“The car recycling industry is an example worth emulating”

Published on 02 July 2018

Ruud Koornstra has been the first National Energy Commissioner of the Netherlands for the past year and a half. This enthusiastic entrepreneur considers it his responsibility to actively advocate sustainability initiatives in The Hague. Koornsta is a passionate supporter of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the United Nations. “I think it’s fantastic to see how ARN and the car recycling chain have based their activities, goals and progress on the SDGs. An example worth emulating.”

With past experience as an SME entrepreneur with a sustainability focus, Ruud Koornsta is the perfect choice for National Energy Commissioner. His enthusiasm is contagious when he talks about what can and should be done to reduce the impact on our planet through our actions, energy use, consumption and entire way of life.

“The energy transition, the pursuit of sustainability - these require continuous innovation. In all sectors, in all small and large companies and in people’s homes. Some entrepreneurs and initiatives in society are pursuing this vigorously, while others need a little nudging. My goal is to provide a positive and different perspective.” Koornsta speaks at conferences and is a familiar face to many, especially in The Hague, where this different perspective from innovative Netherlands can inspire change. “I’m a lobbyist for sustainability. I consider it my responsibility to get decision-makers to consider positive results based on the notion of ‘you see, it really does work, so make it happen’.”

Fabulous compass

Koornstra feels it is important that those involved in this transition keep their eye on the ball. “I think the 17 SDGs established by the UN are a fabulous compass for the mission developed by organisations,” says Koornstra, who believes that these goals are playing an increasingly concrete role in how organisations determine direction and justify their actions afterwards.

“What was once a world of junkyards has been transformed into a chain of companies focusing on reuse, links in the circular economy, in the recycling chain!”

While working as a sustainable entrepreneur, Koornstra was known for his statement that he wanted to make life heaven on earth for 10 billion people by the year 2030. “That certainly grabs attention, of course, but when the SDGs were formulated in New York in 2015 as a follow-up to the successfully achieved ‘millennium goals’, my first thought was: that’s exactly what I’m talking about!”

‘License to operate’

The Energy Commissioner refers to the SDGs as a sort of ‘license to operate’. “It sounds hip and modern, like the fact that ARN, for example, has based its sustainability report for 2017 on five of the SDGs (see info box, ed.). But it’s also a very clear way to justify actions taken. If we are pursuing sustainable consumption and production patterns, such as SDG 12, what have we accomplished in this pursuit? And what more can we do? In addition, SDG 17 refers to ‘partnerships for the goals’. So, it is only logical to ask where such partnerships can be found? And what else can we do?”

Inspiring with SDGs

According to Koornstra, companies in the car recycling chain can inspire their own employees with the SDGs. “Organisations can confront one another regarding performance. They can even involve parties outside the chain, such as the government and, most importantly, car manufacturers. The SDGs are a steppingstone, checklist and alibi all in one.”

“Fifteen years from now, cars will require a materials passport that states exactly what kinds of materials are used and how they will be recycled.”

Koornsta finds it interesting to see how the sector of former car dismantlers have made tremendous progress in only a few decades. “What was once a world of junkyards has been transformed into a chain of companies focusing on reuse, links in the circular economy, in the recycling chain! What’s really interesting is the fact that this sector is now at the forefront, that these companies - led by ARN - are basing their work on the SDGs. That has a tremendous impact. There is a greater impact when, for example, multinationals, with all the millions they spend on PR, say that they believe that the SDGs are important. I appreciate this enormously.”

Taking the lead

Koornstra’s advice: “Use the SDGs to keep manufacturers on their toes. Ask questions about the materials they use. Talk about what can be reused and which materials can be processed into new raw materials. The industry can take the lead in the transition to circular thinking. Fifteen years from now, far fewer cars will be produced because car sharing will have become commonplace. Cars will be self-driving and, by that time, have a much longer service life. As a result, cars will require a materials passport that states exactly what kinds of materials are used and how they will be recycled.”

Koornstra believes that the car industry can find inspiration in Greentom, winner of the 2017 SEM Innovation Top 100. “This manufacturer of ‘green’ recycled buggies takes back its product after three years to convert it into a balance bicycle for the child. After that, it is converted into other products, perhaps even becoming a walker by the time you reach old age! Can this model also be applied in the car industry and car recycling? I’m curious how this will play out...”

Page image

In the recently published ‘2017 Sustainability Report’, ARN explains its activities, goals and progress in the area of car recycling based on the Sustainable Development Goals. The five SDGs pursued by ARN:

7: Sustainable and affordable energy

8: Ensuring inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent jobs.

9: Innovation and sustainable infrastructure.

12: Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.

17: Partnerships aimed at pursuing these goals.