A luxury hotel in Amsterdam that meets the criteria for LEED Platinum certification – one of the strictest green building certifications in the world. A perfectly circular shopping centre, just a one-hour train ride from Stockholm. Two examples of how the circular economy can be fully realised even in buildings and urban facilities which, until now, we had all come to accept as being, by necessity, not very environmentally friendly.
Sustainable luxury and the circular economy in Amsterdam
The QO in Amsterdam, a luxury hotel with stone and wood finishings and floor-to-ceiling windows which allow for the excellent use of daylight, providing the hotel with 80% of its lighting. In addition, the 1,638 thermal panels on the building’s façade react autonomously to the outside weather conditions (and to the presence of guests) to optimise the insulation and minimize heating needs: a feature which has led to it becoming known as the living building. Indeed, the entire concept of the QO is based on a sustainable, circular use of resources. The building materials were almost entirely locally sourced: 33% of the concrete used in the building construction was recovered from a demolished skyscraper in Amsterdam. The hotel’s carpets are made of 100% recycled yarn from fishing nets, also sourced locally. The ingredients for the food served in the hotel’s restaurant and its rooftop bar are grown in its own greenhouse or come from local producers; the hotel’s towels are also locally sourced.
The objective of a system based on the circular economy is to reduce the consumption of resources as much as possible through the reuse of everything that's available and by minimising waste. In its management of water, one of the most important resources for any hotel, the QO adheres to very high standards. For example, the grey water – all the water coming from sinks and showers – is reused to flush toilets, cutting overall water consumption by a remarkable 42%. Water warmed by the summer heat is stored 70 metres underground for use in the winter, while during the summer cold water is used to lower the temperature of the rooms. All of the building's energy is from renewable sources, mostly from Dutch wind farms. Furthermore, the hotel is committed to offering the kind of services one would expect from a luxury hotel chain, including a wellness and fitness area, creative and multi-functional spaces for meetings and events, the Juniper & Kin rooftop bar, and Persijn, a restaurant offering the traditional specialities of Dutch cuisine. Opened in April 2018, the QO Amsterdam has already received a series of prestigious awards, including the Hotel Property Award 2018, the AHEAD Award 2018 for Best Urban Hotel – Newbuild and the FRAME Sustainability Award 2019.
“We want the QO to stand out from other lifestyle destinations. Rather than asking guests to choose between luxury and sustainability, we want to demonstrate that the two are perfectly compatible”, explained Inge van Weert, General Manager of QO. But the jewel in the QO’s crown is undoubtedly its rooftop greenhouse, a circular aquaponics system with a fish farm annex. The fish waste and carcasses provide a source of organic food for the plants, the roots of which are immersed in water, while the plants simultaneously purify the water for the fish. The result is fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish which are then used as ingredients for dishes and cocktails in the restaurant and rooftop bar, with the menus varying depending on the seasonal produce available on any given day.
A shopping centre that collects waste
Let's head over to Sweden and discover ReTuna Återbruksgalleria. A name and a project, quite literally. Tuna comes from Eskilstuna, the town in which it's located: 65,000 inhabitants, a one-hour train journey to the west of Stockholm, Sweden. Återbruk means “reuse”. It is thanks to this innovative shopping centre that this small Swedish town is attracting attention from newspapers right across the globe, this shopping centre with its entrance façade decorated with red and green squares and which was previously a warehouse for a logistics company.
Looking at the façade from the outside it could easily be mistaken for any school, library or civic centre you might find around these parts. But go inside, and the comparison immediately, almost inevitably, turns to Ikea. A shopping centre where you can find just about everything, furniture and electrical products, DIY equipment and pet accessories. There are 14 shops, a bistro – strictly organic –, a bookshop, and a small meeting room. There's also a display window where customers can view products to buy online later. Tonnes of light, Scandinavian orderliness. Nothing like your classic flea market! Indeed, ReTuna has other, loftier, ambitions: «We want to be the Hugo Boss of used goods», explains the manager Anna Bergström, with a smile.
She's worked here since the very beginning in August 2015. When the idea of giving goods a second life so as to help extend that of the planet – a solid reason, especially in a place where the question of combining economics and sustainability is always at the top of the agenda – began to take shape thanks to a positive meeting of minds between local environmentalists and forward-thinking politicians. The local municipal energy company, EEM (Eskilstuna Energy Miljo), provided the funds and took care of the management. And Eskilstuna's desire to become a pioneering town at the forefront of the fight against waste, to blaze a trail, had become a reality.
The shopping centre was established just 300m from the waste recycling centre. The people arrive, drive down the road that runs alongside the shop, they stop and drop-off their load in front of a team of 6-7 staff members wearing hi-vis jackets, like those worn by airport staff. The team then selects the items, divides them and places them inside a series of large containers. «Nothing is turned away there and then», explains Bergström. Anything that cannot be resold is stacked up to await a second inspection, to see if they might be useful to someone else: for example, a school. Or the council. If there really is no hope, and no use can be found, the dump is just up the road.
The shopkeepers spend a part of their mornings choosing what to put on sale. Their shop rental agreements contain a clause: waste must be as close to zero as possible. They don’t always succeed, but they certainly try their best.
An incentive system to promote reuse
The shopping centre's takings are more than decent: 28 million Swedish krona (2.65 million euros) since opening, 10.2 million Swedish krona (approximately 970,000 euros) in 2017 alone. And 2018 is expected to show even further growth. Plenty to keep the shops in business, to provide work for around 50 employees (many of whom are immigrants, since ReTuna is part of a public programme aimed at integrating foreign workers) and to attract an average of 600-700 customers per day, including Sundays. “It's a normal business approach”, explains Bergström: “We manage stock just like everyone else, we do exactly the same as them. What makes us different is our products”.
But the objectives are not all about revenue. ReTuna is not just a shopping centre; it's supposed to be a model. A stimulus that's capable of transforming the “secondhand” philosophy into a mainstream concept and changing people’s attitudes towards consumption. In a word, to educate. That’s why, along with repair workshops, it also organises conventions, exhibitions and lessons. There are also student competitions for the best ideas (“Recycling Design” lessons are compulsory at the local Folkhogskola (Folk high school)). Of course, it helps to live in a country where the circular economy is already part of the legislation: VAT is 50% less for those who reuse rather than throw away (reducing from 25% to 12%), repair costs can be written off on your tax return, 99% – yes, you read that right – of domestic waste is recycled (it was already a third 40 years ago…) and the Swedish parliament has set a target of “zero emissions” by 2045.