Orange Is the New Green – Shapiro Backstage at More Dutch Corporate Events.
(as seen in XPat Journal, Fall 2017 – xpatjournal.nl)
Let me take you behind the scenes for a unique peek at the bizarrely revealing rituals known as ‘Dutch corporate events.’ Granted I’m just a comedian, but I do get some lovely, candid snapshots of Dutch companies in the raw. And the results are not what you might expect. For example, many Dutch companies are greener than you’d think.
‘Seriously?’ I can hear you say. ‘You mean Dutch companies like Shell Oil?’ Yes. I was once called upon to host the event called the Shell Eco Marathon. It was international event dedicated to fuel efficiency. ‘What?!’ you may ask. ’Why would an oil company create an event encouraging people to use LESS of their product?’ I know. It sounded like classic ‘Greenwashing.’ (for an example of greenwashing, see British Petroleum rebranding itself with a logo of a delicate, green flower. You know, the kind of flower killed by oil spills.)
But there they were: the Shell executives at the event in Rotterdam. I’d expected them to arrive from the Hague by corporate jet, fiercely rolling their eyes at the necessity of some PR photo-op. And I’ve indeed been backstage with plenty of executives who couldn’t wait to say their bit and escape. But I have to admit, these two Dutch Shell guys were giddy with excitement. Part of the contest was to see how far you could drive a normal car on just one liter of petrol. They were amazed someone managed to drive for more than 30km. And the main challenge was for concept cars, which managed to drive for hundreds of kilometers. Then the execs went back to their corporate HQ, which has a wood-paneled lunchroom made from a small rain forest. But for a moment there, they really were green.
Speaking of concept cars, the Dutch team from TU Delft regularly wins the World Solar Challenge – a solar car race across the Australian desert. As opposed to the Netherlands, where a solar car would be worthless 300 days per year. But then I spoke at an event at TU Eindhoven with Tom Selten, the Dutch entrepreneur who’s busy building the world’s first solar-powered family car, the Stella. We were there to encourage would-be entrepreneurs that clearly no idea is too crazy to try out in the Dutch market.
However, I was disappointed to hear about the solar-powered buses at Schiphol Airport. I was hosting the conference called Airports Going Green, and I congratulated Schiphol’s CEO on its new fleet of solar-powered buses. At least, that’s how the buses are labeled. But he corrected me: the solar panels aren’t on the buses themselves. ‘False advertising!’ I blurted, suspecting greenwashing. But no – it’s just that the buses require more power, from a LOT of solar panels. I replied ‘Why, you’d probably need hundreds of meters of solar panels – entire football fields of them!’ Which is exactly what airports have in abundance, on top of their many terminals and hangars. Which is why Schiphol was holding the event in the first place. So now I know that.
And what about the aviation industry itself? Airlines like KLM seem like pretty big polluters. But now they’re pioneering sustainable ‘UCO fuel’ – which sounds cool. UCO stands for ‘Used Cooking Oil’ – which sounds noticeably less cool. I was backstage with the founder of Sky-NRG, which – after working with KLM – is now offering recycled biofuels for the world. I wondered aloud if he needed better marketing. Like ‘Hey, don’t worry if you smoked too much weed – last night’s munchies are today’s jet speed.’ Or ‘Greasy, grimy and gross – but green!’ He said he’d get back to me.
Maybe part of being green is good, old-fashioned Dutch cheapness. You may have heard terms like ‘Circular economy,’ or W2R ‘Waste to Resource.’ But it’s basically just what the Dutch call zuinig. I was backstage at the TEDxAmsterdam Award, when the winner was Gerben Stouten. He’d engineered a process to take organic waste from the Mars chocolate factory in Veghel and turn it into bio plastic for their candy wrappers. Or as he put it: ‘There’s a bacteria that eats chocolate poop and poops out candy wrapper poop.’ Again, they need to work on the marketing.
In conclusion, there’s less greenwashing in the Dutch economy than I’d thought. If anything, there are many great green initiatives, for which Dutch people refuse to take credit. I spoke at the launch of a book of infographics on the SDG Sustainable Development Goals. One after another, the speakers chose to stand just outside the spotlight. I literally had to step in and move the director of the project so the photographer could get a proper shot of him. Next time I’ll just tell him ‘If you’re going to spend money on stage light, you might as well stand in it.’