Europe’s most sustainable business ecosystem

Valley aims to build a physical research and development environment with a community that accelerates the transition to a circular economy, while SADC wants to develop all its business locations in a circular manner. One of the frontrunners is the Schiphol Trade Park, which Van Antwerpen and Braam are helping transform into Europe’s most sustainable business ecosystem.

Can you name some advantages the Netherlands and the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area have when it comes to testing and scaling circular initiatives?

Jeanet van Antwerpen: We are a small country, with almost no raw materials, so we became used to trade, and quickly learned how to be resourceful. This resulted in a globally oriented business ecosystem, backed up by expertise from top universities and research institutes.

Guido Braam: Necessity is the mother of invention. The Dutch had to deal with big issues such as water management and scarcity of land. And that made us very innovative and entrepreneurial. By 2030, 70 per cent of the world’s inhabitants will live in cities, but half of these cities still have to be built. Why not use the Netherlands and Amsterdam as a living lab to test circular environments? Collaboration, especially on tackling societal challenges, is in our DNA.

Which circular economy opportunities are available to start-ups, corporates and investors in the Amsterdam Area?

JvA: Together with real estate developers, including Delta Development, SADC is striving to grow Schiphol Trade Park, which comprises areas such as Valley, the Green Datacenter Campus, a Logistics Zone and an Energy Hub, into the most sustainable, innovative and connected business park in Europe. Valley is the engine driving this growth and turning it into a circular innovation hotspot that is already attracting big companies. We recently signed a letter of intent with a business that wants to create a new product line using circular principles. In addition to finding the production space it needed in the Logistics Zone, the company was drawn by the proximity to Valley and the tools it offers for testing new business models.

GB: Valley offers the inspirational environment and stakeholder matchmaking that businesses need to make this transition. All our buildings will be completely circular and ready to disassemble in the next 30 to 40 years, while the product-as-service model will see us paying for access to vertical transportation and energy from Mitsubishi and Eneco, instead of owning elevators and electricity fixtures.

We are also working to create the right mix of Valley members from the start, and we already signed up 72 organisations. A company can articulate a pressing question, and the Valley community, which draws from the expertise of start-ups, large corporates, local government, designers, SMEs and knowledge institutes, will be ready to facilitate their circular project.

JvA: Another area that offers great opportunities for setting up sustainable, highly reliable data centres is the Green Datacenter Campus, which is connected directly to the Amsterdam Internet Exchange and also runs on solar power supplied directly by the nearby Energy Hub. And the fact that it’s close to Valley can help open up discussions about upcyling residual waste such as obsolete IT equipment.

What is the role of data in the transition to circular economy?

JvB: The use of big data helps organise logistical processes more efficiently, thus minimising waste. On top of that, digitisation and the Internet of Things have changed everything: from the way we work and live, to the knowledge we have access to and the people we meet. I see digitisation and circular economy as interconnected change agents that hugely influence the development of business operations and ecosystems.

At SADC we try to facilitate the growth of the data centre market, which is great for the regional economy, in a circular manner. And the Green Datacenter Campus is unique in the world: its sustainability ambitions have yet to be matched.

How can companies operating in a linear, traditional economy make the transition to a circular business model?

GB: What helps is the urgency felt when a company’s business model has reached its end-of-lifetime point. It’s an opportunity to make businesses look beyond the traditional combination of making products destined for a certain market. Companies are freer to think of innovative ways to use the assets and talent they already have. For instance, an oil drilling company has expertise with working in harsh environments. That experience with operating in intense surroundings could translate well into services such as building offshore wind farms or restoring the ocean’s biodiversity.

JvA: It can also be as simple as putting on your circular glasses. When I recently met a client, I started our conversation by saying: “Let’s talk about your business from a circular economy perspective.” We then looked at what the company could achieve by adopting circular principles, such as no loss of value and positive societal impact. By the end of our talk, the client had already come up with an idea on how to build more sustainably.