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Green innovations

Published on January 05, 2008

If the people of Venlo have their way, new buildings in this busy nexus of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium will generate more energy than they use.

This ambitious target has been gaining momentum in the province of Limburg, southern Netherlands, since the airing of a television documentary about the revolutionary concept of "cradle-to-cradle" living that produces zero garbage and zero pollution yet allows maximum economic activity.

The idea would to be have things up and running by the time the once-a-decade mammoth flower show – Floriade – starts drawing world tourists to the region in 2012.

In fact, the horticulture industry and Floriade are lynchpins in the recycling concept of the Planet Prosperity Foundation, the group launching the project. A meeting in early November 2007 drew 650 producers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists and local politicians to discuss the way forward.

World governments headed to Bali, Indonesia, in December last year to discuss what happens after the two-year-old Kyoto Protocol on climate change – imposing mandatory cuts on industrial nations’ emissions – expires in 2012, projects like this one are sure to attract attention. 



DPA/ Rachel Levy

Carbon dioxide is key to the Venlo concept. Plans call for trucks to collect carbon dioxide emissions in on-board storage tanks and deliver the gas to hot houses, where bacteria and algae will turn the CO2 into fuel. There’s no shortage of carbon dioxide in the region, with five highways headed to Germany alone from Venlo, a major transport hub on Europe’s InterCity train line.

New industrial parks are to make wide use of ecological roofs of moss and solar panels. The Floriade will be powered by solar and biofuels, and materials used in construction will be biodegradable or reusable.

The region was inspired by the 2006 Dutch public television documentary "Afval = Voedsel," or Garbage equals Food, which spotlighted the work of the dynamic German-American eco team, Michael Braungart and William McDonough.

Braungart, a chemist and German university professor in Lower Saxony, and McDonough, an architect, have made their name brainstorming award-winning designs – like an eco-friendly production facility for Ford motors in the United States. In 2002, they wrote a book, "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things."

The two believe that everything humanity needs can be made of environmentally friendly, 100-per-cent sustainable material. Moss, used on the Ford factory, is a key element because it guarantees maximum insulation and, not coincidentally, also absorbs carbon dioxide.

Within months of the programme’s airing, local politicians in tiny Venlo, a city of 92,000, decided to become the pioneering ground for the cradle-to-cradle theory.

Braungart emphasized at the November conference that Venlo and the surrounding region are an ideal testing ground.

The region is Western Europe’s largest horticulture centre, serving some 30 million consumers within a 150 kilometre radius stretching from the Netherlands to Germany’s industrial Ruhr heartland. It is an important centre of industrial production. And trucks criss-cross the region with products, goods and services, with the logistics sector engaging some 30,000 people in Venlo alone.

To get the ball rolling, Harry Loozen and Dick Thesingh, director and marketing manager of the Chamber of Commerce of the Dutch province of Limburg-Noord, contacted the province of Limburg, the Floriade, and several other public and private partners.

Together, they founded the Planet Prosperity Foundation (PPF), whose director, Roger Cox, is an enthusiastic promoter.

"All cities cope with sustainability problems. They all need to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. That’s why we advocate the implementation of the cradle-to-cradle on the regional level," he said.

Braungart was impressed with the turnout.

"The enormous number of participants at this conference and their enthusiasm demonstrates that there is a strong public interest in pushing forward with cradle-to-cradle," he said.

He also encouraged each sector to pursue change "without fearing to make mistakes. Just do it."

The meeting drew a large number of architects and designers, established banks such as ABN Amro and ING Bank, and international producers such as printing company Oce Technologies.

One of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers, Shaw Floors, of Dalton, Georgia, US, described how its production costs dropped dramatically after it had implemented the cradle-to-cradle theory in its production process. Its 23-billion-kilogramme annual garbage output had dropped drastically.

The 21 workshops even had some immediate results. A snack producer decided to switch to recycled packaging, and several companies pledged to buy only new furniture made of reusable fabric.