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Closed Nature of Cradle to Cradle Certification Process Holds Back Progress of the ‘Circular Economy’ in Pioneering Netherlands

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st December 2012


Via the Economic Realms blog, an assessment of the progress of the ‘circular economy’ (zero waste because waste becomes raw material for other processes):

“I was interested to find out whether experts working on the circular economy in the Netherlands also shared Braungart’s confidence. Krispijn Beek, who worked at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation and Agriculture on sustainable business policy, said “Cradle to Cradle was a big hit in the Netherlands, including government.” Apparently, the trend really took off after a 2006 television documentary, Afval = Voedsel (Waste = Food).

However, at a later point the idea stalled – at least in government. Beek claims that “one of the showstoppers was the commercial certification process, which made it impossible to use Cradle to Cradle in public procurement.”

Michel Schuurman, a director at MVO Nederland, agrees that “the concept gained a lot of attention some years ago but has faded a bit in recent times.” He believes the reason, at least partially, is that “businesses are in the process of experimenting with it and are not yet ready to communicate publically.” Another reason is what he calls “the closed system of Cradle to Cradle” – “its monopoly, lack of transparency and (expensive) certification has been a reason for some to follow the principles but not the scheme.”

Beek expresses a similar frustration. “The Dutch government had a chance to get Cradle to Cradle thinking into the Reach regulatory framework [but] this momentum was lost because the owners of Cradle to Cradle stayed vague about their objectives against Reach and which changes would be required [to] fit into the Cradle to Cradle framework.”

The private sector has seen more progress. In fact, Beek believes that a critical factor for its success here is that design of the circular economy uses a business perspective, while similar earlier concepts were too driven by non-profits or government policy. Beek is now CSR manager at Strukton, one of the top 10 construction companies in the Netherlands. “We are working on a process called ‘concrete-to-concrete aggregates’ (C2CA)”, he says. “With international partners (universities and companies), we are recycling not only concrete but also concrete aggregates.”

This is only one of many circular economy initiatives and leading corporate examples in the Netherlands. Others I came across in my research include Aveda, Auping, Philips and Interface FLOR. Some local municipalities and regions have also taken a lead, such as Venlo, which hosts a Cradle to Cradle expo lab and Paviljon at the annual Floriade flower exhibition.

As far as spreading these best practices goes, Schuurman observes that, so far, the circular economy has been “driven by visionary and bold leaders” and “the increasing need and desire to have closer relationships along the value chain.” Van Dalen stresses that scaling up the circular economy requires it to be translated into concrete measures and clearly demonstrated as a way to meet multi-stakeholder sustainability targets. Besides these drivers, it is also important to stimulate public debate. According to Beek, this includes ideas like upcycling, the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value, and service lease concepts like Turn Too, Rendemint, or Philips, where you can now lease lumen (units of luminous flux) for your office instead of buying LED lights.”

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