Speech by Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Finale Sustainable Business Battle, Leiden

Thank you! It’s great to be back here. This room… This fireplace… It brings back good memories… Seems like only yesterday! Here, you make friends for life.

But today you’re proving that student clubs and societies are so much more. You’re debating big social challenges and working to find practical solutions. Ones that can be put into practice straightaway in the region. That’s what interested me when I read about the Battle: the regional approach. You’re finding concrete solutions here in Leiden and The Hague to complex global issues.

Climate and sustainability are hot issues and that’s fantastic. 3 weeks ago, the leader of the world’s biggest economy pulled out of the Paris agreement. But that has only made the others more ambitious. Not least the states and cities of the United States itself. But also China. And also multinationals like DSM, car manufacturers and energy companies.

And you know why? To keep global warming under control, of course! But also because climate is big business!
•    Take California: it’s leading the way, because it’s drier there than ever before. But also because the innovation sector in Silicon Valley sees great opportunities.
•    Take China: it’s leading the way, because urban air pollution is a big problem. But also because the Chinese manufacturing industry stands to make a lot of money.
•    And take the Netherlands: it’s leading the way, because low-lying countries like ours are the first to suffer from sea level rises. But also because our businesses are keen to sell their expertise to other countries.

The call for a green agenda for the new government in the Netherlands isn’t only coming from environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Urgenda Foundation. Businesses are also calling loudly for investment in a green revolution.

I’m seeing that same duality here today:
•    On the one hand, students, who are concerned about the environment.
•    And on the other hand, businesses – who share those concerns of course – but who are also driven to make money.

In my view it’s the only way to achieve our goal. Sustainability isn’t only a matter for government.  It’s something that concerns us all: at home, at school and at work.

I’d like to put it even more strongly. Governments that draw up endless rules and regulations about sustainability are actually blocking green innovation. Long lists of requirements that products must meet make it hard for professionals to think out of the box. Too much regulation will slow down future innovation.

Because one thing is certain: we need individual initiative and innovation. We need people like Hitesh Khandelwal, a PhD student at Eindhoven University of Technology. He came up with the idea of smart windows that act as blinds in the summer and let sunlight through in winter. If it’s hot inside, the windows keep the heat out. If it’s cold inside, the windows let in the sun’s warmth. That way you save on heating as well as air conditioning. On top of that, the ‘PowerWindows’ act as solar panels: they generate electricity from sunlight. They’re already being trialled at the Rabobank in Eindhoven.

We need new initiatives, like rooftop farms, where we can grow crops in the heart of the city. We need new initiatives, like an underground battery for every home – an idea that students came up with to breathe new life into the Dutch gas grid. We need new initiatives like self-driving cars.

Next week I will open the first research lab for automated driving at Delft University of Technology. The Netherlands tops the European rankings when it comes to innovative and sustainable mobility. But our ambition doesn’t stop there. We want to be the Smart Mobility Centre of the world!

The Netherlands is bursting with green initiatives. Initiatives from big businesses to start-ups, from knowledge institutions and NGOs to ordinary people. Initiatives like this Sustainable Business Battle!

I took a look at your poster presentation market. And what I saw there are concrete, small-scale solutions that businesses can quickly implement. The key to success is to look at the problem from different angles. And take an interdisciplinary approach. And that’s exactly what you are doing here.

I’m a great fan of competitions like these. They bring out the best ideas. Earlier this year a student team from Delft won Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Competition. A contest to see who could design and build the best high-speed pod. And now, six months later, they’re running their own business! With the best hyperloop technology in the world, and with investments from Dutch Railways, construction company BAM and Delft University of Technology.

The businesses here today, your partners, will have an out-of-the-box solution to work with. I hope your plans will lead to more research, to pilots and actual implementation. And who knows, today’s teams might also be running their own company in six months time!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for me to stop talking and start listening. I wish all the participants lots of luck! Thank you.