‘Sustainability takes guts’
Published on 11 July 2018
Don’t talk, just act. That is Marjan Minnesma’s slogan, three-time winner of the ‘Duurzame 100’ (Sustainable 100), listed by Trouw daily paper. According to her, sustainability is mainly a question of doing, whereby not everything has to be checkable and measurable. ‘Sometimes, you just have to take steps. Otherwise nothing will get done.’
With her pragmatic attitude, Minnesma has already achieved many sustainable successes. She applies her ‘doing attitude’ as director of Urgenda, a foundation that wants to accelerate sustainability in the Netherlands through concrete activities by individuals and businesses. Her organisation, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, fights for more sustainable housing, and also for a ‘low car diet’, for instance.
Minnesma’s vigour has thrice earnt her a top position in the Duurzame 100 since 2011. That is the Trouw newspaper's list of the most influential Dutch persons in the field of sustainability. Minnesma explains her success as follows: ‘I have been working with the environment for a long time. It means I know plenty of people. Moreover, I have an excess of energy. I am a doing person. That catches on.’ The battle strategy of the ‘old’ environment movement does not appeal to Minnesma. She doesn’t go on the attack, but opts for transparency and for always telling it like it is. ‘When someone asks me to organise a congress, I tell them directly I’d rather be doing something more active. I am also honest if I don’t want to work with parties because I find they inhibit things. I don’t advocate keeping the peace or the ‘polder model’. That only slows things down. I like to get to the point, but in a positive way. I like to entice and connect and forge new coalitions.’
‘I foresee a strong increase in service concepts that provide flexible mobility without you needing to own a car’
Minnesma advocates passion and optimism to achieve a sustainable world. The spirit of the times however is not cooperating. According to her, we live in a period in which we hold each other in a paralysing grip through repression, protocols and control. ‘We try to get a grip on society with rules and supervision based on distrust and fear. And those rules and that supervision then feed more fear and distrust.’ Minnesma thinks we have gone overboard in that. ‘We should not be under the illusion that everything can be measured and regulated. That tendency leads to rigidity and bureaucracy. I hope we find our way back to passion and decisiveness instead of rules and protocols. I’d rather do 100 things with the chance that something goes wrong in 98 of the cases, then only do two things I am certain will deliver results. After all, it is important to learn from what you are doing. You have to have the guts to take steps, otherwise nothing happens.
Minnesma has seen a positive shift in the way people think about sustainability. There is a lot of enthusiasm for sustainable initiatives among local and regional governments in particular. That also applies to individuals. It’s bursting with ideas. For example, from consumers who not only want to install solar panels on their own house, but also on their neighbours’ houses to generate even more energy. She feels these developments could be sped up. ‘With Urgenda we want to accelerate things by setting up activities using passion and energy. We have to arrive at an economy based on green instead of fossil fuels as soon as possible. And at a circular economy, in which all raw materials are reused. Urgenda is committed to that.’
Working from positivity
‘Urgenda works sympathetically’, explains Minnesma. ‘We don’t name and shame businesses that are not 100% sustainable. Instead, we talk to them to see where we can help. We notice businesses are open to that approach. Because many people in business want the same thing we do: a healthy future for our children.’ Minnesma is optimistic about the developments in the mobility sector. ‘I expect there to be many more initiatives for electric vehicles. Not every concept will be as successful as the next, but we will switch to electric eventually. We have to. It is the only solution to air pollution in cities worldwide. Moreover, oil is running out.’
The car is losing the status of sacred cow at a rapid pace, observes Minnesma. ‘Car ownership will half over time and make way for flexible car use. For many, as it stands, the car still represents freedom. But increasing numbers of people are starting to see owning a car as restricting their freedom, for example through lack of parking spaces. And once you have found a spot, it can easily cost you thirty euros a day. I foresee a strong increase in service concepts that provide flexible mobility without you needing to own a car.’
Open to alternatives
As a champion of sustainability, Minnesma applauds the innovative mobility concepts. But she remains a realist, with a desire for quality. After all, she is the daughter of a car dealer. She grew up above the showroom and understands it’s not easy to get people out of cars: ‘Every day, I drive my electric car from my home in Beemster to Amsterdam in half an hour. It would take me 2 1/2 hours on public transport. That is too big a difference. But if there were a service, for example with an electric taxi, that could get me to Amsterdam quickly, it would be worth considering. But then I would want to be able to sit quietly and drink a cup of coffee.’
Marjan Minnesma in brief
Marjan Minnesma was born in Wormerveer in 1966 and studied business administration, philosophy and law. She founded Urgenda in 2017 together with Jan Rotmans, professor of Transitions and Transition Management.
Minnesma is praised for her boundless energy and the many sustainable initiatives she has supported using her vast network. She is known as a whirlwind who is in constant dialogue during the day and at her computer deep into the night. Minnesma has three children.
The Urgenda Foundation wants to make speed up sustainability in the Netherlands together with businesses, governments, social organisations and individuals. To that end, Urgenda has formulated a long-term vision, together with an agenda filled with concrete activities from now until 2050. The foundation mainly wants to introduce products or new technologies ignored by others. More information: www.urgenda.nl.