The two sides of sustainability

Cobouw column by Maurits Schilt

We live in interesting times. All around me, I see people taking up the challenge of living more sustainably. They are working to create a circular economy and a society which no longer relies on fossil fuels. It seems that everyone is ‘going green’.

Look around you. Anyone who does not have solar panels on the roof is behind the times. The Netherlands has vastly reduced gas production in Groningen, and almost everyone approves. Who does not dream of swapping their gas-guzzler for a Tesla?

Nevertheless, the vast majority of people have yet to adopt a truly sustainable lifestyle. They continue to use fossil fuels and do little to promote the circular economy. Whether in terms of production, mobility, tourism or consumer spending, there is still a very long way to go.

But progress is being made. Take the situation in the northern Netherlands, for example. The provinces of Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland have introduced contract terms which require engineering consultancies, construction companies and local authorities to maximize the project sustainability as soon as possible.

The construction sector in this part of the country is now designing and building fully sustainable bridges. In Ritsumasyl, for example, a cycle bridge has been dismantled and replaced by one made entirely of biocomposite. All reusable and recyclable components, including the surfacing material, have been given a second life in nearby Dantumadiel.

The sustainability transition is gathering pace by the day. This is amply illustrated by Witteveen+Bos’ own order portfolio. Our office in Heerenveen – and indeed the company as a whole – is being asked to undertake an increasing number of projects with a marked sustainability or circular component.

There is, however, another side to the story. Sectors which continue to rely on traditional fossil fuels or non-renewable resources see their growth and continuity at risk. The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, recently announced that the planned expansion of Lelystad Airport is to be put ‘on hold’. The decision has met with little objection. Is this because the public now realizes that aviation has a significant environmental impact? I think it is.

It will be wise for the government, the aviation sector – and indeed everyone – to prepare for the sustainable future. Society demands that we do so. There is far more at stake than just an airport or a bridge.

Yes, we certainly live in interesting times!

Maurits Schilt
Manager Witteveen+Bos office Heerenveen

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