further than sustainable development and think in circular terms.

Who inspires you and why? 

I mainly think it’s our parents before we start with other celebrities. Our parents inspire us in everyday life, and my father, a civil engineer, has always inspired us to recycle, long before the “sustainability is cool” movement. My co-founders inspire me every day with their thinking, and it’s nice to have two other co-founders who think differently and have other lifestyles.

What triggered your desire to get involved?

For 4 years I worked in the corporate world, I was at Coca-Cola Switzerland in Zurich, and I think the real turning point came when I asked myself the question: “What do I do every day and what impact do I have on society?”  I had to ask myself this question during a workshop to analyze our motivation to come to work every day and that’s when I realized, despite the fact that it’s a very good school, my impact on digital transactions because I was in the digital and e-commerce team. It really got me thinking about the daily impact I’ll have, if I’m lucky, in the next 40 years.  I didn’t say Coca-Cola was bad, but I wanted to find a project that was more in line with my daily values, and that’s what I do every day.

You said it in part, but how does this commitment manifest itself on a daily basis?

I think it’s an attitude, it’s resilience, because there are a lot of shortcuts you can take in the world of sustainable development, particularly shortcuts that lead to greenwashing, so we really ask ourselves this question every day: “at every stage of our project, is this the right step, the right next step for us”. And then we also put a few safeguards in place, we’ve drawn a red line for our identity because we really think that if it’s a quality project, it’s the one that’s going to live in the long term. So it’s really a matter of having this common thread and also respecting the values we set out at the beginning and reflecting on them every day.

How do you integrate the notion of sustainability into your work?

A watch is durable par excellence, I think, and even more so in the luxury sector. When you consume a product costing x thousands of francs, I think you have a responsibility, and it’s also a very good vehicle: you have a watch on your wrist 365 days a year. But in terms of volume, for the record yesterday we weighed each component of the watch and we’re at around 80g for the watch, so it’s not huge but in fact it represents a lot in terms of value. Today we’re talking about affordable ethical jewelry in three words, which is what we represent on the market and what we want to represent in the future.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

In the world of watchmaking, it’s obvious that there are a lot of barriers to entry. For us, the fact of using participatory financing to launch this first collection, to have this community effect, to be able to test the product, to know if people want a watch that is eco-responsible, was really one of the barriers. Now, within the industry, there’s the traditional side of the Swiss watchmaker, which has always done it this way for 50 years or more. Fortunately, we’ve created some great collaborations so far, and we’ve noticed that it often comes down to personal values before corporate ones. That’s why we always say that we really put our personal values into this project, those of recycling, of the circular economy, of the impact we want to see in our society in any case.

What concrete solutions have you put in place?

This is the first watch to use 100% recycled steel, also collected locally in the Jura region. We have set up a collection network with a partner, Panaterre, which harvests surplus production. We don’t really like to talk about waste, but  I think it’s a term that will evolve over time. This surplus production is upgraded to 4441 stainless steel, which is a bit like the Rolls-Royce of stainless steel, if you can imagine it that way. This steel is stored, insulated, flashed (controlled) and then remelted within a 200 km radius. This steel is certified 10 times lower in terms of carbon footprint, and the idea here is really to make sure, as an entrepreneur, that the solution we create is better than the status quo. It’s also a good question about projects, how to make sure we’re going in the right direction. We discussed this certification with Quantis, who certified us through a life cycle analysis of the steel.

That’s just one initiative; I can describe others, including the bracelet, which isn’t made of leather but of wine marl, mainly made from post-wine eco-composites. A small start-up in Milan has created this, which dries the grapes and then tans them into eco-leather. We’re also working on various alternatives, and there are a lot of innovations coming up in the next few years. We’re in contact with a lot of startups, mainly in Europe, including one in London called Treekind, with whom we’re going to launch a 100% compostable bracelet made from 100% vegetable waste London parks. The material is their invention, and we adapt it to watchmaking in view of the identification vector that is a watch.

I see myself as an agitator, and I see all our supply chains as agitators too, in the sense that one of the missions we’ve set ourselves is to influence the industry, humbly of course, towards greater sustainability.


How do we get back to the human element in the process?

This is something we like to emphasize in the collaborations we have with our partners, we really try to connect differently, not just on price, which we’ll talk about of course but not only. We have also launched a “Circular Swiss made” label, which is affixed to our dials. For us, this label is based on four criteria: a carbon footprint criterion per watch component, a geographical distance criterion (which is part of the first criterion but not quite the same), the third criterion which is price, and the fourth which is quality, because here too we make no compromises because there’s the question of durability over time; for us, this watch must last at least 100 years, it must be that trans-generational object that we love. We’re children of Swiss made, having grown up in Geneva with one of my two co-founders, who is the project’s watchmaker and my best friend for over 27 years. These are really the values we want to pass on to the next generation, with a positive impact of course on the different materials we use, the production circuit we use and transparency too. We asked ourselves how we were going to remain authentic on this project, and for us that starts with total transparency.

How has the pandemic changed your relationship with the world? 

I thought about how I was going to travel perhaps during that period, I thought about all the trips I had planned and I asked myself if it was really necessary to launch a watch brand. For our company, this has had a bit of an impact in terms of lead times, but because of this short circuit, we’re much less affected in the end, and that’s what’s so interesting. In fact, the Federal Office for the Environment has said that the circular economy is a band-aid for global pandemics if we enhance the value of these short circuits. I shop at farms here in Geneva, for example, and I’ve had friends tell me that they discovered this during the pandemic. I hope it will last, but only time will tell, because I don’t have a crystal ball.

Tell me about your fondest nature memory

It was in the summer of 2020 when a few friends and I went on a tour of Switzerland. We used soft mobility, i.e. trains, bicycles and huts in Ticino and Grisons. It was a really great experience.

If you were a tree, what would you be?

Maybe not on the local side and it’s not necessarily a tree but I really like aloe vera. I have a lot of it at home and I use it especially in the summer when I go outside and it soothes the skin when you’re sunburned.

What natural ability or skill would you like to have?

I always say “nature will always win” in the sense that nature will always come back and will always win. You really see it in the worst places in the world: it comes back, it adapts and it wins. I still remember it, and in any case I’d like to have this resilience of nature, this adaptability of nature, it’s a characteristic that would suit me well, if I could choose of course.

If you were an energy source, what would you be? 

I think I’d be the wind, it’s always fascinated me without knowing why. I’m thinking of the different characteristics of wind, the fact that it cools in summer, it has its uses and I think it’s still much underestimated at the moment in terms of energy neutrality.

What’s your favourite season?

In summer, I’m more of a sun person.

Your favourite landscape?

The Swiss mountains are truly a sublime memory that will never be forgotten. Every time we travel to the other side of the world, when we come back to Switzerland, we realize how lucky we are to have this landscape in front of us every day.

What does preserving the planet mean to you?

These are everyday tasks, it’s a routine to put in place and it’s up to each and every one of us to feel comfortable with it. I think it’s also up to us entrepreneurs to propose alternatives and be the agitators in certain industries. I really like that term, I consider myself an agitator and I consider all our supplier chains to be agitators too, in the sense that one of the missions we’ve set ourselves is to influence the industry, humbly of course, towards greater sustainability. And also to change people’s perception of recycled materials, because if I say, here’s a watch made from recycled materials, and we notice it through the discussions we have in this traditional industry, it can shock people on the qualitative side. What we really want is to change this perception.

What solution for the planet are you looking forward to?

We’re really going through a crisis, and we need to think about the next generation and see what we’re going to leave them. There’s a lot that can be done through innovation, of course, but also through this individual daily routine. I’m always reminded of the story of the Hummingbird we all know, who brings his drop of water to the fire to put it out. I tell myself that if we have this group reflection with millions of hummingbirds, I think we’ll be able to put out this fire, and I think the forest is really burning.

What’s the one anti-sustainable gesture you’re having trouble giving up?

Travel!  I’m well aware of that. It’s a question we asked ourselves when we launched our brand. We wanted to do an international launch, but in view of Covid we focused on the local and  I’ve learned a few lessons from it, notably to ask ourselves what kind of trips we’re going to make to certain markets in the future, and how we’re going to make them too.

Which green sin do you find most indulgent? 

I’d say the car. Inevitably, there is this individual need to get from point A to point B. There’s public transport, of course, but at some point you have to find other solutions, such as shared mobility and carpooling. I think there are other possibilities, and they’re still under-exploited today. But I don’t think we’ll have a choice in 20 years.

What’s missing from your kitchen?

No more plastic bottles, mainly. This is something we’ve implemented in our project, with the aim of avoiding all plastic in this watch. We took part in a circular economy incubator in 2020 and were lucky enough to be coached by circular economy experts, and for them the best solution is not to use any at all. I think we’re still seeing far too many one-off initiatives using recycled PET. I’m not against taking this plastic out of the ocean, but I think we really need to find alternatives, because if we put it back on the wrist it’s complicated for the future, it’s really just a band-aid.

How can you help the environment?

I like to recycle, so I don’t know if it’s good for me, but it’s good for the planet. And I really encourage everyone to recycle vegetable waste too. The Swiss are very good at recycling, but there’s still room for improvement on a daily basis. There’s a rather innovative garbage can that I like to use.  Upgreen has come out with this garbage can, which avoids odors, and for me, who lives in the city, I no longer have to worry about odors with this garbage can. That’s something I’m happy about, because now I can get into my kitchen and it smells good.

What’s your sustainable motto?

I’m going to pick up on ID Genève’s. We talk a lot about total transparency with maximum accountability. That’s something we always have in mind, trying to figure out what’s the best step, the best supplier, the best option, what’s the most consistent for the environment in the end.

What’s your idea of happiness? 

So for me, happiness is more about the journey than the destination, and that’s something that’s very clear to me. It’s a daily joy to do something you love. Today, I’m very happy thanks to this project, to my co-founders and to our first community of founding members. We raised 315,000 francs in pre-sales with this campaign, which has enabled us to exist as a brand, and I’m already at a level of happiness I’d never imagined before.

What can we do at an individual level to make a difference?

We’ve seen during this crisis – and this is a very good example – that individual acts of purchasing can make a difference. Local agriculture was in high demand. One theme I’m really passionate about is “social gastronomy”, i.e. how we can have an impact through what we eat. What we wear in terms of clothes. I think it’s really about asking yourself these questions at every moment. It’s complicated, so I really encourage people to do it in their passion first. I started with watches, because they were my passion, and then with social gastronomy, which interests me a lot, having studied at the Lausanne Hotel School. I focus on these two industries and being curious I really want to understand where this food comes from, how it’s produced, under what social conditions, and that’s important to me.

What’s your utopia? 

A plastic-free world! I think it’s going to be very complicated.  I had a discussion about this utopia of thinking that, in the end, we shouldn’t see plastic as gold and cherish it so that we stop throwing it away, because it’s really by throwing it away that it has a negative impact. I’d say a world without plastic would be my utopia, but I think there’s still a lot of work to be done to find alternatives, and we can see that.

More realistically, what three things do you think are essential to changing the world?

It’s a bit of a magic formula, the “one million dollar question”!  I’m going to take it down to a slightly more simplistic level. I encourage you to do simple things that can have an impact: carry a glass water bottle in your backpack all day to avoid the temptation to buy a plastic water bottle when you’re “on the go”. Then, on a more general level, there’s the need to rethink mobility, whether in terms of soft mobility or shared mobility. There’s no real judgement to be made, it’s a question of individual needs. Thirdly, I’d say diet: you can have a huge impact three times a day by choosing your food and prioritizing quality over quantity. Be curious!  I’d really like people to be even more inquisitive, because it’s by being inquisitive that we’ll often ask the questions and get the information and transparency we’re entitled to. That’s what we’ve forgotten: we’re the customers, we’re entitled to it, and it’s up to us to remind the brands.

What should the new world community look like to you?

It must be a community that isn’t necessarily “tree huggers” as I call them. We don’t necessarily need to kiss trees in the forest to be eco-friendly, so I’d just skip the eco-friendly cliché and go for something that makes sense in terms of our individual needs. As I said, there isn’t really one solution, there must be a multitude of solutions and behaviours to adopt, and everyone must come with their own passion, like us agitators in the watchmaking industry, and others in other industries, so that in the end, we all come together and all industries are impacted.

Many thanks Nicolas! 

Thank you very much!

*This interview was filmed in spring 2021 as part of a global project to give a voice to the actors of change.


We’d love to hear your inspiring stories! If you’d like to try your hand at the Proust questionnaire, or share your experience, commitment, tips or gripes, go to the “Share with us ” discussion forum on the La Mèche platform, here:

Questionnaire de Proust

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