A structure resembling a green UFO has temporarily landed in the gardens of the Dutch Maritime Museum, in between the VOC [Dutch East India Company] and the Startup delta. It is the Travelling Ecodome, commissioned by the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ) and designed by NL Greenlabel. This futuristic demo model, portraying the Netherlands as the Dutch Sustainable Urban Delta, is a dream come true. If founders Nico Wissing en Lodewijk Hoekstra had not dreamt about it four years ago, and gone on to tell everyone they met about it, the Netherlands would not now have had this fantastic green, sustainable and innovative showpiece.
That’s the nice thing about dreams; if you really believe in them and work hard at them, you can sometimes make them come true. Because the dream doesn’t end there: these gardens are just the Dome’s first landing place. The aim is for the Dome to become our innovative green visiting card at fairs and exhibitions worldwide, wherever The Netherlands is officially represented. The Dome conceals no fewer than 20 Dutch innovations, according to Nico Wissing, but to anyone walking round it it’s just green, every aspect is very, very green.
Is sustainability about money?
Together with many other front runners, connectors, opinion changers, entrepreneurs and toppers, we were invited to an interactive conference on the Dutch Sustainable Urban Delta on Friday 17 June. Are we actually sustainable? What is sustainability exactly? How can we make the Netherlands more sustainable? Every one of the impressive list of speakers, and indeed the audience, had extremely pronounced and sometimes very divergent views on the subject. Time and again, conference chairperson Anouschka Laheij brought us back to the question of whether sustainability is a potential money maker. Because one thing everyone did agree on, was that without a revenue model, change wouldn’t stand a chance. We felt that this question rather spoilt the discussion, however, and several of the speakers and guests shared our opinion. If you start asking those kinds of questions while the dream is still a dream, wouldn’t too many good ideas go to waste? Would this Dome have been built at all? Must everything always boil down to money?
Is sustainability about inspiration?
Hans Hoogeveen, Director General for Agriculture and Nature Management at the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, kicked off the afternoon. He told us how the 20 ministers of agriculture in the EU had met here at the end of May. There had been no interpreters, no officials, but there had been this wonderfully green environment and healthy air. Talks commenced immediately and didn’t stop; they had never met at such an inspiring place and never reached any decisions so easily.
Princess Irene van Lippe Biesterfeld had been interviewed in advance by Lodewijk Hoekstra and in a video message she asked the audience: what does sustainability mean to you? Is it about business, people, about bonding with nature or perhaps about all life?
The floor was then given to a panel consisting of Prof. Louise Vet of NIOO-KNAW [Netherlands Institute of Ecology], Jelle de Jong, Director of IVN [Netherlands Association for Environmental Education] and Loek Hermans, Chairman of the Made in Holland, Horticulture and starting materials [topsector Tuinbouw & Uitgangsmaterialen]. Louise gave several striking examples of how operating sustainably can make good business sense. A green roof may be more expensive in outlay than bitumen but it will last twice as long. And consider the many other benefits that green roof would offer in the way of biodiversity, urban climate control, surface water drainage problems and aesthetics. A green roof is much more pleasing to the eye than flat black roofing. Jelle de Jong felt that far too many businesses define their issues and objectives on far too small a scale. Following his career with Shell, Tempoteam and Boer & Kroon, he has reached a stage in life where status has become less important to him and he prefers to adopt a longer term vision. When he joined IVN he decided to seek success in combination: IVN’s new strategy is an ambitious long-term mission combined with a refreshing new business practice.
Is sustainability about health?
Speakers during the second panel session were initiator Kim van Leest, green entrepreneur Patrick Schreven of ORGA Bouw, and green entrepreneur and number 1 of Trouw newspaper’s sustainable top 100, Maurits Groen. They too were quick to state that sustainability cannot be expressed in monetary values alone. It’s also about the connection with nature, about exercise, about health; there is increasing evidence that our brains do actually change when we’re in green environments, according to Kim, and/or in buildings made of biobased materials, according to Patrick. We are nature!
Money is not the only issue, image is another. To too many people, ‘green’ is the equivalent of a parsley garnish; attractive enough but a little old-fashioned. Maurits feels we should focus much more on the link between green, sustainable and high tech. Then people would take green much more seriously.
Is sustainability about the green sector?
There is good reason for using ‘green’ in the sense of sustainability and ‘green’ to denote the green market gardening, horticulture and starting materials synonymously. In essence, food and plants – both as air purifiers and a means of experiencing nature – are about health. Yet that is inconsistent with a sector which, in terms of sustainability, could certainly do more. Pesticides are still widely used, more could be recycled and, according to speakers and audience alike, the chain itself could operate more efficiently. This was the undertone of all the discussions. Consumers demand a perfect product, the media should help educate customers but, as someone in the audience pointed out, the sector itself could also change. Because that ‘greenness’ bomb has been ticking under the green sector for years and, people felt, the ball is now very much in the sector’s own court. We naturally said that as a green magazine we would be ready and willing to help explain things. Slowly grown products may look a little different but the food industry is already one step ahead of us and smaller crooked cucumbers are now readily available from supermarkets, where they are promoted as a trend. Sometimes the solution is closer than you think!