First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Catalina Iorga

A city of change

As a testament to the power of Amsterdam’s collaborative spirit, the city’s contribution to transforming the Netherlands into a ‘circular hotspot’ has made its mark. Initiated by the Amsterdam-based Circle Economy platform, the initiative showcases the significant strides the Dutch capital has already made in the area of circular progress.

Circular transformation

An example of his Dutch circular success can be seen at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which has been collaborating with Philips Lighting on providing ‘light as a service’ in its terminal buildings. Philips owns and maintains the 3,700 highly energy-effi cient LED installations in the terminals, while the airport simply pays for the light it uses. Or Park 20/20, the fi rst business park to be created according to ‘cradle to cradle’ design principles with buildings that can be disassembled for recycling and reuse. And then there’s ABN AMRO’s Circular Pavilion, which opens this year in Amsterdam’s Zuidas business district. Located directly across from the bank’s headquarters, this easy-to-dismantle wood and glass pavilion is intended as an icon of the institution’s sustainable efforts. It will be an inspiring meeting place for clients and employees, as well as neighbours and visitors interested in the circular economy.

Meanwhile, the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area vision for a circular city has identified nine urban material streams, including for example construction waste and e-waste, that show immense potential for circular transformation. And in early 2017, the Amsterdam Economic Board and 179 companies, local authorities, knowledge institutions and civil society players co-signed a Raw Materials Agreement that aims to accelerate the city’s transition to a circular economy by closing loops in the food and biomass, plastics, manufacturing, construction and consumer goods sectors.

Closing the plastic loop

Plastic Whale is a social enterprise whose mission is to make the world’s waters plastic-free and to create value from the recovered waste, and whose approach is as circular as they come. “When I returned to Amsterdam after travelling around the world, I decided to do something to fi ght ‘plastic soup’, which is often portrayed as a faraway problem,” says founder Marius Smit. ‘But what is floating around in oceans usually comes from our cities. So I wanted to start from my own backyard. In 2011, I published a social media challenge to build a plastic boat. Right off the bat, my network exploded. Designers, PR agencies and recyclers wanted to donate either their skills or money to get the project off the ground. It was great to see so many people using their individual talents to contribute,’ says Smit.

ASN, the largest sustainable banking institution in the Netherlands, saw Plastic Whale’s potential and supported the company both financially and by communicating the cause on its online project and crowdfunding platform for innovative, eco-minded ideas. ‘Right now Plastic Whale has 8 boats made from plastic gathered from Amsterdam’s canals. These boats are used for ‘plastic fishing’ expeditions, which help further clean up our waters.

Transforming organic waste

Lara van Druten is the founder and Managing Director of The Waste Transformers, which has pioneered circular waste-to-value hubs for processing organic food waste. She is also no stranger to gaining the support of a large bank: “The Rabobank believed in us from the beginning. We started by showing that we had a good business case and that we wanted to make circularity – which is one of the bank’s core strategy pillars – very tangible.”

Four years ago, while working at a French sustainable energy corporate, the South African entrepreneur decided to start The Waste Transformers after witnessing a client’s struggle with the high operational costs and impact of food waste. She felt that Amsterdam was the perfect place to carry out her ambitions, and now calls herself ‘Dutch by choice’.

“Although the Westergasfabriek area was once an icon of a dirty energy past, it is now an icon of our green, clean energy future,” explains Van Druten. The Waste Transformers partnered with 12 restaurants, two theatres and several shops housed in this leafy cultural park, all of which now separate their food waste. This green garbage is picked up twice a day and it is brought to an on-site, fully self-sufficient processing installation that generates biogas energy. The energy is available to the clients of sustainable energy supplier Vandebron, and the recovered water and nutrients are used to fertilise the surrounding park’s lush grounds.

Roof food

Amsterdam is committed to making the city climate resilient and rainproof, as well as healthier and more liveable. Circular design also informs initiatives such as GrownDownTown, which develops advanced solutions for growing living and edible greenery on the city’s rooftops and inside its buildings. “With our circular ‘Rooffood’ system, vegetable and herb crates can be placed on roofs, on top of a special layer that retains rainwater and makes it available for crops to absorb as much of it as needed. After harvest, the crates are reused in the nursery and the leftover greenery is composted,” explains Managing Director Hotske Wesselius.

Wesselius, who recently merged his company with green architecture agency Rooflife, has a strong business background in consumer goods multinationals such as Unilever, joined GrownDownTown over a year ago, drawn by founder Philip van Traa’s infectious enthusiasm for protecting the city from climate change through urban green design. “I really wanted to have an impact and use my business knowledge for the good. And thanks to customers willing to put their trust in Philip’s vision, we have developed some amazing projects including a total greening of Hotel Zoku’s rooftop and awardwinning subtropical greenhouses for the headquarters of family products designer Joolz,” she adds.

Closing the electronics loop

Developing partnerships with businesses that support the circular economy has also been key in the growth of Closing the Loop, an award-winning company that has already collected over a million end-of-life mobile phones in emerging markets. It also offers solutions for the circular procurement and life cycle extension of mobile phones. “We want to make the whole electronics industry more circular, and show that electronic reuse and recycling make social and business sense,” says founder Joost de Kluijver.

By collecting scrap phones on behalf of Amsterdam-based corporates such as Ahold, Delta Lloyd and ING, Closing the Loop offsets the footprint caused by each company’s telecommunications policy. What’s more, the organisation recently launched the Rethink programme in collaboration with Sims Recycling Solutions to ensure the proper repurposing of both retrieved phones and new ones that have reached their end-of-life. “Although it’s not easy to make phones sustainable,” says De Kluijver, “thanks to our joined forces with the world’s largest electronics recycler and partners like Fairphone, we will keep making our circular proposition more accessible.”