Rebuilding the Home of the Parliament

With all the sustainable initiatives and cradle-to-cradle innovations emerging from one of the smallest countries in the world, The Netherlands, the hope that this country will one day run an entirely circular economy is becoming more of a reality. However, there is still little progress in one of the most wasteful sectors in terms of recycling: the building sector.

In a circular economy, the creation of products is based on a model of holistic; closed-loop designs and slowed supply chains. Currently, our economy operates in a linear fashion, meaning that we gain resources, use them, and dispose of them. The building sector is one of the sectors that contribute most to this waste of resources. To minimize the negative effects on the environment caused by the building sector, the buildings themselves need to become circular.

Circular buildings are made from recycled resources or are constructed in a way that whenever they don’t need it, they can be separated and reused easily. This ecological way of construction optimises material efficiency since waste products are scheduled for reuse at the end of their operational lifecycle. Circular buildings, therefore, rely on a well-coordinated supply chain collaboration since the waste material of one project is the building block of another.


The circular Binnenhof

The political heart of the Netherlands, The Hague, intends to be completely circular by 2050. Since the circular economy relies heavily on supply chain cooperation, a symbolic building in this city can act as a strong message in promoting, and jumpstarting, the circular business sector. The home of the parliament, the Binnenhof, is the most recognisable square in the Netherlands. In 2020, the Binnenhof is due for renovation. However, the current plan for renovating the Binnenhof has not been designed according to the principles of circular building.

Whereas data transparency is a building block for circular building, the Dutch government is known for practising disclosure of information in its administration. The renovation of the Binnenhof could, therefore, serve as an exemplary project for the principles of circular building. Due to its international esteem, there are few buildings that have as much potential toward changing the global status-quo as the Binnenhof.

Leising et al. (2018) show that there are five phases of establishing a circular building and supply chain collaboration.

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To renovate the Binnenhof in a circular manner, all parties need to actively work on designing, maintaining and implementing this approach throughout the entire renovation process. A great example of how this can be done is The Circl. The Circl, an initiative of the ABN AMBRO bank, was built from an internal driving force to construct according to circular principles. This resulted in a building that was made entirely from recycled or easy to recycle materials. For example, the materials from old jeans were used to sound-proof the ceilings. The Circl also made use of non-traditional contracting: the manufacturer still owns the two elevators in the building. The slogan of the Cirl is: ‘right to copy’. So, take this as an example, and say hello to the first circular parliament building.


Project Sponge: Cool Heating and Hot Cooling


The Netherlands lives with water. The world-famous water management techniques have proven invaluable for a country with 26% of its territory below sea level and another 29% at risk of river flooding, as taken from PBL. And in the face of climate change, these systems will become even more urgent.

The Dutch waterworks have found their way to all landscapes, except for one. The city. There is the last landscape that still experiences a risk of regular flooding. Albeit not life-threatening, flooding in a city the size of The Hague will cause substantial damage and associated repair costs. But what if the city could create a massive water storage capacity, making it in essence a large sponge, while simultaneously reducing heat stress and energy demand.

water-waterwarmtepomp grondwater
TK Warmtepomptechniek

Mainly designed on the well-proven principle of a water-water heat pump, some neat hypothetical additions can be added. The system boils down to a series of insulated underground water storage tanks and above-ground pipes. The pipe grid will run both through the building’s interior and as a trickling waterfall through the façade. The logic behind it is very simple. During summer, cold water from the tanks will be pumped through the building’s façade, cooling both the building and reducing the heat-island effect felt on the street by absorbing and transporting the sun’s heat away from the surface. This practice of transporting heat is very common in space applications and could also have large benefits in civil applications. By using this technology, the water will heat up, creating a buffer of thermal energy. Come winter, this thermal energy can be used to heat the connected building, reducing further need for gas or electric heating. In this way buildings will have a positive effect on the temperature of their surroundings as well as reduce their energy bill sustainably.

Waterfall in glass panes at The Clarendon Hotel and Spa, on Tripadvisor

Besides the heat-island effect, cities of tomorrow (especially in the water country that is the Netherlands) will also have to deal with heavier rainfall. At the moment, cities scramble to create water retention capacities to store the water in such an event. Enter the system described before. By connecting the system to the storm sewer, a massive water retention capacity can be realized, for very little extra cost. Now the system has the added bonus of reducing nuisance from heavy rainfalls combined with limiting the effects of summer droughts.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) water has a minimum energy storage capacity of 2000 kWh/ton and is capable of storing this energy for up to a year. Given that thermal energy storage is well proven, yet bulky, underground applications should be well possible. In addition, cooling buildings by waterpipes through the roof has also been proven efficient back in the 1970s in New Delhi, India.

Where climate adaptation is now mainly seen as a necessary pain to keep the city livable in the face of climate change, implementing project Sponge will transform this into an opportunity. Creating revenue by tapping a new renewable energy source, while simultaneously installing all required climate adaptation measures with innovative green and blue technology.

Two ways to find out how sustainable you live in your house

On 12 December 2015, 171 political leader signed an international climate policy in Paris, the Paris Agreement. This agreement also meant a reversion for Leiden in the field of CO2- emissions: a reduction of 49% in 2030 compared to 1990. In order to achieve this, the trias energetica was included in the policy plan of the municipality. The trias energetica is based on the following: ‘First, we need to reduce the demand for energy. Second, we need to use sustainable sources in stead of fossil fuels. Third, we need to produce and use fossil energy as efficient as possible.’ Despite the fact that the trias energetica is included in the policy plan, there are two issues, which make the target more difficult to achieve:

  1. The mandatory energy label (Dutch: Energielabel plicht)
  2. The green certificates from abroad (GOs = Guarantees of Origin)

1. The mandatory energy label 

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An energy label is a label that indicates how many measures for energy- savings have been applied to a house. Houses can no longer be sold without a label because of the mandatory energy label. This measure aims to reduce the demand for energy. With this measure, the government has set a step in the right direction. However, this obligation does not apply to all houses. Protected monuments* do not need to have a label, while protected monuments form a significant share in the housing market in Leiden. It is possible that Leiden is not going to achieve its target for 2030 because of this legislation. If you do not live in a protected monument, see if your house contributes to achieving the climate agreement. Below, you can find out what your label is. Label A is the best and G the worst.

*According to the Heritage act (Dutch: Erfgoedwet) or in the provincial or municipal regulation (Dutch: verordening)

Step 1. The website:

2. The green certificates from abroad 

The next step requires an explanation about green certificates from abroad. What are green certificates anyway? The video below gives a good explanation. A green certificate  proofs that 1 MWh of renewable energy has been generated from sources such as solar panels and windmills. The green certificate is sold to the energy provider and therefore  the energy provider can provide the consumer with green energy. This is done, because it ensures the consumer that he or she contributes to the production of green energy on the general energy network.  Since the general energy network also contains energy from fossil fuels, such as coal-fired plants. There is often no direct connection between the source of the renewable energy and the consumer, for example between a windmill and a specific building. This direct connection is only made on paper because of the green certificates. The purpose of the certificates is to use more and more renewable energy and less fossil fuels.

It is therefore regrettable that some energy providers have found a way to use green certificates, but on the other hand do not contribute to the energy transition. This is due to purchased green certificates from abroad, for example from Norway and Iceland. Inhabitants of Norway and Iceland are sure that they receive green energy from the hydropower plants. They do not necessary need a green certificate to believe that they are receiving energy from renewable resources. On top of that, these countries can sell  green certificates to other countries, because they have enough certificates to reach the climate targets. Therefore, the green certificates from Norway and Iceland can be sold to countries such as the Netherlands. Inhabitants of the Netherlands also want to contribute to a more sustainable world, but because we do not automatically purchase electricity from renewable resources, we buy green energy with the green certificates. The behavior of some energy providers is misleading. It is cheaper for them to buy green certificates from abroad than actually produce renewable energy themselves. The hydropower plants in Norway have been running there for decades. Unfortunately, this does therefore not contribute to the energy transition. So see if your energy provider also participates in this. You can see this below.

Step 2. The website:


Local initiatives will lead to a climate proof Leiden

I have been living in the city of Leiden for three years now and fell in love with the canals, the old streets and buildings and the little parks here and there. This beautiful scenery will however not last very long. The streets are subsiding, the city centre is heating up and water related problems are occuring. And these problems will only become more intense since the climate is changing due to global warming. There will be more tropical days, meaning that the heatstress problem will become dangerous to weaker people, such as small children and the elderly. Next to more tropical days, there will also be more heavy rainfall. Currently, with all the stone and little green in cities the amounts of water get to large and streets and buildings will flood, giving large damage costs. So, it is necessary that Leiden becomes climate adaptive.

This climate adaptation can be done by the munincipality who will force rules on the citizens to change. That however will be very hard and will not make the munincipality popular amongst their citizens. It is probably a better idea to have the initiatives come from the locals themselves. The munincipality can then help the citizens with expertise and subsidies.

There are already some local initiaves in the Netherlands that show great effort from within the local community. One of them is Amsterdam Rainproof, an initiative to decrease the water problems due to heavy rain in the city centre of Amsterdam.  For instance, people can put rain barrels in their garden to collect the water. And the project encourages the citizens to add more green to their gardens so the ground and the plants can hold on to the water longer. More information can be found on their website.

Another local initiative is Operatie Steenbreek, it literally tries to break the stones in the city of Leiden. So, replacing stones by plants, the same kind of idea as Amsterdam Rainproof. Because, plants don’t only hold water but also lower the temperature of an area. This is important since we will have more tropical days and the heatstress will cause great problems. In the current situation, people still have a lot of stone in the gardens or balconies. If everyone would more their houses and direct environment greener, then the water and heat problems will drastically decrease.

This video below explains Operatie Steenbreek.

These are just two examples of local initiatives in communities to battle the problems that arise because of climate change. It shows that little changes can eventually solve a large problem. These kind of bottom up actions lead to more awareness amongst the citizen. This is a very important aspect in climate adaptation. The more people that think and act on possible solutions the faster we can solve the big issues. Because heatstress and water issues are serious problems that must be solved before they become a threat to our health.

Scanning for Potential

Many cities want to implement a circular economy. But identifying opportunities for this can be quite hard, because the resulting systems are almost by definition complex and highly interconnected. Thankfully a new tool was recently introduced by Circle Cities Programme, the City Circle Scan. After an initial small pilot scan done on the city of Glasgow, it has now for the first time been successfully used on a large city. With help of TNO and Fabric, Circle Cities Programme has applied their scan to the city of Amsterdam.

The City Circle Scan has four phases. It all starts by mapping of material flows and added value, followed by the evaluation and selection of chains. The next step is visioning, in this phase the current system is re imagined in a circular way, with multiple visions developed for each chain. The final phase is project selection and formulation of action points, which results in detailed strategies to re shape the current chains into circular ones.

The scan of Amsterdam revealed two promising chains, the first of which is called The Construction Chain. The report predicts implementation of this chain will lower both annual material import and GHG emissions by half a million tonnes. This is respectively 33% and 2.5%. Quite size able savings. This is achieved by first of all simply using less materials through smarter design. The next important step is better recycling, the plan proposes better separation of the waste streams related to construction, further resulting in high value recycling. Now none of this is revolutionary stuff, which is why the last step is important. Through the creation of an online marketplace for these recycled materials, the hope is to breach the gap between demolition and construction so that the old recycled materials will actually end up in the new smartly designed buildings.

Construction chain
The Construction Chain

The second chain is called The Organic Residual Streams Chain. This chain is predicted to achieve a 600 thousand tonnes reduction in GHG emissions and nearly a million tonnes worth of material savings. The basic outline of the chain has a lot in common with the Construction Chain as it also aims to improve the separation of waste streams and to then utilize these streams in the smartest way possible. Again, this is mostly common sense, the real power behind the chain is the proposed central hub for bio-refinery. This facility is meant to refine all sorts of household and commercial organic waste into new high value materials.

A project is already in place to transform organic waste into useful resources.

Organic Residual chain
The Organic Residual Streams Chain

If both these Chains are put into action the total savings will be 1.4 million tonnes of material savings and 1.1 million tonnes of GHG emission reductions. On top of this, predictions are the chains will create €235 million in extra value and up to 1900 new jobs in the construction and agricultural sectors. Now, unfortunately these chains are tailor made for Amsterdam so a revision will be necessary to make them applicable to Leiden. To do this, Leiden could also apply the scan and reveal how they could make their construction and organic waste management circular. And who knows what other opportunities the scan might turn up?


Circular Amsterdam: A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area

Wanted: Change

Globalization has caused us to obtain our daily products from all over the world. When we take a look in an average store all the products come from all over the world. In our current world this is a major problem since transportation is not done in a sustainable way, and even in the most optimistic scenarios it will not be for a significant amount of time. Therefore not only making transportation systems more sustainable but also creating a more locally based economy will contribute to a circular and sustainable society. One of the crucial things that a government has to do is to care for its citizens, since environmental problems already are a major threat and it will be a huge problem if we do not attack this problem, it is the task of the government to protect us and lead the way towards a sustainable society.

It is unacceptable that plastic products made from crude oil are for sale for only a few cents while they are shipped from the other side of the world. The real cost for society when climate change and resources are accounted for is much higher. Therefore if it is the task of the government to attack climate change and protect us they should tax these products according to their real costs and invest that money into a sustainable future. This is for example already done for other unwanted products such as alcohol and tobacco. Besides this unfair pricing, our personal lifestyles are a major influence on the environment. If nobody would buy these products there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. However we wouldn’t want the government to prohibit us from buying whatever we want since we all agree on the importance of living in a free society. On the other hand we are all greatly influenced by media en advertisements so the question is, are we deciding for ourselves anyway?

In the Netherlands we all live in cities and our lifestyles quite resemble each other, so when the general opinion of these products changes the consequences will be enormous. In the end even the biggest of companies are all dependent on their customers. That is why the government should do advertising on environmental problems. When the government makes a statement on an educational level this might push citizens towards acting on their values. For example make a postbus 51 clip on climate change. Also an obligatory program on sustainability in high school, and affection with nature programs on primary schools could be very helpful. This will cause major leverage in society for changing towards a sustainable society, which will cause all political parties to choose for a more environmental friendly approach, not matter if they are right or left sided.

Now that elections are coming up it is important to make voters aware of the importance and to force all parties to choose for a more sustainable approach. When people are influenced by advertisement to choose for a more sustainable future in the form of new tax regulations charging unwanted products this will cause the biggest changes. In the end the only way we will be able to create more sustainable cities is if we want it ourselves.

Your final good deed

A wooden casket with on top gorgeous floral arrangements is being carried across the cemetery. Followed by a procession of mourning silent people the casket arrives at the grave where tombstone marks the final resting place of the deceased. We want to give our loved ones a funeral they deserve. However, such “traditional” Western burial is the worst ways to dispose of a body.

The impact of a funeral

Reports of Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) show that burial is the most stressful for the environment, followed by cremation. The least stressful is a technique called alkaline hydrolysis. With this technique the body is being dissolved under pressure in hot water with potassium oxide.

Watch this video on how alkaline hydrolysis works

In the reports the impact on the environment is indicated among other things in shadow prices. These prices are the costs that have to be made to compensate the effects of the funeral techniques on the environment in euros.

The total environmental impact of the funeral techniques is between €2.59 for alkaline hydrolysis and €50.83 for a burial for an average deceased person. Cremation lies between those two, €48.47.

With burials, the biggest factor of impact is the space it takes to bury someone, costing 19.26 euros to compensate. The second biggest factor is particulate formation, 13.44 euros, followed by water supply depletion, 10.58 euros.

The biggest factor with cremation is particulate formation, costing 18.37 euros. Also cremation has a big effect on the water supply, its shadow price is 10.35 euros. Eutrophication, the enrichment of a water body with nutrients causing loss of biodiversity and depletion of oxygen, comes third with a shadow price of almost 7 euros.

The shadow price of just 2.59 euros for alkaline hydrolysis doesn’t mean the process isn’t stressful for the environment. It means that costs are compensated. Some of the effects categories have negative values. The water supply depletion costs for alkaline hydrolysis are 4.53 euros, but the costs for human toxicity are -2.15 euros. Together with the negative value for particulate formation, -2.07 euros, and the values of other effects categories, makes that alkaline hydrolysis has a net shadow price of 2.59 euros.

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The environmental impact in shadow prices of burial (left), cremation (middle) and alkaline hydrolysis (right) (TNO 2014 R11303)

So what to do?

Keeping in mind that an average burial costs between €8,500 and €11,000, why don’t we all choose for the greenest and much cheaper version? The main reason could be the fact it is not legal in the Netherlands. The research done by TNO has been conducted on behalf of Yarden, a Dutch funeral organisation and insurer. The aim of the research is to provide information needed to change the law regarding funeral techniques in the Netherlands. This law states that one’s body may be buried, cremated or donated to science.

The two funeral techniques apart from burial, provide the great advantage of being able to recycle metals which otherwise would be lost in the ground. With alkaline hydrolysis this advantage is extended to the capability of recycling noble metals. This recycling results in a compensation of environmental effects.

For now, we can only hope that when our time has come the law permits us to do our final good deed for this world.