GN Focus | Netherlands

Green seduction

From advertising and hospitality to entertainment and design, businesses in the Netherlands are playing the green card to attract consumers

  • By Sanaya Pavri | Feature Writer
  • Published: 06:12 October 17, 2011

  • Image Credit: GreenGrafitti
  • Reverse graffiti and water pressure combine to help Dutch advertising firm GreenGraffiti deliver ad campaigns that are simple and unique

It could be their endemic thriftiness, their absolute intolerance for wastage or even a more altruistic urge to actually save the planet. Who really cares about the motive, the fact is no one knows the power of green better than the Dutch.

They have a veritable patent when it comes to green consciousness that they have elevated from the tedious forums and crusading environmental agencies to gimmicky marketing strategies, hip eco-friendly hotels and the first sustainable night club in the world — Watt in Rotterdam (see box). Then there is eco-conscious fashion, with designers such as Stefanie Nieuwenhuyse using discarded woodchips to make a fashion statement.

The litany of firsts and catalogue of green conquests are undoubtedly impressive but despite the numerous achievements, the Dutch do not wear sustainability on their sleeve. And, while for the most part, the rest of the planet thinks fighting eco battles is like tilting at windmills, the Dutch just go about life smirking at the Don Quixotes of the world.

Effecting change
This is the same attitude that propelled Jim Bowes and Joost Niepoth to create GreenGraffiti, a sustainable communication agency. “The advertising industry has spent decades and billions of euros learning how to change human behaviour. It, more than any other industry, has the knowledge and the experience to positively effect change. However, it is absent for any discussion on sustainability and the most part focused instead on short sighted profits and business as usual,” explains Bowes, who with Niepoth simply jumped ship to start their own company.

They have focused on running a profitable business that was also highly aware of the need to act differently and provide sustainable alternatives.

Bowes believes that green is a good thing but also only one part of the sustainable equation. “Green is far too narrow in our opinion. It is [also] about sustainable development, which is a balance between people, planet and profit. This is why we consider ourselves a ‘sustainable’ company in which ‘green’ is a key element but we are not a ‘green’ company only,” he tells GN Focus.

One of their core green elements is reverse graffiti. Using only a template, pure water and a power washer, they literally clean communication messages out of the dirt. No ink, no paper and barely any waste is generated.

That might draw criticism from water protectionists — don’t forget that reverse graffiti uses water, though only about 1/30th the amount of water used to produce a piece of paper of a comparable size, explains Bowes ( but they’re doing their best to compensate).

“We are using a precious natural resource and in order to compensate
for our water usage, we have established a water foundation called GreenAdsBlue. For each litre of water used, we contribute 5 euro cents to GreenAdsBlue, which uses this money to fund water projects around the world. This makes us one of the world’s first companies to compensate our water footprint.”

There is no debating the feel-good factor but is that the only reason companies come to GreenGraffiti — Bowes honestly admits that clients come to them mostly because of ‘business reasons’ as opposed to ‘green reasons’.

“Our mediums are great value for money as they typically last 4 to 6 weeks while traditional outdoor usually lasts one week. Our medium is also less expensive costing around 60 per cent of traditional outdoor. Our medium is highly targetable meaning we are not confined to frames or billboard spaces. We assure a high return on investment, impact, exposure, relevance and target audience.”

While pure economics and green leanings drive traffic through the doors of GreenGraffiti’s office, what gets visitors vying for a room at Conscious Hotels is something else entirely.

“We strive to be as green, sustainable and eco-friendly as possible,” says Rob van Hemert, Yield Manager, Conscious Hotels, “But we are more hip than hippy. And by hip we don’t mean our staff is too cool to answer the phone. You might not even notice some of our ‘green’ decisions because we just quietly get on with being kind to the planet in the background. We think you’re okay about that. We offer you a few choices that might even make saving the planet fun (yes, fun, imagine that). And keep you healthy.”

The genesis of this latest addition to the Dutch green scene is all thanks to Marco and Sam and Marco’s worry for his new-born daughter Giulia. Marco feels that the planet is in pretty bad shape and business has to change. So Sam and Marco started looking for positive alternatives for their hotel business. They dreamed a little. They thought a lot.

The two of them wanted fully sustainable hotels. They wanted stylish contemporary interiors. They wanted total comfort. They wanted healthy food choices. They wanted playful touches. They wanted Holland to win the World Cup but that didn’t happen. But nevertheless, Conscious was born.

The complete package
So what’s the current generation of green establishments like? We are not just talking solar panels and recycled materials. At Conscious Hotels you can expect all the light bulbs to be LED energy savers; all paint and lacquer used is water-based; all cleaning products are eco-friendly detergents and the denim the staff wears is made of organic cotton. These are just some of things Conscious does — there are a host of others, which they invite you to experience.

But whether its is hip or whether it makes perfect business sense and even if it is motivated by a greenwashing policy — the point is that each little endeavour to be kind to the planet is a step in the right direction and it might do well for the world to go Dutch.

The crowds are lively and the ambience,cool. The Watt in Amsterdam is a night club like any other. Or is it? Because what sets the club apart from the competition is its environmentally-sustainable tag. Indeed, Watt — which opened doors in 2008 — is a world first. From energy-efficient LED lighting to a LED-laden dance floor that converts kinetic energy generated by dancers into electricity to power itself, the technology at Watt is unique. Innovative technology does not restrict itself to the dance floor.

A rainwater catchment system helps supply water for its toilets, while a zero-waste bar serves organic drinks in recycled plastic cups. Eventually, the club manages to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent.