The Dutch Circular Economy

In the new Dutch, government-agreement it is stated that the circular economy will be supported. No indications, yet, on the way how this will be done. Nevertheless an important step in the development of the Dutch Circular Economy.

OPAi took the initiative, together with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to realize a Dutch edition of the report ‘Towards a Circular Economy’. We cooperate with MVO-Nederland (CSR-NL) and a group of funding partners: Liander, Sita, VNCI, Rabo, WWF-NL, TurnToo and the ministry of Economic Affairs. This will not be a mere translation of the original report but a strong focus on the consequences for the Dutch economy including a strong vision on the transition it will take to make the big change in the oncoming years.

Last week I participated in a discussion at the ministry of Finance on enhancing sustainability in their policies, purchasing and performance. This discussion brought a lot of attention for the Circular Economy. Once again we saw how professionals from governmental agencies, companies and institutions (science) are touched by the fundaments of the circular economy. It is a perspective that brings a new way of perceiving the future and its possibilities.

Let me share some of the thoughts that I heard and came in to my mind while listening to some of the discussions. I’ll bring them point by point:

It is not about morality, it is about economic change is a strong quality of the discussions on the circular economy. It needs thinking about systemic changes in the economic system. When we are able to create a circular system, then ‘feedback-mechanisms’ will occur. Producers are not just responsible for making something reasonable good, they are responsible for the performance and the re-use of the product and its resources: social, physical and economical. So it is not about doing good or even better, it is about economic change.

Decoupling is normal, coupling is the way to go However I am not quite sure about the words and ‘slang’ quality of it, it is the way to change our way of looking. Decoupling economy and ecology has been the way we encountered the environmental problems up till now: laws, regulations and control was the basic for environmental protection. Economy and ecology were more or less enemies. At least the the economic stakeholders (producers) were responsible for all the damage that was done and the ecologists/environmentalists tried to work from the perspective of protectionism. Now this is changing and we need to rethink these perspectives. Our economic system has brought quite some quality in our lives. Now it’s the time to realize the value that the economic stakeholders can have in creating new values and quality. Producing in ways that enhance the quality of ecosystems (and their biodiversity), gain clean water, purify the air, making our lives more healthy: that is the way to go!

Problem-oriented or future-driven that is a key-issue. Most sustainability initiatives are problem oriented and bring a kind of problem-solving solutions. That strategy makes that we focus on efficiency: making things better (mostly just a bit better) instead of redesign for the future. The circular economy is a new way of working and needs redesign of our systems and products. That is future driven!

Autonomous from nature to an inclusive system In the last centuries mankind has been working on becoming autonomous from nature. Where ever we live, we create the same living conditions for ourselves. The circular economy uses much more the basics of the natural system. So we will see a development in which we need to learn (again) to live ‘inclusive’ with nature.

Small is beautiful shifts to systems change. Small steps is what we tend to like in our steps to sustainability. The governmental agency that realizes biological catering in its organization is now seen a a major step forward. But what is really needed is sustaining the core business of every organization. The circular economy offers a way to do so. It is on the systems change, the real transition and needs new paradigms in the products or policies of institutions, whether it is a governmental agency or a company or an educational institution.

Educate, educate, educate! We need to prepare ourselves and the oncoming generations to be able to work in the circular economy. That means a thorough understanding of natural systems, the ability to redesign, rethink and recreate the circular economy.

Intentions becomes conditions is a last point I would like to describe. Sustainability works with a lot of good intentions. These intentions are mostly based on ideas about the quality of live for humans and nature. Steering on intentions has been effective in the last decades. We have in the Netherlands, Europe and most of the world reasonable adequate laws and regulations to protect the environment. Though the decay is still going on. Now more and more we see that new ways are needed. We need to redesign our approach to policy-making. My perspective is that we should create the conditions that give incentives to the change: how can a government enhanced the circular economy? By asking the right question! When governments use their purchasing-power the change could be there very soon. So stop buying, start asking for performance and look for performance based contracting.

A year ago no one in Dutch politics was aware of the concept of the circular economy. Now it is one of the options for the nearby future and recognized as such. Change happens!

The Circular change

We face a real transition in the economic system: from the actual ‘linear’ to a ‘circular’ system.  That brings some different needs for enhancing the change. We could wait and see, but we know from the transitiontheory that you can speed up the process, through transitionmanagement.  The change has to take place on all kinds of levels: as well as scale levels, as organisational levels. The real question is: “what do we need for speeding up this transition?” A far too complex question for one clear answer. We will need new businessmodels, new concepts of ownership, new models of value creation, new perspectives on clients and the provided performances. OPAi cooperates with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. They did excellent work on idea-development, educational materials and insights and real fundamental analysis of the possibilities and future impact of the circular economy on the European economy. Their report ‘Towards a Circular Economy’ can be found here:

Another good source of information on strategies for the Circular Economy is the report made by the Aldersgate Group, find it here: It is called ‘Resilience in the Round, seizing the growth opportunities for the Circular Economy’. It was presented at the Base conference 2012 in London on the 21th june 2012. Our managing partner, Douwe Jan Joustra, presented there, on behalf of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, his vision on the basics and governance of the Circular Economy. His slides can be found here: 

Ofcourse we learn on a daily basis of the activities in the market of TurnToo, the circular businessmodel that OPAi-partner Thomas Rau, developed and is executing right now. For some backgrounds on this company, see

This brings us to some thoughts on the circular economy that we like to share. Since we teamed up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Aldersgate Group, some of their insights are used also. Our principles are:

Rethink the quality of nature: use and re-use of nutrients and materials;

Rethink the financials of use of resources, all materials are used temporarely;

Rethink our energy need and supply: use the Solar-incoming energy, wind and geothermal;

Value the quality of diversity as basic element for resilience;

Redesign our economic perspective (i.g. ownership) for a performance based perspective (i.g. useability: the ‘new ownership’)

Redesign activities and products (design for disassembly)

Experiment, explore, and accept insecure results.

This brings 8 new ways of working around, that we are facing these days:

1. Design new (performancebased) businesscases that work on the essentials of the Circular Economy. It needs new perspectives but also new skills for professionals at all levels in organisations. Rethinking the relation between producer and consumer (as well private as businesses) is a creative process that needs some thinking in a counterintuitive way, or out-of-the-box. OPAi has the instruments and methodology to do this with interested clients. Also we provide, together with Greenbizz Startup, a 4 day workshop on the principles of the Circular Economy, Businessmodels and creation of Service design in relation to resource management, client relations and performancebased solutions.

2. Learning by Nature is a state of mind and a smart way to find designprinciples for (new) business and products. We see that the knowledge of fundamental principles of nature are not used on a daily basis, maybe some biomimicry (learn functional from biology). There is more: ecology on relationship and patterns, Thermodynamics on energy and ‘matter’. For a systemic way of looking at organisations, products, logistics and societal arrangements (for instance: cities);

3. Financing and rethinking values new businesscases bring new financial arrangements. For the Circular Economy the service-agreements between producer and user are key. There is more to that. New financial arrangements are also needed for the performancebased use of resources. We envision startegies that make resources a common good. So a “fee for use” can be introduced. This brings interesting options for financing.

4. Systems change and provide us with completely new perspectives on housing and offices in the building sector, as well for renovation as for new buildings. Also on office-use and comfortable living we see fundamental changes. New businesses like Car2Go, the Coffee Company, Seats2Meet, Washing and more can be seen as the frontrunners that acknowledge that new ways of business are based on providing service and performance. How to change your business?

5. Educate, Educate, Educate is an important aspect of our ork now a days. We have a close cooperation with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and we do lectures for them: business schools, webinars, conferences and in the near future a broad program for all formal and non-formal education. We see the need of professionals who rethink and redesign their way of working, individually and on company-level.

6. Scale changes because of new energy in society. However people like to have a lot of interdependencies, they also like to be independent. This independency is mostly felt in the field of energy. The creative civilian doesn’t need the oil-, gaz- and electricity companies anymore: by creating on local level their own Energy Company or Energy Service Company, they create a feeling and fundament of independency. Also projects based on cooperative car-ownership and other collaborative sharing bring new economics to live. We support this change, see businesscases and create the basics for initiators.

7. Transitionmanagement is our corebusiness. We identify the ‘next step’ or even better the ‘next leap forward’. Planning the interventions that are needed to speed up the process of change is what we do best.

8. Governance needs a redesign also. We envioned that this will be a major change, from a directive basis to a condition based approach. That means that governments as well national and local, need a new vision on their approach to their governance strategies.

We see a great transition coming. It will change the economic ‘game’ to an extend that is yet beyond belief. Feedbackloops change, responsabilities change and speaking in terms of sustainable development, this could be the key to a major shift in the relation between human, ecology and economy. Next time we will focus on this.

Evaluation (local) sustainability


–below in dutch–

Review of policies is presently done in several ways: monitoring, evaluating qualitative and quantitative results, scientific research and policy analysis. Municipalities invest in these monitoring tools which can contribute to gaining insight into the effectiveness of policies. These instruments have a common characteristic, namely the pursuit of an objective analysis. For the ‘public review’ and ‘public debate’ these instruments hardly give the appropriate information and at least need an adequate communicative translation.

What authorities persue is an interaction with society. Then feelings, individual value and estimations of results do effect the debate. Thus I will give a new, specific, way of looking at this evaluation. An instrument that uses these estimations, feelings and results. This creates a form of ‘inter-subjective testing’, which seems to be consistent with the administrative and social reality of the “energetic society”. Energetic because people, organizations and businesses are not waiting anymore: they start acting!

In this blog I see local sustainability and local climatepolicies as interconnected.
Both are ill-defined concepts, which means that there is no scientific (hard) definition. It is the context in which the terms are used, that determines the content, depth and quality of interpretation. This makes sustainable development and climatepolicies not only ill-defined but also multifaceted: the diversity of definitions, approaches, translated into daily practice (thinking and acting) make it to relatively elusive concepts.

Local, sustainable and climateproof
What are the main issues in working on sustaining the city and making the city climateneutral? For local governments, the following six basic criteria are important to assess:

* use of good materials and their re- or upcycling;
* use renewable energy
* strengthening local involvement through citizenship en entrepreneurship;
* enhancing quality of life: cultural and biological diversity;
* contribution to learning of life’s principles and
* enhancement of the circular economy.

These issues are a good basis for dialogue between citizens and government. Nowadays we think it is essential for the ‘energy of the city’ to gain cooperation between citizens, institutions and businesses.
This approach is largely still in its infancy.
The choice of a multi-track approach makes it difficult to recognize whether the municipality is actually on its way to sustainability, or are only at level of detail involved in nice, but harmless, activities. Existing instruments have mostly a focus on benchmarks of municipalities and are aimed at monitoring results (administrative concept). Instruments that meet the basic principles of sustainable development and lead to a public debate on current developments in the Netherlands are not available. I see that a more public debate on progres is needed.

Keys in the public debate
To opt for an inter-subjective approach leads to debate. This prevents discussion to arise about the naming of parameters for an effective review of the results of the sustainability policy. The real review is in the opinion of different stakeholders on the percieved progres. Find these, compare them, bring the results in the public debate through newspapers or internet and the discussion will start.

Basis for such an approach is a relatively simple assessment tool with which opinions on progres are identified. The basis for this is found in the methodology used in Seattle (USA) in the early nineties. Through questions and displaying opinions, the sustainability progres is pinpointed.

It is logical to assume four phases as the basis for the described method of testing in the public debate.
Phase 1: the first verdict: Capturing assessment of progress with sustainable development by representatives of local-council, residents, community organizations and businesses;
Phase 2: enlarge: publication of the opinions expressed by a global analysis of the differences in evaluation;
Stage 3: the reaction: Initiate public debate, focused on analysis, appraisal, exchanging views and providing areas for improvement based on dialogue and
Phase 4: the current view: displays the results of the debate in the press and in a report to the council.

the first assessment
A selected group of local representatives will receive a brief scorecard presented which prompted positive / negative scoring (scale 0 – 10) on a number of areas relating to the proposed local sustainable development.
These areas should be related to these six issues:
* use of good materials and their re- or upcycling;
* use renewable energy
* strengthening local involvement through citizenship en entrepreneurship;
* enhancing quality of life: cultural and biological diversity;
* contribution to learning of life’s principles and
* enhancement of the circular economy.

In a journalistic approach, the above assessment of Representatives will be published. Identifying salient differences, analyzing the data relating them to formulated policy goals and commitment to sustainable development. Goal is an active search for public input (dynamic) in the analysis.

Reaction: public debate
The debate focuses on starting a public dialogue that is not going to condemn, but to assess and improve policy and implementation. The public debate can be arranged in different ways.

Based on the appraisals and the substantive discussion taking place in the ‘debate’ a report on sustainable development of the municipality (or county or ..) in the past year can be made. This report provides an analysis of the results and a reflection of a consultant / expert on the data results and sustainable perspective that emerges.
This report can then be presented to the City Council, the local press and other relevant fora.

The effect of the evaluation is done based on the local characteristics that are important for the desired progress of policies and through this approach it bring an inter-subjective result. Valuable for (local) politicians and policymakers. Ofcourse it is possible to take more along in the evaluation: the activities of civilians, companies, schools and other local institutions.
A powerful tool for enhancing the quality of sustainable development.

Douwe Jan Joustra


via inter-subjectieve toetsing

Toetsing van beleid kan op verschillende manieren plaatsvinden: monitoring, evaluatie kwalitatief en kwantitatief, wetenschappelijk onderzoek en beleidsanalyses. In gemeenten worden hiervoor monitoringsinstrumenten ontwikkeld die kunnen bijdragen aan het verkrijgen van inzicht in de effectiviteit van beleid. Instrumenten die een gemeenschappelijk kenmerk in zich hebben, namelijk het streven naar een objectieve analyse (als beleidsinstrument). Voor de ‘publieke beoordeling’ en het ‘publieke debat’ zijn deze instrumenten echter nauwelijks geschikt . Beter lijkt het om het debat te benutten voor toetsing van vooruitgang.

Er ontstaat dan een vorm van ‘inter-subjectieve toetsing’, die lijkt aan te sluiten bij de bestuurlijke en maatschappelijke werkelijkheid van de energieke samenleving.

Duurzaamheid is het streven naar een duurzame ontwikkeling, waar het gaat om het vinden van een balans tussen economische-, ecologische- en sociaal-maatschappelijke belangen. Belangrijk daarbij is het element tijd als vormende factor. Duurzaamheid wordt beschouwd als een ill-defined concept, hetgeen zoveel wil zeggen als dat er geen wetenschappelijke (harde) definitie is. Het is de context waarin de term gehanteerd wordt, die mede bepalend is voor de inhoud, diepgang en kwaliteit van de invulling. Daarmee is het niet alleen ill-defined maar ook pluriform: de diversiteit aan definities, benaderingswijzen, vertaling naar de dagelijkse praktijk (denken en handelen) maakt dat het een betrekkelijk ongrijpbaar concept is.

Lokaal duurzaam
In de discussies rondom duurzaamheid op lokaal niveau wordt veel gebruik gemaakt van de volgende invalshoeken als referentie voor beleid. Lokale duurzaamheid draagt bij aan:
* gebruik van goede materialen en beheer van grondstoffen;
* gebruik van duurzame energie;
* versterken van de ‘energieke samenleving’;
* versterken van kwaliteit van leven door culturele- en biodiversiteit;
* bijdragen aan het leren (life’s principles) en
* realiseren van de circulaire economie.

Dat laat zich ook vertalen in een aantal basisreferenties die benut kunnen worden om tot goede toetsingscriteria te komen voor de duurzame lokale ontwikkeling.

Daarnaast lijkt duurzaamheid ook een werkwijze in de relatie tussen burger en bestuur te omvatten. De gemeente Tilburg constateerde in haar reeks gesprekken over duurzaamheid dat ‘de winst ligt bij anderen’. Het is de samenleving die het streven naar duurzaamheid heeft opgenomen. De keuze voor een meersporen-aanpak (bestuurlijk op politiek niveau en maatschappelijk) maakt het moeilijk om vooruitgang te herkennen. Is de gemeente daadwerkelijk op weg naar duurzaamheid of slechts op detailniveau bezig met leuke, doch ongevaarlijke, activiteiten. Bestaande instrumenten richten zich of op vergelijking tussen gemeenten of zijn gericht op het monitoren van resultaten (bestuurlijk concept).
Instrumenten die tegemoet komen aan de basisprincipes van duurzame ontwikkeling en die leiden tot een publiek debat over de actuele ontwikkelingen worden in Nederland nog niet toegepast. Toetsing van de voortgang van de lokale duurzame ontwikkeling hoeft niet objectief gemaakt te worden, een inter-subjectieve benadering, waarbij meningen expliciet worden gemaakt lijkt effectiever.

Toetsen in publiek debat
Bewust kiezen voor een inter-subjectieve aanpak heeft tot gevolg dat debat mogelijk wordt. Daarmee wordt voorkomen dat discussie blijft ontstaan over het benoemen van effectieve parameters voor toetsing van de doelmatigheid van het duurzaamheidsbeleid. Het publieke debat is het instrument waarmee communicatie tussen verschillende partners over de voortgang van duurzame ontwikkeling mogelijk wordt. Daarbij heeft dit als effect dat bewustwording van de effectiviteit van maatregelen en besluitvorming ontstaat.

Grondslag voor een dergelijke benadering is een betrekkelijk eenvoudig toetsingsinstrument waarmee meningen worden gevraagd. De basis hiervoor is te vinden in de werkwijze die in Seattle (USA) in het begin van de jaren negentig. Door middel van het vragen en weergeven van meningen, krijgt de duurzaamheidstoets inhoud. Daarmee ontstaat een werkwijze die op langere termijn een steeds verfijndere toepassing krijgt, doordat de motivatie van de meningen in belang groeit. De reflectie op de effectiviteit van het beleid, via een openbaar debat, maakt zorgvuldigheid in meningen noodzakelijk.

Over de werkwijze en uitvoering, is een uitgebreidere versie van dit blog op te vragen bij

Douwe Jan Joustra

deze methode is bedacht door Douwe Jan Joustra en Wil Ronken (toen beiden: novioconsult)


Vaclav Havel died in 2011. He was a great thinker and politician who realized real changes. His thoughts inspire us at the One Planet Architecture institute. We like to share his thought as a personal wish for 2012:

“The only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth. Only through such a fundamental shift we will be able to create new behavioural models and a new set of values for the planet.”

We see the year 2012, like the Maja’s did, as an important year of change: though we prefer a change to sustainability based on a circular economy. It is thrilling to work on this.

We look forward to meet you on our common work!

(NL) ………………..
Vaclav Havel stierf in 2011. Hij gaf ons al eerder een gedachte mee die voor OPAi als een leitmotiv gezien kan worden en die we u graag meegeven als persoonlijke wens voor 2012:

“De enige optie is een verandering in de ruimte van de geest, in de ruimte van het bewustzijn. Het is niet genoeg nieuwe machines te bedenken, nieuwe regels, nieuwe instituties. We moeten een nieuw verstaan ontwikkelen van onze ware bestemming van ons bestaan op deze aarde. Alleen door zo’n fundamentele verschuiving zullen we in staat zijn nieuwe gedragsmodellen te creëren en een nieuwe verzameling van waarden voor de planeet.”

We zien 2012, net als de Maja’s, als een belangrijk jaar, maar wij zoeken naar een duurzame ontwikkeling. Daartoe werken we waar mogelijk aan het mede-ontwikkelen van de circulaire economie.

Hopelijk komen we elkaar tegen in dit werk!

Thomas Rau
Douwe Jan Joustra