Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dutch Town of Venlo Goes Cradle to Cradle

by Petz Scholtus, Barcelona on 03. 4.08

We heard a rumour that an entire town in the Netherlands had adopted McDonough and Braungart’s concept of Cradle to Cradle. Not really knowing what to expect we visited the Dutch town called Venlo in the province of Limburg.

What we experienced was awe-inspiring. Cradle to Cradle was everywhere, or rather, in everybody’s mouth since it is a little too early to see the practical results of this endorsement. From businessmen to young designers and even the bar keeper- everybody in Venlo knows about Cradle to Cradle and people are very enthusiastic about the new approach to making things. It feels like Michael Braungart, who is now a regular visitor in Venlo, infected the town with Cradle to Cradle thinking and faith. And why not? As the Venlonians say, it’s a great tool for innovation that also makes sense economically, while saving out planet and the future generations. We spoke to Harry Loozen, Director of the Chamber of Commerce, whose enthusiasm was very inspiring. He told us that the whole project started when a Dutch TV channel broadcasted about Cradle to Cradle in 2006. Since then, the small Dutch town has turned itself into a pioneering ground for ‘rethinking the way we make things’.

Entrepreneurs in Venlo saw the benefits in the new concept and decided to apply it to their town. Together with the superstars McDonough and Braungart, they managed to convince the industries, policy makers and creative people of Venlo to adapt the concept by making sure that ‘food = waste’. However, talking to those from the industry who are now expected to go Cradle to Cradle, we received confessions that it is a bigger challenge than first anticipated. In theory, Cradle to Cradle makes sense, it’s even fun. But as Joost Backus from Koekoek, a creative industry promoter, began his talk at a Cradle to Cradle workshop: “We straight away ran into difficulties.’

The designers from Qreamteam, a local design collective who also embraced the new challenge hoping to make a difference, agree that it’s easier said than done. They claim not even McDonough and Braungart have the real solution or many viable practical examples. One example of carpet (Shaw) or a car factory with a green roof (Ford Rouge) is not enough for these eager people to prove that Cradle to Cradle can really work. The Venlonians agree that there isn’t a practical solution to Cradle to Cradle yet, that it’s a bit of an utopia and very difficult to put into practice by the industry. But one thing is certain: they are not giving up even if a few skeptics are afraid that Cradle to Cradle is just a hype and that in a few years, people will move on to another concept.

For this not to happen, Venlo and other people around the world will yet have to prove that Cradle to Cradle is possible on a bigger and faster scale. And Venlo is definitely setting an example. The most impressive thing about this town and its 90.000 inhabitants adopting Cradle to Cradle is that it joints the industry with the politicians, the general public and the creative people in a giant common project. Not many projects anywhere have ever managed to turn a single town into a melting-pot of sustainable (or any other kind of) thinking. In Venlo, Cradle to Cradle is a term known to almost everyone and the common goal towards which they all work, share ideas, raise questions, find answers and take action to make it work.

The one big project they are all looking forward to is the Floriade in 2012, the World Horticulture Fair, held every 10 years. The Floriade organisers have also decided to adapt Cradle to Cradle as their main theme, building a 66-hectare sustainable fair ground, which afterwards will be used to build Greenpark Venlo, a planned green business area. And then there is Steven Spielberg who wants to include Venlo in his documentary about Cradle to Cradle.

So stay tuned; there are definitely more interesting stories to be told from Venlo, the small town with a big vision. And don’t hesitate to share your thoughts whether you think Cradle to Cradle will really make a difference, become mainstream and lead us to the next industrial revolution, or whether it is just a current trend or marketing tool. Thank you Teun den Dekker for the tip! ::Koekoek ::ConCradle ::Let’s Cradle

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