How Holland Circular Hotspot inspired and energised the Nordics

July 09, 2021

Peter Michel Heilmann, Managing Partner at Nordic Circular Hotspot reflects on how Holland Circular Hotspot inspired and energised the Nordics. For the readers that know Holland Circular Hotspot and the Nordic Circular Hotspot from the start, this blog is a nice trip through memory lane, for all other readers, it is a nice view from Peter Michel’s perspective on the history of Holland Circular Hotspot and its predecessor, and the development of the collaboration between the hotspots.

This blog was first published by Peter Michel Heilmann on LinkedIn.

Disclaimer: Holland Circular Hotspot publishes opinions on CE from a wide range of perspectives in hopes of promoting constructive debate about consequential questions about Circular Economy.

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How it started

July 8, 2015 was a historic day to remember. A group of visionary frontrunners, ambassador-business leaders and a member of the Dutch royal family were standing in a circle at Schiphol Trade Park in Hoofddorp (see photo above) to celebrate, among others, the start of The Netherlands as a circular hotspot.

You could feel the incredible positive energy and amazing enthusiasm in the air and there was a sense of euphoria, optimism and joy, which I cannot simply express in words! Marcel Peters, founder and CEO, Bundles, who wants a world without waste for his children and grandchildren, and I were invited to this milestone kick off. ‘The Netherlands Circular Hotspot’ (NLCH) campaign was co-initiated by Delta Development Group, INSID (Institute for Sustainability, Innovation and Development) and the Social Economic Council (SER). HRH Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme and Circle Economy, represented by Guido Braam, were the campaign’s pioneers.

In 2012, Guido decided to put all his energy in and focus on the transition towards the circular economy and, between August 2012 – April 2015, served as the Executive Director of Circle Economy. A social enterprise organised as a co-operative, Circle Economy accelerates the transition to circularity through on-the-ground, action-focused development of practical and scalable solutions and international campaigns, communications and engagement focused on spreading the circular message. In June 2013, he left his family for a couple of days during their summer holiday to meet—together with Circle Economy founder Robert-Jan van Ogtrop—Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. At Circle Economy, Guido initiated the NLCH campaign.

At the unique Fox Theater at Park 20|20, a model of holistic, closed-loop design and the first full-service Cradle to Cradle-inspired development in The Netherlands, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde presented his vision for a circular society, while co-initiator Prince Carlos kicked off the start of ‘The Netherlands as Circular Hotspot’ in the presence of over 25 ambassadors of the campaign: Accenture, AkzoNobel, Black Bear Carbon, Delta Development Group, Deltares, Desko, DSM, Floow2, FrieslandCampina, City of Amsterdam, Region Haarlemmermeer, Inashco, Interface, KPMG, Modulo, PGGM, Philips, Port of Rotterdam, Powered by Meaning, Rabobank, Rockwool, Royal Haskoning DHV, Rotterdam Partners, Schiphol, Siemens, The Executive Network, Dutch Water Authorities and Van Gansewinkel.

“The circular economy still takes some getting used to for many people”

Daan Roosegaarde

The Netherlands as an international circular hotspot

With this campaign, The Netherlands aimed at positioning itself as an international circular hotspot during the Dutch EU Presidency and at promoting Dutch innovations in the circular economy overseas in a joint effort by the national government, business community, non-profit organisations and knowledge institutes. In the first half of 2016, NLCH was brought to the attention of various events, including a joint presentation with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Prince Carlos led an incoming trade mission of 150 foreign visitors from 20 countries. NLCH’s ambition was to share the practical experiences from businesses, cities, governments, entrepreneurs and communities to show what is possible and inspire ever greater adoption of the circular economy principles.

During its 12th Presidency of the Council of the EU, The Netherlands actively brought forward the European Commission proposals on a circular economy on the agenda and organised various meetings to collect input from European stakeholders. A few months later, on September 21, 2016, Finland was the first country in the world to publish a national road map to a circular economy, under the leadership of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, which was subsequently updated in 2019.

NLCH eventually resulted in the foundation of Holland Circular Hotspot (HCH), on April 1, 2018, in order to stimulate international collaboration on a permanent basis. HCH is headquartered at C-Bèta, a converted farmstead (Hoeve de Vogel) that has been turned into a circular work and event location at Schiphol Trade Park, close to Schiphol Airport. This beautiful venue serves as an event space and hotspot for circular frontrunners and inspires by sharing the best circular examples in The Netherlands. Initially named Circular Expo and opened on April 1, 2016 by Sharon Dijksma, the then State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment, C-Bèta is located in a region that has a strong focus on making the circular economy happen. Schiphol Area Development Company N.V. (SADC) is developing the area based on circular principles, while Schiphol Trade Park itself is a showcase for the most sustainable business park in Europe.

HCH originates from a public-private initiative that coincided with the launch of the Government-wide programme, ‘A Circular Economy in The Netherlands by 2050’ published on September 14, 2016, precisely a week prior to Finland’s national road map to a circular economy. On June 1, 2018, Freek van Eijk became the Director of HCH. Less than a fortnight later, on June 11-14, HCH and its partners shared the best Dutch examples and hard-learned lessons during the four-day Holland Circular Economy Week (HCEW).

A living lab of circular innovations and a breeding space for international partnerships

HCH’s first big event in The Netherlands instantly became a success. More than 500 people from around the world, of which 150 foreign guests from 20 countries (of which approximately 20 were from the Nordic region), participated in this living lab of circular innovations and a breeding space for international partnerships. RISE Research Institutes of Sweden was among the co-organisers of the Circular Economy Week Matchmaking event on June 14. Participants were coming from, among others, The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden and over 200 matches were made.

The Dutch embassies in the Nordics worked for over a year to select the most inspiring professionals to come over to The Netherlands and start building bridges. It was during this impressive week, at the Peace Palace in The Hague on June 11, that my colleagues Elin Bergman (from WWF Sweden and Cradlenet, a non-profit accelerating the transition towards a circular economy in Sweden) and Cathrine Barth (from Circular Norway, which she co-founded in 2017 together with the Norwegian Electrical Trade Association (EFO) and Oslo-based recycling company RENAS AS) met each other for the first time. Cathrine’s Norwegian colleague Anne Solgaard, the first CEO of Circular Norway, was also present at the Peace Palace.

Elin and Cathrine felt frustrated about the lack of circular economy collaboration in the Nordics and also were puzzled about the lack of involvement from key Nordic stakeholders who were absent at this well-organised international event. They had never before experienced such a bottom-up, top-down and thrilling circular economy festival in their own countries.

 

Seeing a tremendous opportunity to create a hotspot in the Nordics, they wondered: rather than creating separate Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Danish and Finnish circular hotspots, why not jointly form one united, overarching and cross-collaborative coalition in the region? Because, as Nordic frontrunners and pioneers, they needed each other more than ever.

Almost prophetically, Swedish circular economy consultant Laura Vidje tweeted:

Five European circular hotspots signed MoU

During HCEW, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by five European circular hotspots—Circular Change (Slovenia), Zero Waste Scotland, Circular Norway, the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy and Holland Circular Hotspot—to strengthen their relations and amplify their initiatives.

From left to right: Freek van Eijk (HCH), Betina Simonsen (Lifestyle & Design Cluster/NCH), Cathrine Barth (Circular Norway/NCH), Josefina Sallén (RISE/NCH), Elin Bergman (Cradlenet/NCH) and Isabella Holmgaard (Lifestyle & Design Cluster/NCH) during the WCEF 2019 in Helsinki

“Working together, we can be so much more effective”

Freek van Eijk, Director Holland Circular Hotspot

The launch of the Nordic Circular Hotspot

Cathrine also participated in the workshop on ‘Dutch-Nordic-Baltic visions on Circular Cities’. The very resourceful Baltic region is the New Nordics.

Inspired by the HCEW and impressed with how the HCH was working, Elin and Cathrine went back home and met each other again—this time together with their colleagues Isabella Holmgaard (Lifestyle & Design Cluster, Denmark), Josefina Sallén (RISE, Sweden) and Sofie Pindsle (Circular Norway), at the headquarters of RISE in Stockholm, to discuss how they could join forces and make a development plan to create a united circular consortium in view of establishing a Nordic Circular Hotspot. They decided to form a group to investigate the viability of such an endeavour. Through its Nordic Sustainable Business Transformation programme, Nordic Innovation financed the Nordic Circular Hotspot’s pre-phase and on-line market survey, primarily focusing on investigating what the relevant stakeholders in the Nordics wanted from a Nordic Circular Hotspot. This was the first study of its kind in the region, inspired by Coreo and its CEO Ashleigh Morris from Australia, who already had a blueprint ready to be utilised in a larger region such as the Nordics.

On June 4, 2019, the Nordic Circular Hotspot was launched during the World Circular Economy Forum, a global initiative of Finland and Sitra. The room at Finlandia Hall was jampacked with interested people—not only from the Nordics. Cathrine had previously participated in the 1st WCEF in 2017 (Helsinki) and 2nd WCEF in 2018 (Yokohama, Japan). The launch was a bold and energising call to action, even if our co-founders did not yet know how to build a purpose-driven, Nordic-wide and collaborative movement. But the Nordic Circular Hotspot mandate was clear: make it happen!

Cathrine Barth with Ladeja Godina Košir, founder and Executive Director, Circular Change, Chair of the Coordination Group, European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform (ECESP) and a strong supporter of the Nordic Circular Hotspot and global circular movement, at the WCEF in Helsinki in June 2019

Make it happen!

On February 3 last year, Cathrine and I met each other during the Nordic Circular Economy Summit 2020, entitled ‘From Waste to Resource’, and we both immediately felt a very special bond. She was one of the speakers, together with her colleague Freek of HCH and other leading circular specialists, at the one-day #NordicTalks in Amsterdam, co-organised by the Nordic Embassies, Nordic Chambers, European Commission in The Netherlands and MissionC. Marthe Haugland and Elís Benediktsson, Senior Innovation Advisers, Nordic Innovation were among the participants.

From left to right: Freek van Eijk (HCH), Cathrine Barth (NCH), Andrea Orsag (MissionC and event moderator) and Marthe Haugland (Nordic Innovation) during the Nordic Circular Economy Summit 2020 in Amsterdam

A few months later, in May, I joined the Nordic Circular Hotspot as a Managing Partner along with a few new partners from Iceland (Harpa Júlíusdóttir and Hrund Gunnsteinsdottir from Festa – Center for Sustainability and Bjarni Herrera Thorisson from CIRCULAR Solutions, which in December last year was acquired by KPMG Iceland), Norway (Einar Kleppe Holthe from Natural State) and Denmark (Kim Hjerrild, Lifestyle & Design Cluster).

So many wonderful, heart-filled and co-creation events and developments have been achieved since then. For example, together with HCH, we co-hosted a WCEFonline Side Event on September 30 last year, “The Circular Hotspots of the World: Catalysing the circular transition,” with speakers from circular hotspots based in 10 countries on four continents.

In November, we organised our very first, virtual Nordic Circular Summit 2020, which attracted over 1,000 participants. Our lovely Ladeja from Slovenia noted that all needed “ingredients” are here, and asked: who is going to cook the “circular dish”? During our two-day summit, co-hosted by Nordic Innovation, Prof. dr. Jacqueline Cramer spoke about her forthcoming book “How Network Governance Powers the Circular Economy: Ten Guiding Principles,” published by the Amsterdam Economic Board and presented just a few days later together with Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema. The former Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment has for many years been involved as an intermediary, a role she prefers to call a “transition broker.” She also serves, among other roles, as Chair of the HCH Supervisory Board. Our Nordic Circular Summit 2021 will be a two-day hybrid event, to be hosted from Copenhagen, November 25-26.

On May 27 this year, Freek and I co-moderated our Nordic-Netherlands Roundtable entitled “Frontrunners of the BioCircular Economy 2.0,” an official WCEF Side Event held under the auspices of the ECESP. Co-hosted by Business Finland, Circular Biobased Delta, HCH and NCH, this very interesting and timely webinar was broadcasted both from C-Bèta in Hoofddorp (where Freek and I were physically present) and our headquarters in Oslo (where my Norwegian colleagues were gathered).

“We truly believe a collaborative approach is very relevant and needed in the Nordics. As a regional hotspot, we have a key role to put the circular economy into practice. The Nordic countries need to work more closely together and promote cross-border synergies”

Dr. Katherine Whalen, RISE/Getting in the Loop

Celebrating each milestone along our journey

In November, we organised our very first, virtual Nordic Circular Summit 2020, which attracted over 1,000 participants. Our lovely Ladeja from Slovenia noted that all needed “ingredients” are here, and asked: who is going to cook the “circular dish”? During our two-day summit, co-hosted by Nordic Innovation, Prof. dr. Jacqueline Cramer spoke about her forthcoming book “How Network Governance Powers the Circular Economy: Ten Guiding Principles,” published by the Amsterdam Economic Board and presented just a few days later together with Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema. The former Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment has for many years been involved as an intermediary, a role she prefers to call a “transition broker.” She also serves, among other roles, as Chair of the HCH Supervisory Board. Our Nordic Circular Summit 2021 will be a two-day hybrid event, to be hosted from Copenhagen, November 25-26.

On May 27 this year, Freek and I co-moderated our Nordic-Netherlands Roundtable entitled “Frontrunners of the BioCircular Economy 2.0,” an official WCEF Side Event held under the auspices of the ECESP. Co-hosted by Business Finland, Circular Biobased Delta, HCH and NCH, this very interesting and timely webinar was broadcasted both from C-Bèta in Hoofddorp (where Freek and I were physically present) and our headquarters in Oslo (where my Norwegian colleagues were gathered).

Celebrating our second Anniversary with my fellow Managing Partners, Nordic Innovation, Sitra, our event speakers and new partners, June 15

Happy birthday!

Last month, on my birthday, we celebrated our second Anniversary as well as the launch of our latest humble achievement, Nordic Circular Arena, the first digital multi-stakeholder platform for the circular transition in the Nordics. It is an open, freely-accessible and digital platform that anyone can join, free of charge. The Arena currently has 249 members signed up, eight of which are based in The Netherlands. Our latest Dutch partners that joined the Nordic Circular Hotspot are Amsterdam-based Circle Economy and Inchainge, based in De Bilt. Martijn Lopes Cardozo (CEO, Circle Economy) and Egge Haak (co-founder and Director, Inchainge), who both spoke at our celebration launch. Through our recently-launched Partnership Programme, we are now onboarding partners from the Nordics, The Netherlands, Canada, U.S.A. and other countries.

Holland Circular Hotspot has been a huge inspiration and role model, not only for the Nordics, but also for many other circular hotspots, platforms, networks as well as companies, organisations and governments around the world, for which we owe our deepest gratitude. It was a bumpy, yet hugely rewarding, fulfilling and purposeful ride and many people have been working tirelessly on building ecosystems showcasing circularity. To name just three of many souls in The Netherlands, Navied Tavakolly, who was instrumental in the project group in general and, at a later stage, for the development of the Circular Expo (now C-Bèta), Ellen Croes-Van der Heijden, who solved most of the issues in the team before the team even knew it could become an issue, and, of course, Freek van Eijk, who has been steering the HCH ship on all continents.

Let us celebrate each milestone along our journey. So, happy birthday to The Netherlands, to the Nordics and to our warm, circular family in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and South America, Asia, Australasia and the Arctic! With so many wise, inspiring and generous people in our growing family and movement world-wide, we need to learn from and listen to each other more.