[As printed in Hollands Glorie magazine, December 2015]
As the Netherlands hosts the EU Presidency in 2016, it’s a chance to show off Dutch progress on the environment – just not at the governmental level.
Historically, when it comes to environmental innovation, the Netherlands has a lot to brag about. And these days there’s also plenty to brag about, but there’s not a lot of bragging going on. Why?Because the current Dutch government doing so little to limit carbon emissions that they’re being sued by the public. Ouch!
Meanwhile, in the private sector, there’s plenty of good news to share (even if no one is sharing it).
1) Water Engineering.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the US sought help to clean up the mess, and they found the Dutch. Specifically, the company known as Dutch Royal Haskoning has spent the last ten years in America helping New Orleans prevent the next Hurricane Katrina. A friend of mine works at the Dutch Consulate in Chicago. He helped get them embedded with the US Army Corps of Engineers. I was impressed. But I asked ‘Why don’t more people know about this?’ My friend reported that they didn’t want to issue a press release, because that would seem like ‘opscheppen.
2) Then there’s Dutch agriculture. During a recent voiceover job, I was required to say: ‘the Netherlands is the second-largest agricultural exporter in the world.’
The second-largest? I had to fact-check with the editor. ‘How can tiny Netherlands export more than France or Germany?’ But according to a 2014 report, Dutch exports of dairy, eggs, meat, flowers, fruit and vegetables are second only to the United States. There are 10,000 hectares of greenhouses. The Dutch are responsible for 22% of the world’s exported potatoes. And according to Oxfam, the Netherlands is the world’s number one country for plentiful, affordable food. How can this be?
According to The Economist, the Dutch secret is ‘sustainable and intensive food production.’ For example, cow manure. Mucking out the stables has been a Herculean task, ever since the Augean stables of Greek myth. But Dutch farms ferment their hay, creating liquid manure, which is removed by conveyor belt. It’s a game changer. The process is so efficient that there’s enough manure left over to create biogas to heat Dutch homes. When I told my British friend about this, he asked ‘Why isn’t everyone doing this?’ I don’t know. I’ll have to do more voiceovers about Dutch farming.
Here’s another Dutch example of W2R ‘Waste to Resource.’ The winner of the TEDxAmsterdam Award 2014 was Gerben Stouten, who engineered a process to take organic waste from the Mars chocolate factory in Veghel and turn it into bio plastic for their candy wrappers. Then there’s Royal Dutch KLM flying its planes on UCO: Used Cooking Oil. Yesterday’s fast food grease is tomorrow’s jet fuel. After working with KLM, the Dutch startup SkyNRG is now offering recycled biofuels for other airlines around the world. I spoke to SkyNRG founder Dirk Kronemeijer at the Amsterdam Business Awards and asked why he didn’t win anything. He really didn’t seem to mind.
4) And then there’s the World Solar Challenge – the solar car race across the Australian desert. Technical University Delft has won this event so many times I’ve lost count. In 2015 they came in first place and second place. Of course, the easy joke is that they’ll build a solar-powered car in the Netherlands, where it will be useless 300 days per year. But TU Eindhoven has proven that solar powered cars can work in the Netherlands too. I met Tom Selten from Solar Team Eindhoven, who’s busy building the world’s first solar powered family car, the Stella. I asked why I hadn’t heard about it before. He said ‘You have now.’
In conclusion, it’s too bad the Dutch government isn’t doing more to promote a green agenda. Then again, through their inaction on climate change, they’ve now been sued by Dutch environmental group Urgenda to do more to protect the environment. And – in a worldwide legal precedent – Urgenda won. It may not be what the Dutch government wanted to brag about in Paris for COP21. Luckily, there’s plenty of green innovation in the private sector. Hopefully, the world will get to hear about it.