The Netherlands: A Leader in Sustainable Infrastructure

Sustainable infrastructure must be made available on a more equal basis though-out the world. It is the solution for many of the world’s most pressing problems, ranging from climate change to even the eradication of terrorism[i].

Our global community, especially those nations seeking to develop sustainable infrastructures, could learn much from the Netherlands.  Despite being Europe’s leading oil producer[ii], the Netherlands ranks as one of the world’s six greenest of countries and is by far the most sophisticated I have visited[iii].

Mass Transportation

The Netherlands has one of best-organized and the cleanest mass transportation systems in the world.

The tram system operating in The Hague[iv]

There are no rush hour traffic jams like those experienced in other developed countries, such as, China, Italy, Japan and the United States.  Automobile traffic is lessened not only by the presence of excellent mass transit but by the absence of open roads in city centers and, if you find a place to drive, better luck finding a parking place.

As a result, the majority of residents walk, bike or use the mass transit system.  Biking is facilitated by smoothly-paved asphalt bike paths running parallel to the sidewalks.  It is true that you more likely to be run over by a bicyclist that an automobile.

Walking and biking result in less obesity and, ultimately, in lessened health care costs.  The Dutch’s reliance on walking and biking must be attributed as factors to its residents having some the longest life expectancy in the developed world.

The Netherlands promotes the use of clean energy and electric vehicles.  Owners of electrically powered vehicles can find recharging stations where parking is available. Even the tourist boats traversing its beautiful canals sport signs that they are powered by clean energy.

The reduced use of vehicles powered by fossil fuels results in less C02 being emitted into the atmosphere, the soil, and our oceans, other waterways and water tables.  In turn, this lessens the impact of the Greenhouse Effect whereby pollution has eroded atmospheric barriers resulting in more solar energy penetrating the earth’s surface ultimately creating global warming.

The Netherlands accomplished this while still being a leader in the production of fossil fuels[v].

Elder Care

This leads into the most unlikely subtopic – better elder care and healthier elders.  In many countries, the elderly are left homebound.  This is not the case in the Netherlands.  On every bike path, you can find elderly residents tooling around on motorized two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles.  Even those elderly who can no longer climb the steps to their homes or flats, have access to motorized lifts to carry them up and down their staircases.  It goes without needing a reference, that when the elderly are connected to the outside world, they are also more mentally active and agile and less prone to illness leading to reduced health care costs.

Health and Health Care

While the Netherlands has a national health care system, even without health insurance, medical care and prescription drugs are less expensive than for a United States citizen having above-average health insurance coverage.

Consumerism

The Netherlands has facially obvious less consumer spending than in many other nations.  This could only have come about as a result of cultural conditioning and not as a result of a now-past but recent economic downturn the Netherlands experienced.

Consumer dollars spent on everyday items tend to spent in small business. Despite my best efforts to find a superstore resembling Target, Meijer’s or Carrefour, I have been unable to do so.  At best, I am told that there is an IKEA for household items, as well as remodeling, 30 kilometers away.

When you go to many grocery markets, you are offered the option of purchasing a bag if you have failed to bring your own.  Even those stores with gratuitous bags, first ask if you need one.

Less packaging materials are used in the Netherlands.  A great example is cheese.  At the grocers, sliced cheese comes in a material with enhanced biodegradable properties[vi]. The packages are designed to be easily resealed whereas in the United States, if your cheese slices are not individually wrapped, as is the practice with some products, the packaging is such that the seal does not lock after opening.

Another example are prescription and over the counter drugs. In the United States and Canada, all medications come in plastic bottles, often topped with a thick foil or plastic seal, some even with cotton packed inside to disguise the fact that the bottle is only fractionally filled. In the Netherlands, medication comes in a thin paper box with pills or capsules in thin foil packs inside.

A further example can be found in the use of bottled water.  Almost everywhere in the world I have visited, people have come to depend on bottled bottle even when potable.  In the Netherlands, the tap water tastes as good as or better than the bottled water.  It is rare to see someone in public with bottled water.  This is not function of cost as bottled water is no more expensive in the Netherlands than elsewhere.  This is great news as plastic bottles can take up to 600 years to naturally decompose.

Other Sustainability Initiatives

While popularly known for its historical use of harnessing the wind via windmills that was only the beginning of innovation in the Netherlands[vii].  By way of example, the Netherlands is seeking to power its train system with wind[viii], wind is being harvested off-shore[ix], tidal power plants are being built[x], it is researching and developing bladeless wind turbines, which are more ecofriendly[xi], and using advanced solar panel technology in hydroponic greenhouses[xii].

Other Observations

What follows are some other observations I have made during my five weeks in the Netherlands.

  • Unlike the United States, where energy efficiency is equated with the dreaded “low flush toilet”, creating the necessity for a plunger to always be nearby, modern toilets in the Netherlands have a high and low flush option.
  • There is a greater commitment to gifted education than in North America. The Netherlands takes pride in cultivating its brightest students and their teachers.
  • Public Wi-Fi access is available in the most heavily visited areas.
  • There is less litter on the streets and in other public areas. I have yet to spot a public building or residence defaced by graffiti. The Dutch take pride in their homeland.
  • Homelessness, while it exists, does not exist in proportion to other developed countries I have visited, including Canada, Taiwan, France, Italy and Spain.
  • There is a greater tolerance of the GLBT community with political asylum available to those individuals needing a safe haven.
  • At the opening of Parliament this year, I had the privilege of witnessing King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima traverse a traditional route in a golden carriage. As they passed, the crowd was subdued, politely waving orange flags.  The one or two protestors carrying signs were silent as the carriage passed.  Even where there is disagreement, there is respect.   A critical part of any sustainable infrastructure is governance that is respected.

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References

[i] While tangential to this particular paper, the root cause of terrorism is inequality.  By creating greater equality across all stratums, we reduce and ultimately eliminate the disenfranchised and un-empowered who comprise IS army.  See gen Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, June 21, 2015, as found on the www at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card.

[ii] “Towards a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy system in the Netherlands”, Holland, as found on the www athttp://www.hollandtrade.com/sector-information/energy/?bstnum=4913 (“The Netherlands has established itself as a pivotal player in the European gas market. The country is not only a major natural gas producer and the source of advanced gas technology, it is also Europe’s leading gas broker. Fifty years of experience in organising public-private partnerships to manage the gas business turned the country into a European gas hub. The Dutch have unmatched capacity to cope with seasonal fluctuations in gas demand, providing north-western Europe with much-needed flexibility. Renowned institutes such as the Groningen Energy Delta Institute train people from all across the globe. In addition, the Netherlands is establishing itself as leader in green gas.”)

[iii]   Id. (“The (energy) sector contributes substantially to Dutch national income, exports and employment. The government has therefore opted for a modern industry policy aimed at making better use of the economic opportunities for both green and grey energy. The Netherlands has embraced a courageous vision: by 2050, the country will have a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy system. As part of this, the Dutch aim to cut CO2 emissions by half to generate some 40 percent of our electricity from sustainable sources like wind at sea and biomass by that time. Carbon emissions will be reduced by a combination which involves increasing the portion of renewable energy, energy saving, nuclear energy and Carbon Capture and Storage. By 2020, the European Renewable Energy Directive sets the target of 14% renewable energy. Renewable resources will play an important role in the bio based economy. To stimulate renewable energy production, the government has earmarked an annual sum of € 1.4 billion from 2015, which represents a major step towards achieving the 2020 target.).

[iv] http://www.holland.com/global/tourism/article/public-transport-in-the-hague.htm

[v] Energy innovation in the Netherlands continues into the private sector. See “Shaping the energy future through innovation” Shell Global, as found on the www at http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/shaping-future.html (“Shell continues to invest in developing innovative technologies to support new energy production. We are entering more challenging environments to unlock new resources and boosting production from existing fields. At the same time, we are using new technologies and an innovative approach to limit our impact on the environment and find effective ways to engage with communities near to our operations.

We are developing cleaner energy sources, such as natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel. From the extraction of the fuel to the generation of electricity, natural gas power plants emit around half the CO2 of coal power plants. Natural gas complements wind and solar power, which need a highly flexible backup supply when the wind stops or the sun goes down.”).

[vi] Based on observation, the packaging on the cheese I purchase in the Netherlands may well be oxy-degradable.

[vii] “Wind Energy in Holland, Holland, as found on the www athttp://www.holland.com/us/tourism/article/wind-energy-in-holland.htm “Wind power in Holland is seen as a renewable energy source. From the early windmills that provided an alternative to the water-powered mills of the time to the modern era where wind power is being harnessed both on and off shore, Holland is a leader in the field. Onshore wind turbines in Holland, especially in the north, were generating almost 2000 megawatts in 2009. Offshore, two windfarms have been generating about 250 megawatts. To compare, a typical coal power station can produce between 600 and 700 megawatts.”).

[viii] “Dutch Project Aims to Build a Wind Powered Rail Network”, September 28, 2015, The Horizons Tracker, as found on the www athttp://adigaskell.org/2015/09/28/dutch-project-aims-to-build-a-wind-powered-rail-network/  (“The project is part of a wider plan to make transport in the Netherlands much greener than it currently is.

“Mobility is responsible for 20 percent of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands, and if we want to keep travelling, it is important that we do this without burdening the environment with CO2 and particulate matter,” the Eneco team say.

The railway will be 95% powered by green energy by 2017, and 100% by 2018.  The project is notable both because it involves no government subsidies, so hopefully goes some way to showing that green energy can be economical, but it also shows that it can be a reliable source of power.

The network is responsible for roughly 1.2 million journeys a day, and they have a long history of making their operations carbon neutral.  They have already reduced the energy consumption for each passenger/kilometer by 30% since 2005 through energy efficiency techniques.”).

[ix] Steringa, Hendrik, “Large Energy Companies Taking Control Of Dutch Wind Energy Association NWEA”, Clean Technica, September 4, 2015, as found on the www at http://cleantechnica.com/2015/09/04/large-energy-companies-taking-control-of-dutch-wind-energy-association-nwea/ (““Offshore wind energy has gradually become more important compared to onshore wind, not in the least because of the national energy agreement. Offshore wind is the playground of the big power companies. Only the larger members of NWEA (a private energy association in the Netherlands) are able to do offshore wind. It is therefore dominated by big money and big interests.”).

[x] Whitlock, Robin, “The Netherlands: Tocardo and Huisman install tidal energy plant in Dutch Eastern Scheldt”, September 25, 2015, Renewable Energy Magazine, as found on the www at http://www.renewableenergymagazine.com/article/tocardo-and-huisman-install-tidal-energy-plant-20150925 (“Tocardo Tidal Turbines designs and produces tidal and free-flow water turbines while Huisman is operating as a designer, builder and financial sponsor of the turbine’s suspension structure. The installation is the largest tidal energy project in the Netherlands as well as the world’s largest commercial tidal installation of five turbines in an array.

The plant has been engineered and developed in a record time of nine months. It consists of a structure 50 metres in length and 20 metres wide and was transported over water to its designated location on the island of Neeltje Jans. The Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier is the largest of the world-renowned Delta Works series of dams and storm surge barriers, designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. The location will now be a combination of water defences and hydroelectric power.”

“This project marks an important step in the development of tidal energy” said Tocardo CEO Hans van Breugel. “Tidal technology is innovative and could grow into a significant Dutch export product. The export expectation of tidal energy is more than 200 Gigawatts. With our turbines in the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, we can now show the world what tidal energy is all about: providing a clean and reliable source of energy that could fulfil 10-20 percent of the world’s electricity needs.”).

[xi] Grover, Sami, “Are bladeless turbines the future of wind energy?” October 2, 2015, as found on the www at http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/are-bladeless-turbines-future-wind-energy (“”Bladed turbines kill kill kill birds, eagles and other raptors as well as small birds. They are the worst thing this country could do… ESPECIALLY when there are two kinds of blade less turbines available. The vibrational tower and the other one from the Dutch….

In prototype form, the turbine consists of a fiberglass carbon fiber cone that vibrates when wind hits it. At the base are rings of repelling magnets that pull in the opposite direction to which the wind is pushing. Electricity is then produced via an alternator that harnesses the kinetic energy of the vibrations.”

[xii] “Thermal screens slash energy use, says Dutch trial”, September 4, 2015, Horticulture Week, as found on the www at http://www.hortweek.com/thermal-screens-slash-energy-use-says-dutch-trial/edibles/article/1362051 (“Growing high-wire cucumbers in a glasshouse with four thermal screens reduced energy use by 44 per cent during the January to May period, while maintaining yield and quality comparable to conventional production with a single screen…”).

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About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner holds a journalism degree, she is a licensed attorney and trained as a clinical therapist. Her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking understanding that everything and everyone is subject to change given the right circumstances; Standard Theory or Theory of Everything.

Ms. Lardner has accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn, as well as accounts under the pseudonym of Deveroux Cleary, and is globally ranked in the top 1% of all account holders for her outreach and influence.

Having just relocated to Den Hague or The Hague, she is currently looking for a challenging position that will fully utilize her collective skill set.

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