At first glance, the city of Venlo in the southeastern Netherlands may appear rather ordinary. With a modest population of 100,271, its young people traditionally sought work outside the city upon graduating, but that’s now changing. This unassuming Dutch city is undergoing a remarkable transformation into the world’s first cradle to cradle hub, attracting the attention of environmentalists and investors alike. Inspired by the landmark work by Braungart and McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, and the subsequent 2006 documentary that aired on Dutch television, local politicians and community leaders envisioned an economic and ecological rebirth for their city. With assistance from the province of Limburg and the Dutch government, Venlo embarked on its ambition plans, which appears to be coming together much more quickly than anyone had anticipated.
The project is the result of many collaborations, between local industries and intergovernmental development organizations. Chief among these is the Venlo Cradle to Cradle Exposition Center, also known as ExpoLAB, which has developed its own point system and procurement criteria for each structure in the new development. Andy Hix of the Guardian had the opportunity to speak to Roy Vercoulen, ExpoLAB’s managing director, who described the ideal building as producing oxygen, sequestering carbon, purifying water, improving the health of its occupants, and promoting biodiversity, while not sacrificing creativity in aesthetic design. These seemingly ambitious targets, as it turns out, are not only being satisfied but far exceeded by young competitive designers.
The development will be host to the Floriade 2012: World Horticultural Exposition, in which the city hopes to demonstrate new methods for linking natural ecosystems to man-made cycles—in essence, how to maximize our coexistence with the natural environment. Quite naturally, the city also hopes to attract international investment, exhibiting the benefits of C2C infrastructure and the accompanying culture. Indeed, a significant portion of the city’s business guide is already dedicated to selling these concepts:
Another important aspect of Venlo is innovative sustainability. Venlo has strong sustainability ambitions, specifically in the form of Cradle to Cradle (C2C): Waste should ideally be non-existence. All the raw materials used for a product should be re-used, after the life of that product, as input materials of equal or better quality for the next product or for the environment.
Both in restructuring existing business parks and in developing new facilities, Venlo aims to keep making quality breakthroughs with the focus on Cradle to Cradle, sustainability and the environment. The aim is to create an inspiring business environment which will stimulate innovative developments. The key factor is that the physical setting promotes partnerships between research, education, government and entrepreneurs. The campus model provides an ideal basis. It creates and optimal mix of companies that complement and inspire each other, and together form business parks with a diversity of activities and an innovative climate. Campuses inspire spin-offs and promote entrepreneurship.
Clearly, Venlo is not simply interested in fostering a more sustainable way of doing business, but also in creating a culture for innovation. In this sense, the completion of Venlo’s Greenpark and Greenport developments mark the beginning, rather than the end, of the city’s sustainability vision.
Although in Dutch, the following YouTube video offers a fascinating glimpse into Venlo’s marketing approach to its C2C development: