Tag Archives: The Hague

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.

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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.

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The New Generation: Smart Buildings

 

Growing exponentially in the urban area vernacular, we have recently witnessed the same word pop up more often than not: ‘Smart’ buildings and cities. It seems to be the new hype since urban planners across the world are combining technology, big data, and urban living spaces to solve the greatest bottlenecks of our modern cities. Cities struggle with a growing population which causes a decline in the standard of living, increased pollution, traffic jams, etc. In the light of the above, we will mainly focus on the sustainability aspect of these new smart cities and buildings.

First of all, what exactly is a smart building? A prime example is ‘The Edge’. At the end of 2017, the world’s greenest building was opened in Amsterdam, called ‘The Edge’; home to one of the big four firms. This building set a whole new standard for what green smart buildings ought to be and re-defined energy transition in the Amsterdam corporate space. This building is everything one could wish for, and more.

Because of its unique and flexible workplaces, lesser space is needed and ergo, lesser energy is consumed. On top of that, the newly developed LED system by Phillips that connects light through ethernet cables consumes much less energy than normal lighting would and the building is covered in solar panels. Furthermore, the employees are encouraged the use electric cars that can be charged with solar energy. Of course, with relevant infrastructure for these charging ports already in place.

That is not the only smart buildings that the Netherlands has churned out. Last year, Helmond, a city linked with the Dutch Brainport Eindhoven, announced (link in Dutch) that they will build the first smart neighbourhood of the Netherlands, the Brainport Village. This will be done in affiliation with the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e). Within this smart neighbourhood, sustainability will be at the very core, acting as a living lab for future sustainable technologies. This neighbourhood will be completely self-sufficient in their energy needs as well as reduce the amount of energy needed through sharing and smart street lights.

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Brandevoort, which will be expanded to Brainport Smart Village

So where is The Hague in this narrative? Since 2015, the city of The Hague has been making plans to become a so-called ‘Smart City’. Last year, they even published a long-term strategy towards becoming a full-blown smart city, however, they are not giving sustainability enough attention. Until recently. In the final weeks of 2017 the city council of The Hague announced that they will cover their ADO football stadium with solar panels to power the match and charge people’s electric cars. This is in line with the city’s goal (link in Dutch) to go through a full energy transition and be self-sufficient regarding their energy needs.

The Hague is not yet on the level of ‘The Edge’ nor making plans to build places such as the Brainport Village. The city is making small steps towards full energy transition in a different way than the rest is. Instead of focussing on the ‘smart’ aspect of things, The Hague has smaller plans on the agenda, such as the solar panels on the football stadium, to realise their bigger goal: climate neutral 2040. Only time will tell which city will be most successful in their energy transition.

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.

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.

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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.

 

Waste is not the end

For the last couple of decades, climate change is all over the news and slowly but surely people are getting more involved in this issue. Sustainability is our savior, our hero against climate change. However, this specific hero of mother earth is still far away. Once it will be nearby, it should embrace the earth and protect her from exploitation and pollution.

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Difference between linear and circular economy. Source: World Economic Forum    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/can-the-circular-economy-transform-the-world-s-number-one-consumer-of-raw-materials/

How to solve the everlasting problem like climate change then? And where to begin? First of all, we need to change our way of using and producing things. Our economy is based on linearity. We extract resources, produce, distribute, consume, and dispose, for me also known as ‘waste’ or  ‘rejected leftovers’. Instead of rejecting it, we must re-think about the meaning of waste. Just start calling it ‘leftovers’ rather than ‘waste’ .  If I have enough leftovers from my lovely diner that I cooked, I’ll save it for the day after, because it is cost saving and at the same time the quality is still excellent enough for using it again. Leftovers from the production in a company or factory should be used as a secondary resource for themselves or for another company, like a contributor to a circular economy.

Video showing the challenges and opportunities for companies. Source: The Guardian
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtR1ibE8Zt0

this video states that companies should start with the circular economy. The two examples following up perfectly describe where to begin on a small scale.

I work in a do-it-yourself shop. One of the services we deliver is sawing wood in the preferred size for the customer. The waste we leave behind is sawdust. Instead of labelling it as waste and throw it away, we provide our sawdust to a farmer, who is using it again for the pigs for rooting. Another example is a company in The Hague, buying leftover  wood briquettes from furniture companies to heat up his own building and even other buildings surrounding him. The advantage of burning wood briquettes is that they release less carbon dioxide compared to fossil fuels.  These two examples do present a solution for reducing the extraction of raw materials and to save energy by using leftovers instead of using new raw materials.

These two cases do not present a circular economy on a large scale, but they perfectly describe a small starting circular economy. These examples can be a great practice for companies in The Hague. Why The Hague? The Hague is a city with lots of citizens and companies. The chance of companies working together is more likely to be in a city like The Hague. Businesses helping each other like these examples in industry areas like ZKD and Binckhorst would tremendously reduce the impact on climate change and exploitation of materials in The Hague. If the Netherlands wants to achieve their goal of being a circular economy in 2050, more cities should introduce a circular economy. The more cities, the closer we will be towards a better and sustainable earth.

Making the energy transition easier

The municipality of The Hague has set the goal to be climate neutral in 2040. On energy transition level, this means two things. On the one hand, the energy usage has to be minimized. On the other hand, the energy demand has to be supplied with sustainable energy coming from renewable sources. In short, energy transition can be defined as the transition from fossil fuel based energy to a renewable form of energy. For the majority of the citizens of The Hague this transition may seem as a huge step. This blog is not going to argue that it is not, but it will provide a tool that can be useful during the transition.

First of all, this step does not need to be taken in one go. The distance from the starting point to the endpoint can be chopped up into smaller pieces. In this blog I will focus solely on the first part, namely the reduction of energy use. According to Linda Steg and colleagues, the reduction of energy use will enhance the efficiency of sustainable energy systems. Individuals can either invest in sustainable initiatives or avoid certain daily energy actions. The average energy use of households in The Hague is forty-four percent of the total energy demand. This percentage is the highest of the six stated sectors.

The tools and information to reduce energy use at the household level are openly available. The top five tools for reducing energy provided by Harvard University states that shutting down electronic devices, choosing for LED light, unplugging electronic devices, shutting down power strips and turning off the lights are the main tools to reduce energy use. These tools are publicly known, however why bother when you are convinced that your energy usage is already low?

Currently, there are multiple initiatives that are trying to make the visualization of the energy use of households more accessible. One of these initiatives is a Kickstarter funded project called Glow. Glow is an energy tracking device which measures the energy usage of a household and creates an overview of the gathered information. This gathered information is visualized in an app. When connected, the device shows different colors of light. When it is green, the energy use is low, when it turns orange or even red, the energy use is (too) high. This energy tracker can be a useful device to monitor and eventually reduce energy use.

With this blog I am not posing the magic key to a successful energy transition, but I think that the majority of the people living in The Hague are not aware of their daily energy use and even if they are, it might be too expensive to make the transition. This expenses could be partly subsidized by the municipality. Or the municipality can try to create an similar app as the one from Glow, with which the citizens can see their daily energy use. When the energy use information is available to the households, they are already a few steps on their way to the finish; a fulfilled energy transition. The Hague wants to be CO2 neutral in 2040. Let us try to decrease the energy use of the sector in which the demand is highest, namely the households.

Don’t Paint the Town Red, Plant the City Green!

The urban heat island (UHI) effect impacts every single person who lives within an urban area and currently 54% of the total world population live within urban areas meaning this is a major issue! However not that many people may understand how the effect works, so here is a video to catch you up to speed on the science behind it as well as show you how it impacts people:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHXw_eZLhII

The UHI effect does not just make heatwaves worse in urban areas of faraway countries like South Korea but in every country. For example my home country of England was hit hard by the 2006 European heatwave, with research from the West Midlands region showing UHI contributed to 21% of heat mortalities. The Netherlands, the country I’m currently living in, suffered in this heatwave as well with an extra >1,000 deaths being recorded, this shows the effects of UHI hit close to home as well as far away. This got me wondering about how the current city that I am living in The Hague could be protected from the UHI effect.

Is the answer to knock down our concrete jungles and go back to actual jungles? No, that’s a tad dramatic, what we need to do is just bring nature back into the city…

One example of doing this is shown by the Mobile Green Living Room, which was created to tour Europe in 2016 to show off the potential of green wall technology. This living wall creates its own cooler microclimate at the street level, fighting the UHI effect and purifying the air at the same time. This “green comfort zone” can be easily implemented in high-density urban areas, I was thinking that wouldn’t tram and bus stops in The Hague be much more beneficial if they were all like this wall, cooling citizens as they wait and cooling the city as a whole too!

Green mobile living room

Another example The Hague could take inspiration from is a massive flagship project built in Milan in 2014, Bosco Verticale, translated into English this means “vertical forests”. I think that’s a fitting name for these two towers, as they hold the equivalent of 20,000 m2 of forest and undergrowth but up into the air. Having one major green construction does not only fight UHI by itself, but works as inspiration for the rest of the city, staring a trend towards more buildings adopting a more eco based form of architecture. With every new green wall or roof a change will take hold of the city and so the UHI effect on the city will begin to decrease as more vegetation enters the urban area, increasing evapotranspiration  and reducing albedo, leading to one cooler city.

Bosco_Verticale

So there are two examples of how The Hague can fight the UHI effect, but one project is more small scale at the street level and the other is a major build. Which example do you think The Hague needs to follow, or is it a mix of the two ideas? Leave what you think in the comments below!

 

References/ Extra Reading:

http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412017315477

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5211592.stm

https://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid%3Abbfc586f-7869-4f0d-98fe-0a5431ca8064

https://inhabitat.com/plant-covered-mobile-green-living-room-travels-through-europe/

http://www.urbantrack.eu/images/site/publications/FinalConference/presentations/07_ASP_Grassed%20Track.pdf

Image 1: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/turas-mobile-green-living-room-marcus-collier

Image 2: https://www.archdaily.com/777498/bosco-verticale-stefano-boeri-architetti