Tag Archives: Sustainability

Laying the framework for a sustainable society

It has become increasingly important in the current society to make people aware of the impact each individual can make.
In this post I will be addressing how someone can work towards not just raising awareness, but also making progress towards a more sustainable way of living. There are many issues which can not be addressed by simply making people aware of them since there is a big gap between being aware something and being able to change it. Although not everyone has in-depth knowledge about large scale issues nowadays because these issues became harder to define, those with the knowledge can lay the framework.

The most efficient way to tackle these issues is by providing information that helps initiate change towards sustainability, but more importantly, on how these changes can be supported.
If the framework is not laid properly, the entire structure built upon it will be unstable. In the current society many people are focused on being different (but therefor becoming the same) rather than making an actual difference. This can be linked back to the more prevalent capitalistic framework that regards most people as ‘consumers’ which presents ‘new’ products as different and better(yet the same) compared to existing products. However this framework is not stable, since to make profits from new products the old must first be discarded. A clear example of this would be the iPhone.
This framework revolves around profit, and not on sustainability and resilience. However, the main problem with the mentality that came with this framework is that people became more desensitized and an artificial craving for ‘new’ products was created. What makes this mentality dangerous is that the same reasoning started being applied to every day life, the same people that focus on ‘trends’ are the first to start taking pictures during accidents rather than helping. The other side of this problem is that if the trend shifts to ‘doing good’ everyone might suddenly try to help without the knowledge to do so. Most people would agree that president Trump is a good example of the negative impact an amateur with power can have.

The framework that is required to improve society is focused on sustainability and resilience. This involves making people aware of how systems can be made self-sustaining, for example circular waste management can be explained by a simplified demonstration of input-output such as in a flow diagram.
What people really need to be made aware of is their own impact on things, how small changes matter on a larger scale. People need to think more about long term than short term plans that benefit more than just themselves. A single seed is easily planted, but if nurtured properly it can become a large tree.

Current society looks more like a machine than a tree, with the scientific, public, economic, and political sector working like cogs you can understand how it works by looking at the interaction between them. The scientific community focuses on observing and analyzing changes while the media finds a way to present it to the general public without causing a panic. Meanwhile the economic (business) and political sectors try to implement changes that benefit the general public while keeping it stabilized. Although very simplified this example illustrates that the overall capacity to deal with change on a large scale decreases when one or more of these sectors do not function properly. Innovation occurs when important changes happen while society functions at high capacity.
However in a sustainable and resilient society each sector can be seen as a branch of a tree rather than a cog in a machine. If a problem occurs on one branch this does not affect the others, although the effect is covered by the entire treetop and recovery happens on its own overtime. In a machine however if one cog is damaged this affects the entire machine drastically and can cause it to break down completely.
If we want to have a sustainable society we should focus on being prepared to act on opportunities to make a difference.

1. D, Jared., (2005). Collapse, how societies choose to fail or survive. New York: Viking Press.

2. Jabareen, Y. (2008) Environ Dev Sustain 10: 179.


Sowing change for a greener city

By Nina Ruig

The environmental issues we’re struggling with are becoming more prone. Luckily they are also getting more visible. Circularity, urban green and sustainability have become so called buzzwords. Now that everyone is talking about it, it seems time for some action. All over the world initiatives pop up for a better, healthier planet. Ranging from nationwide bans on plastic bags to entire new cities build according to the latest views on sustainability, such as Masdar city.

Impression of Masdar city in the United Arab Emirates

More and more governments are making the environment an important point on their agendas. The Paris agreement of 2015 is a good example of an international treaty to improve the sustainability and the will to mitigate climate change of nations worldwide. This agreement was followed up by the Katowice climate change conference  which resulted in a more detailed rulebook to actually achieve the agreement. However these rules are mere guidelines and none of the countries that signed can be hold accountable.

This is a problem we see on all levels. Here, in the Netherlands the government is falling apart over climate negotiations. Everyone agrees something has to be done and no one wants the responsibility for actually doing so. The same things happen in municipalities: The Hague set some ambitious goals to achieve more sustainability and circularity in the near future. To reach these goals they want to, amongst other things, implement more urban green. This ranges from planting more trees, creating more parks, to implement vertical greening, hanging gardens, green facades and rooftop gardens. These measures will contribute to the decreasing of the heat island effect and run-off, increase of biodiversity and air quality and will contribute to improved physical and mental health and aesthetics. The municipality has a multitude of plans and documents in which it describes its goals for urban greening. However they are never specified, there is no conclusive plan of action. Some ideas are in place, but the city is short of sufficient funding.

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Benefits of urban green as visualized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

This brings us to the core of the problem. Since the municipality is a political authority, everything they work on turns in to politics. If we want more funding for urban green, it means we have to cut funding somewhere else. Who is going to pay for the urban green? Is that fair? Aren’t there other topics that need our immediate attention? All parties involved have a different take on these matters, which leads to complicated debate and a lot of compromise.

Of course it takes a lot to transition from the existing structures to new, more sustainable and greener ones. However the top down approach doesn’t seem to pay off quickly enough. Are we going to let this stop us from creating a greener living space? Do we have to wait around until the people at the top are finally agreeing? Of course not. We can all contribute in our own way. Plant some flowers next to your front door, put them in front of your window or replace some of the tiles in you garden with some green. You can go guerrilla gardening, build an insect hotel or create a shelter for small mammals, like hedgehogs. Let us make room for grassroot initiatives, while the debate goes on. If we all contribute a little bit, we can change cities to greener environments, reaping all the benefits. Mental and environmental.

For more inspiration on guerilla gardening watch this TEDTalk by Richard Reynolds.

The hurdles towards a sustainable lifestyle

With the dangers accompanying climate change lurking around the corner, it is becoming increasingly more important for the general public to transition to a sustainable way of living. This is however not so easy to accomplish, as several obstacles lie before this goal of a sustainable lifestyle becoming the common lifestyle. 

There are different factors that keep people from choosing for the sustainable options in their everyday life, varying from not having the means to alter their lifestyle to simply being too lazy to put effort into changing their ways (Salonen & Åhlberg 2013). 

The main obstacles identified can be categorized into personal factors and contextual factors (ibid.). Personal factors consist of people’s way of thinking: their values, attitudes and beliefs of and towards sustainability issues (ibid.). Contextual factors are factors that individuals have little power over, such as lack of sufficient storage space for recycling, access to public transport and the prices of products that leave a smaller ecological footprint (ibid.).

Obstacles that fit within contextual factors are the most influential on people’s lifestyles (ibid.: 53). It shows that not necessarily awareness is missing, but the means to act according to this awareness. This causes an attitude-behavior gap. This gap arises when people are aware of the importance of a sustainable lifestyle, but do not have the means to practice this lifestyle and/or prioritize personal preferences over sustainable alternatives, such as long, hot showers over quick ones, or overconsumption (Salonen & Åhlberg 2013; Salonen, Siirilä & Valtonen 2018). It seems that people are indeed aware of the importance of a sustainable lifestyle, but that is not always enough to make them change towards one. To overcome this hurdle of people having the awareness but not enough willingness to change, more information about the influence their lifestyle has on climate change is necessary to expand people’s knowledge on the matter.

This information can be spread in different ways. One way to do this, is by focusing on primary and high school students. Technolab Leiden is an example of an initiative that does this. By providing workshops and projects for these students on subjects like renewable energy and water management, they educate children and teenagers on the importance of these topics. Technolab Leiden educates the students in an active way, for example by involving students in the transition of their school towards renewable energy. The video shows how Technolab Leiden does this for example by letting them experiment with different energy sources and letting them measure how much energy some devices use to look at which ones they can save some energy on.

Video from Technolab Leiden showing how they involved high school students in finding appropriate renewable energy for their school building (Dutch).

Educating people today, especially the children and teenagers, is an investment in the future. Encouraging people to make changes in their everyday lives by educating them on the effects and importance of their lifestyles on the environment can help jump the hurdle of too little knowledge about the effect it has on climate change. It will bring people closer to a (more) sustainable lifestyle and help humanity prepare for, and hopefully avoid at least some of the dangers that come with climate change.

Works cited:
Salonen, A.O. & M. Åhlberg (2013) ‘Obstacles to sustainable living in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area’ Sustainable Cities and Society 8: 48–55.
Salonen, A.O., J. Siirilä & M. Valtonen (2018) ‘Sustainable Living in Finland: Combating Climate Change in Everyday Life’ Sustainability 10(1), 104. 

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 

monumentaalpand leiden.png

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: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/energielabel-woningen-en-gebouwen/vraag-en-antwoord/hoe-kom-ik-aan-een-energielabel-voor-mijn-woning

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: https://wisenederland.nl/energievergelijker


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. https://www.rainproof.nl/

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.

Smart Batteries may be the solution for a sustainable The Hague

Do you want to reduce your annual energy bill while you’re helping The Hague become future proof? Many steps have to be taken to minimize and eventually completely eliminate our carbon footprint. Using green energy in our houses, workplaces, school and other buildings is a clean and easy way to do our share for the environment. A company based in California, Green Charge Networks, might have developed the golden trick to facilitate this process, namely Smart batteries. This allows solar energy to be stored for later consumption. The company is specialized in creating predictive software and energy-storages, enabling households and local enterprises to lower their energy demand during peak hours. The project’s main goal is to promote energy-efficiency and in the meantime encourage more households, local businesses and public organisations to go solar.

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A picture of the smart lithium-ion batteries released by Sustainia. http://solutions.sustainia.me/solutions/smart-batteries-reducing-peak-power-consumption/

How does it work? The corporation provides lithium-ion batteries accompanied by big analytical data software. When solar energy is affluent during the day and the grid demand is low, the installed lithium power cube will automatically store the surplus energy. This technology, doubtlessly user-friendly, enables us to use green and free energy when the demand is high and the prices increase.

This video posted on Youtube by the company gives a short and clear visualization of the installation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVE0qazg8qM


A “two birds with one stone” solution. In addition to financial benefits, this innovation also empowers the use of locally produced green energy allowing cities to make big steps towards the carbon neutral goal. Currently, many cities are thriving in becoming fully green and carbon neutral before reaching half way the 21st century. The Hague makes no exception here. Reducing energy generated by non-renewable sources such as coals, oil and gas will definitely help us achieve this sustainable goal. Considering the current expansion of households, corporations and public organisations are eager to invest in green energy. Bearing in mind that in 2016 only 5,9% of the Dutch electricity bill was generated from renewable sources. The installation of smart lithium batteries in The Hague will be the golden opportunity to upscale the green energy consumption and to decouple the demand from the supply chain. Enabling other futuristic and green energy-efficient innovations to progress. Another unneglectable green aspect induced by this modernization is the fact that solar panels will account for higher production levels than ever before, meaning that raw materials are better invested. On the long run, this could also mean that less raw materials will have to be extracted for the production of solar panels. The only downside to this is that the amount of raw materials needed for the batteries will increase.

We-share-solar.jpgBe cool and share. The lithium-ion energy storages could form the base to new social projects. For example Solar share, allowing the extractionof energy stored by different consumers. Meaning, you could use green energy produced by your neighbour’s solar panels when he or she is not home. This share of renewable energy is already set in place in different municipalities in Australia and in the United States. Green Energy Cooperative, an association developing and financing different energy-efficiency projects that involve local communities, claims that inducing full engagement and responsibility of citizens in energy production is the key to a sustainable future.


Visualization of energy share.

I agree that much more will have to be done if we want to fight back climate change fully.  Yet I do believe this modern installation could be an easy way to facilitate the transition to green energy, as it brings along a broad range of benefits and opportunities. I especially like the fact that it could makes individuals more independent, seeing as they would not have to fully rely on the volatile prices of energy. It also strengthens local communities.