Resources for Our Future

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SusValueWaste seminar at NIFU 10th of May, 2016.

Rob Weterings, a senior strategist for Sustainable Innovation at the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands, held his seminar on the topic Resources for our future. The seminar discussed various concepts and practices in sustainable resource management, from efficiency via circularity to substitution. Weterings presented different examples of resources and also focused on cross-sectoral cooperation and innovative business models, two necessary conditions for sustainable use of biotic resources.

Weterings stressed the fact that we have nothing to waste, neither time nor resources. As a guide for sustainable waste resource management, a hierarchy of strategies related to resources was presented. Disposal and energy recovery, which have been often utilized solutions, are the least favorable options. Recycling and reuse are strategies with medium impact. As an example, it took 20-25 years for the Netherland’s inhabitants to learn and practice recycling. This illustrates that change takes time and that it is important to focus on strategies that have the most impact. To secure our resources in a sustainable way, the preferred, but challenging solution is to prevent or minimize the use of resources all together.

The last decades, we have become increasingly efficient in making use of our resources. As an example, back in the days, computers and mobile phones required more resources since they were much bigger than they are today. However, the total extraction of resources has still increased explained by population growth and increased consumption. This development means that we use more resources than our planet can offer in the long run.

Related to the bio-economy, organic waste stands for more than 50 percent of the industrial waste in the Netherlands. The origin of organic waste is either generated during 1) harvesting, storage and transport; 2) primary processing in the industry; or 3) after production or consumption by end users. Weterings presented the valorization pyramid of organic waste (see fig 1).


Figure 1 – Valorization of organic waste

The value added is higher and the time to market is longer for the top of the pyramid. For now, most companies focus on business opportunities where costs related to refining is low – such as valorization of bio-waste for power/heating and transport fuels. Here low tech solutions are applied and these do not involve high R&D costs. Unfortunately, the existing infrastructure and policies do not stimulate innovation higher up in the valorization pyramid. Here applied research can have an important role. To speed up the needed change, research activities can explore pathways to better policies and infrastructure.

Weterings highlighted that the circular economy creates economic opportunities and employment. But to find the most sustainable solutions, highly skilled expertise is needed. Another bottleneck of the transition is more applied research and funding of this. On a business level, small innovative actors must find ways to work together and companies should carefully design their business models in a way that ensure profitability.

Weterings introduced several inspiring business cases from the bio-economy in the Netherlands.

  • Gro (Green Recycled Organics) – a company that grows mushrooms in left over coffee grinds
  • Avantium specializes in renewable chemistry and has developed bottles and packaging films made of plant material.
  • Nova Lignum – produces facade cladding from plant residues such as eggplant fibers and grass from verges.

About Rob Weterings

Weterings has been involved in multidisciplinary research on innovation and sustainable development since 1990. He was program manager of several cross-sectoral research programs on system innovation within TNO and founded the Dutch Competence Centre for Transitions in 2005. Currently, he works for the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands which stimulates multi-stakeholder coalitions. The Councils mission to help create social consensus on national and international socio-economic issues, such as the Netherlands’ National Energy Agreement for sustainable growth.

In 2013 Rob co-authored the book “Resources for our Future” that presents best practices in resource efficiency in the chemical industry, the food sector, the metal and high-tech industries, and the fashion and furnishing industries. It also clarifies the main ecological constraints of various resources relevant to these industries. Related to the SusValueWaste project in particular, the book gives an improved understanding of sustainable use of organic residues, waste and by-products.

See more info in the seminar PPT; Weterings_SusValueWaste seminar Mai 10 2016

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