The Valley: Demonstrating the circular economy at scale

Reaction to the first universal legally binding global climate deal, agreed at COP21 in Paris, and signed by 195 countries at the United Nations in New York on Earth Day has been mixed. The signing has triggered headlines like “Experts Say Plans Don’t Pack a Wallop”, with the New York Times reporting that the accord is “bare bones” and that there is a lack of a “detailed, credible strategy”. Others have been more optimistic: John Kerry sees the agreement for the “power of the opportunity it creates” and the “message it sends to the marketplace”. Still, the question remains as to how governments around the world can actually begin to change the current system and the way in which energy and resources are used.

In the Netherlands, there are signs that the big ideas and lofty ambitions to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, which is regenerative and restorative by design, are being put into action. For the first half of 2016, the Netherlands will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and the country has signalled its intention on playing a role in the wider transition to a circular economy, which has been further incentivised by a European Commission that passed a circular economy policy package in December 2015, clearly signalling that the EU views the circular economy as the way forward for business, society, and the continent’s wider economy.

Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme wants the Netherlands to be “internationally recognised as a place where the most relevant knowledge and experience in the field of circular business is located.” Prince Carlos has founded the Netherlands Circular Hotspot (NLCH), a campaign that aims to turn the Netherlands into a “living lab [which will provide] the rest of the world with examples to learn from.” Partners of the NLCH campaign include a diverse group of decision makers and visionaries such as: Circle Economy, Rabobank, the Association of Water and the City of Amsterdam, KPMG, Black Bear Carbon, Philips, as well as twenty other ambassadors. In order to accelerate the transition from a linear take, make and dispose economy towards a regenerative model, a range of stakeholders from governments, science, academia, business and many other sectors will need to be involved, and the NLCH campaign has achieved that multi-disciplinary buy-in. 

Photo via
Photo via

The first major implementation, which defined the Netherlands as the circular hotspot, was the signing of the agreement between Delta Development Group, Schiphol Group, and the Municipality of Haarlemmermeer in July 2015 to develop a circular subarea within Schiphol Trade Park – the Valley. On April 4, 2016, development of the Valley began along with the opening of the Circular EXPO, which aims to bring together, “circular organisations, process and activities…where ‘best practices’ will show the scalable ideas and techniques developed in the Netherlands for a circular economy”.  The EXPO will be organised around a number of key themes including: agriculture & chemistry, logistics & infrastructure, buildings & interior; finance & services; recovery & recycling, energy & water and Dutch design.

William McDonough and Partners, master architects of the Valley at Schipol Trade Park, featured their ICEhouse (ICE=Innovation for the Circular Economy) for the Circular EXPO at the Valley. ICEhouse was conceived by William McDonough as a place to gather and discuss the future of Innovation for the Circular Economy.The building is “designed to demonstrate the positive framework described in the book Cradle to Cradle, the sustainable development goals of the United Nations, and the reuse of resources implicit in the circular economy.” By design, ICEhouse shows what is possible “when designs eliminate the concept of waste and instead add to the resourcefulness of a system,” the essence of the circular economy. The building is made of three materials: aluminum for the structural frame, polymers (SABIC’s LEXAN sheet and system for the walls and roof, Nylon 6 for the carpet from Patchcraft) and aerogel (Cabot Nanogel) for the insulation material. These materials represent technical nutrients since they can be returned to the industry and endlessly re-manufactured into new products of high value at the end of their use cycle.

Photo credit: llee_wu via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND
Photo credit: llee_wu via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

The ICEhouse is a microcosm of the Valley, and the Valley is a microcosm of what we can expect to take place on an international front, acting as a “blueprint” or a “model for large scale transition” and adaptation, according to McDonough + Partners. Once the Valley is fully developed it will be a positive business case of “continuous material loops and endless reuse, connecting history roots of the Dutch Polder and cultural landscape.” In addition, the Valley will offer support to new business development in the form of businesses (market), academia (knowledge), government (facilitating) and finance (enabling).  Meanwhile, the Dutch government along with Circle Economy will continue to develop and implement programs like the Circle Cities Program, which identified opportunities to “foster a circular economy and aids in the creation of practice and scalable solutions to implement circular systems throughout a city” with the use of their Circle Scan technique.

Other examples of public, private partnerships in the Netherlands are the Circle Textiles Program, which aims to close the loop for textiles and create a zero waste industry whereby products, fabrics, and fibers are infinitely cycled through connected loops across industries in a transparent economical way. The Circle Finance Program identifies financial barriers to circular business practices and develops solutions to overcome them through case studies, financial core business, and circular money innovation.

While world leaders continue to make symbolic commitments to the environment, a team of architects, government bodies, non-profit foundations, real estate developers, and businesses is laying the groundwork for tangible, real-life educational models of how to create a more, circular world. If we focus our attention and efforts on creating a circular economy, the rest of the equation, even decreasing the rise in global warming, will fall naturally into place.

Share or save for later:
Previous post

The Future of Mobility: Tech as the driver

Next post

Tyres: a burning issue

The Author

Averill Brewer

Averill Brewer

Averill Brewer is a writer based in Europe covering a range of subjects, many of which are relevant to the circular economy.