Tag Archives: sustainability

Venlo: The World’s First Cradle to Cradle City?

Greenport Venlo, the industrial portion of Venlo's C2C vision. Photo credit: sustainablecities.dk

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:

The Indiscriminate Facilitator of Life: Water

Caroline, a young girl enjoying clean water for the first time. Photo credit: mycharitywater.org

According to UNICEF, almost 50% of the developing world’s population (2.5 billion) lack access to improved sanitation facilities, while over 884 million people rely upon unsafe drinking water each day. This means that one in eight of us, perhaps unnecessarily, is at a heightened risk for waterborne illnesses and a diminished quality of life. And while it may seem that the developed world is immune to the intrinsic finiteness of this essential resource, there are indications that the West, too, will soon feel the impact of this reality. But to what extent can we depend on technological advances to improve quality and access to clean water throughout the world? May certain “renewable” technologies actually be to blame for placing unnecessary strain on existing water infrastructure?

Between 2001 and 2009, the average annual increase in typical residential water bills in the United States was approximately 5.3 percent. Average annual inflation for the same period was 2.4 percent, indicating a statistically significant rise in the “actual” cost of water per gallon. But does population growth alone account for the presumed increase in domestic demand? It seems unlikely, particularly when one considers the extraordinary growth of water-intensive industries, such as that of ethanol production. In the aforementioned decade, domestic ethanol fuel output increased nearly 500%, from 1,770 million US gallons to 10,600 million US gallons.  At a cost of 4.38 gallons of water per 1 gallon of ethanol, 127 million gallons of water are consumed for production each day, or 46,428 million gallons per year (in 2009). What’s even more shocking is that, until very recently, much of this water was sourced from traditional municipal supplies, meaning that it was unnecessarily subjected to the same costly treatment processes as drinking water.

There are examples within the energy sector, however, of increased investment in “water stewardship,” either out of necessity or obligation. Texas’ own White Energy, a self-described emerging leader in the production of renewable energy, recently contracted GE to build a wastewater facility to reduce dependence on the municipal water supply, as Leon Kaye describes:

GE built two reverse osmosis filtration systems that now provide clean water for the facility’s cooling system and boiler plant. The project not only frees up enough water to meet the annual needs of 600 homes, but the resulting concentrated by-product is used in the plant’s cooling tower rather than fresh water. White Energy saves about $200,000 (£123,000) a year in expenses while reducing its water consumption by 43m gallons a year.

Irrespective of one’s opinion of the ethanol industry, one can hope that other companies will follow in White Energy’s footsteps—augmenting, rather than depleting, a community’s water supply.

The critical lesson to be learned, however, is that the developed world is no longer immune to the consequences of irresponsible water management. Perhaps more so than any other natural resource, water acts as a great equalizer, serving as a constant reminder of our shared biological needs. Our dependency on water transcends socioeconomic and geographic boundaries, embodying the very definition of sustainability. Equitable reliance can only be answered by equitable distribution, and our efforts must be similarly diversified. It requires investment in old technologies, like well drilling, to bring reliable drinking water to those who need it most in the developing world. It requires investment in new technologies like caustic concentration, bipolar electrodialysis, and electro-deionisation, to stabilize water supplies in the West. It requires, dare I say, a bit of creativity, and a lot of determination, to solve one of the most pressing issues to have ever faced civilization.

Greek Proverb on Intergenerational Welfare

Photo credit: gardinclothing.com

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.