Raise your hand if you have always associated Amsterdam with its typical houses on the canals, coffee shops and the red light district. True, these elements are an integral part of the city, but the Dutch capital has so much more to offer.
Amsterdam is the largest city of the Netherlands, and one of the most environmentally sustainable cities in the world. In 2022 the city ranked 10th in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, which, at its 5th edition now, examines 100 global cities, taking into consideration 51 different metrics across 26 separate indicator themes, to highlight the evolving challenges that cities have to face. Moreover, Amsterdam citizens are avid cyclists; in the city today, there are approximately 515 km of dedicated cycle lanes and, since the number of bikes is constantly growing, the municipality has put in place a “shared bicycles pilot programme” that will run until June 2023 with up to 1.300 shared bicycles, in order to reduce traffic and improve air quality.
Within the CEnTOUR – Circular Economy in Tourism project, 6 of the SMEs enrolled in the Project’s Capacity Building took part in an immersive Study Visit to Amsterdam, aimed at stimulating the implementation of innovative solutions for the sustainable development of tourism through transnational cooperation, knowledge transfer and the adoption of circular business models. From Italy, Agriturismo Arcera and Agriturismo le Castellare; from Moldova, Restaurant Epoca de Piatra, Guesthouse “CASA VERDE” and CODRU Touristic Complex; from Greece, Guesthouse Kokkymelon, after having explored the principles of sustainability during learning sessions with the Facilitators, had the unique chance to see with their own eyes the daily activities of businesses that have already successfully implemented sustainable practices in their everyday working life, or are at the forefront of circular and sustainable innovation and research.
The Study Visit’s destination structures have been selected among the most interesting experiences proposals in terms of sustainability and circularity in the tourist accommodation market, being the Netherlands one of the most innovative touristic destinations.
Day 1 - October, 25th 2022
On the morning of the first day, the SMEs were hosted by De Ceuvel, a community-built urban incubator where sustainability and the circular economy are central. It is an urban experiment in urban renewal and a place to relax and be inspired. The site is equipped with a smart grid of 150 Photovoltaïc solar panels where power can be exchanged using blockchain technology; an aquaponics greenhouse that produces vegetables and herbs and utilises organic waste flows generated on-site; 16 boats on dry land converted into creative workspaces; and a cosy café-restaurant that has been named ‘the most sustainable restaurant in Europe’, and which uses the vegetables and herbs produced in the greenhouse.
The area underneath de Ceuvel is polluted by almost a century of heavy industry; when this applies, it is usual to remove and mix the polluted ground with clean ground, not really fixing the problem, but moving it to another area. At De Ceuvel, they are trying to do things differently, by using plants that are known to be particularly good at absorbing pollutants through their roots, a quite new technique that goes under the name of ‘phytoremediation’. The soil between the boats is also cultivated with those specific sets of plants, which absorb, stabilise or exhaust high concentrations of pollution.
As already mentioned, the complex is composed of decrepit houseboats, renovated and put on land, and characterised by distinctive designs. The boats are connected by wooden footbridges that run across the whole perimeter of the complex, giving to De Ceuvel the appearances of a magical, mystical place.
The lunch break was at Café de Ceuvel; a building made entirely of upcycled materials. Founded in 2014, the Café put in place a whole range of initiatives to ensure that every plate, beer and drink they put on the table contributes to their ideals of sustainability. It produces its own soda with organic syrups, and its beers come from small local brewers; they cook completely vegan, have CO2 free coffee and are completely off gas. For them, the social component of sustainability is as important as the ecological, so they’re all about offering a sustainable product for every individual from all corners of the world.
After the lunch break, the SMEs had the chance to hear the experience of Metabolic Lab, an experimental showcase facility of applied sustainability and circular urban development, frequently used for events, meetings, workshops and training. It is based at De Ceuvel, which Metabolic helped to establish and develop. Metabolic itself is a consulting and venture building company, headquartered in Amsterdam but working internationally, that uses systems thinking to tackle major sustainability challenges. Once again, the site was formerly a derelict shipyard resting over polluted soil; the land beneath the buildings has been cleaned by means of the ‘phytoremediation’ process. The offices themselves are made largely out of upcycled materials, with old houseboats lifted onto the land and renovated. Sitting on top of Metabolic Lab, the greenhouse grows food for the neighbouring Café de Ceuvel.
The second day started with a visit to Gemeente Amsterdam where our SMEs had the amazing opportunity to discover the actions put in place by the municipality of Amsterdam in the context of hospitality services, thanks to Ms. Froukje Anne Karsten, project manager of the Circular Hotels Leaders Group initiative and sustainability coach. The initiative was launched on the 9th of November 2018 and it brought together more than 15 hotels that have already taken many steps along the path to sustainability, or are on the verge of doing so. This partnership has shown that cooperation in the city can lead to new circular opportunities. Not only by exchanging knowledge, but also by cooperation, such as joint purchasing and bundling of waste streams for useful applications.
The lunch break was the occasion to discover the beautiful and welcoming Circl NL, a circular pavillion on the Amsterdam Zuidas (literally, southern axis); a building constructed entirely on circular principles, designed to facilitate “unexpected encounters” thanks to a big events space that hosts lectures, debates, workshops and concerts. It is a living lab where to experiment with innovative solutions to meet the challenges of the future, where the head chef Rudolf Brand experiments with circular eating and drinking, adjusting the ingredients daily to what the market and the season have to offer. Many of the materials used to build Circl had a previous life and raw materials – from the wood used in its construction to the aluminium on its outer walls – can be put to new uses in the future. It was originally supposed to be an extension of the ABN AMRO Bank Headquarter that rises right in front of it; but in 2015, Hans de Jong, Facility Management Project Manager, decided differently and together with his team, gave life to the “Circular Pavilion’‘. Read the whole story here.
Last destination of the study visit was the magnificent Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam, one of the first energy-neutral hotels – and the most sustainable hotel – in the Netherlands. A spectacular and majestic building with a sustainable, industrial character, lots of transparent glass facades and a unique 30 metre high wooden main support structure.
6000m3 certified wood | 0% CO2 emissions
In the central atrium is a sub-tropical garden with 10m tall palm trees, banana trees, climbing plants, ginger and flowers. Many circular economy and energy saving methods are applied at Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam: rainwater is collected to sprinkle the subtropical interior garden; photovoltaic panels on the facade and roof of the atrium collect solar energy, which is converted into electricity and heats the shower water; a heat and cold storage system takes care of the heating and cooling of the hotel; the staff wear company clothes, crafted in a sustainable way and designed by fashion label By Rockland. Hotel Jakarta is also part of the Circular Hotels Leaders Group initiative promoted by Gemeente Amsterdam.
Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam is a public building; therefore on the ground floor there is the restaurant with terrace at the IJ bay, on the 1st floor the Bakery with espresso bar, wellness area with swimming pool and three meeting rooms. The subtropical atrium with the selection of Asian trees, palms and plants is in the heart of the building and freely accessible to everyone. The hotel has 200 rooms, which are for the most part prefabricated and built-in on site and have an indoor balcony that can be completely closed off, so that noise is kept out and heat is kept inside