Our fifth SDG Meetup focused on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure and innovation are crucial drivers of economic growth and development. That’s why SDG 9 encourages building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and fostering innovation.

Three inspiring speakers graced our stage at this Meetup: Andrew McCue, cities and industries consultant at Metabolic; Kriszti Árvai-Nagy, Biopolus’ Dutch partnerships executive; and Tynke van den Heuvel, founder of Studio Wae.

Metabolic

Andrew McCue is a consultant, giving various stakeholders insight into their current impact. On SDGs, he finds that although they are rather broadly defined, “the indicators [to assess them] and the fact that they’ve created a common view on global issues is quite historic.” A common view, however, does not necessarily lead to a common approach: “The inequality in this SDG is that infrastructure is not an equal right for us all across the world. 2.5 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, and even more lack constant access to electricity, for example.”

Looking at the SDG ‘wedding-cake’ chart, we see that the SDGs are stacked in three levels, according to their nature: the ones that relate to the biosphere are on the bottom; the social-related ones in the middle, and the economic ones on top. “SDG 9 is in the top layer. This means that any intervention there cannot be counterproductive to the lower layers. Bearing in mind population growth, our main challenge is: How do we provide the infrastructure necessary for [human] well-being within planetary boundaries? And how do cities keep growing while decreasing their impact? In finding solutions, we need to take into account economic factors, such as path dependency, technological lock-in and stranded assets. For us at Metabolic, industrial symbiosis is particularly interesting.”

Studio Wae (pictured)

Tynke van den Heuvel runs Studio Wae, a circular design studio focused on flooring. Her main products are 100% recycled, modular carpets, and circular concrete outdoor tile. To add social impact to the environmental impact, Tynke employs people from disadvantaged groups. Tynke’s goal: to make waste valuable.

76% of the cement used for Studio Wae’s circular concrete comes from urban mining. New Horizon, a company that collects urban construction waste and upcycles it, supplies it. Due to Tynke’s partnership with them and pavement company SMI, she managed to lift her one-year-old company off the ground. “The power of collaboration in the industry is exceptional.” Tynke also chose to invest in certification by independent parties. This is very expensive for startups – but Tynke recommends it to secure larger projects. Key advice for fellow entrepreneurs: “The first step is the most important step. Just start. I started as a scrap dealer, and now create many circular products that people actually buy. They are triggered by my different designs, star shapes. The circularity comes as a present. This way I’m able to really make an impact.”

Biopolus

Urban circularity needs a sustainable water cycle that provides residents with continuous access to safe, clean water within city boundaries. With Metabolic Network Reactor technology, Biopolus created a modular, expandable water treatment system for complex circular urban water treatment and management: the BioMakery. It has less than 10% the footprint of existing systems and is compact and odour-free. In 2018, it won the Dutch Water Innovation Audience Award.

Kriszti Árvai-Nagy tells us: “We had the solution, but we needed to have a good business model to scale up and grow. ” And they found it: the system is so compact, that replacing a conventional inner-city wastewater treatment plant frees up space with land values of €25-30 million. It is a huge business opportunity for real estate development.”

“We acknowledge our responsibility to contribute to circular thinking and are currently exploring the social engagement possibilities in our first BioMakery. It is a public space, where adults and children can learn about circularity and water treatment. Also, it is a large-scale demonstration site of an EU Horizon2020 project, NEXTGEN, and a test bed for a closed-habitat study of the European Space Agency, as well as an open innovation platform of the Dutch Waterboards.”

Insights and ideas to achieve SDG 9

Before our speakers took the stage, we had a check-in with our participants. What is necessary for steps in the right direction? We agree that in addition to capital, resources, mentoring and such, we need the right people and the right clients: those who understand and share our vision.

After hearing from the speakers, we facilitated a session where we asked participants to think about opportunities and challenges of this SDG individually and in groups of 2. After that, participants continued the conversation in groups and listed possible actions for the opportunities/challenges they identified:

  • Which companies throw away what kind of material/resource? Can we make use of them for a business idea/in an organisation?
  • Changing the mindset of decision-makers is a major challenge. We should foster collaboration over competition.
  • Systems change requires scale and changing the mindset. Start local and getting politicians engaged.
  • Building capacity for circularity, as well as recycling systems, means getting partners on board.

During the networking phase of the event, our speakers, too, got to make some valuable contacts with other industry partners! Biopolus was approached for a research collaboration request as well as contacts for sustainable investment possibilities.

Join us for the next SDG Meetup!

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