It was the first museum anywhere to be BREEAM certified and now used coffee cups are becoming toilet paper and discarded coffee grounds are becoming soap. The Van Gogh Museum hopes to bring sustainable change to the world of museum facilities and property management. How? This is what Ben van der Stoop and Anja In ‘t Velt, Property Management Advisors at the Van Gogh Museum, tell us.
What does sustainability mean for the Van Gogh Museum?
Ben: “The term sustainability is sometimes quite tricky. In the Netherlands it is quite general and occasionally not such a clear concept. The Van Gogh Museum is committed to sustainable development. We try to do this in different areas. We’re not just talking about energy savings, but also about clean energy, good employment practices, inclusiveness, carbon reduction and cooperation with external partners. Our ambition is to make these subjects as sustainable as possible and to therefore establish a trend.”
How do you establish this trend?
Ben: “In 2012, we started a Green Think Tank with colleagues who are passionate about sustainability. Together we assessed the situation at the time and formulated an ambition for the future. In 2014, this led to the award of the BREEAM certification in no less than three areas: ‘Asset’, ‘Management’ and ‘Use’; this certification was recently renewed.” Anja adds: “In addition to BREEAM, there are a number of sustainability benchmarks, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By working on the SDGs, we can also include other aspects of sustainability – such as good employment practices – when it comes to remuneration and diversity. But they also relate, of course, to reducing our carbon footprint and working with our surroundings in an environmentally conscious and innovative way.”
BREEAM is a benchmark to see whether you are doing things right in terms of sustainability. It ensures that you make the correct choices for the long term. In addition to BREEAM, there are a number of sustainability benchmarks, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
– Anja In ‘t Velt, Senior Property Management Advisor at the Van Gogh Museum
You obtained a new BREEAM certificate in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. How has COVID-19 affected your sustainable ambitions?
Anja: “It was, of course, a very strange year and we hardly had any visitors. It was a difficult year for the museum. But Ben and I did want to keep sustainability in the spotlight. A new BREEAM certificate helped, but we also held an internal ‘inspiration session’ to tell colleagues more about our sustainable goals. COVID-19 means that we all have to change our behaviour, so why not make it more sustainable at the same time? Colleagues are enthusiastic and positive about working on sustainability. We have shown that a lot is possible when you take small steps. The coronavirus crisis has also made us more creative. We had already launched new circular ideas before the crisis by initiating supplier dialogues. Making the best of these collaborative ventures will give us even more ideas. For example, we are working with our suppliers on a process to turn our used coffee cups into toilet paper. Due to the current situation, we have started to look for more partners so that we can possibly qualify for a subsidy. It takes a little longer, but the final impact is far greater.”
What challenges have you encountered in achieving your sustainable ambitions?
Ben: “The main challenge was to put sustainability on the map internally. It wasn’t that people didn’t think it was important, but it quickly faded into the background with all the busy schedules. That’s why we and the think tank devote a great deal of attention to the internal dissemination of knowledge, both top-down and bottom-up. In addition to disseminating information, we also show how to apply sustainability, how much budget is needed to do so and where the opportunities lie.”
And did that help?
Anja: “Definitely. We have put sustainability firmly on the map across the entire organisation. Sustainable objectives are included in our Strategic Plan and we are now in the process of developing these objectives into specific plans to further reduce our carbon emissions.” Ben adds: “Sustainable development is increasingly seen as a business case, not as a cost item. You can save a lot of money by reducing your energy consumption, but as a museum you also have a social responsibility. So you create value not only in euros, but also in a social sense. In addition, you are a source of inspiration to the public.” Anja: “That’s certainly very important too. For example, we are also working on an innovative project to make soap from our coffee grounds. That soap looks rather strange at first because of its colour (because it’s dark in colour due to the coffee grounds), but it will hopefully inspire people too. Public opinion is slowly changing and both employees and visitors find sustainability increasingly important. We want to show visitors that we as a museum take this subject seriously, as it increases the value of sustainability.”
Sustainable development is increasingly seen as a business case, not as a cost item. You’re not only creating value in euros, but also value in a social sense.
– Ben van der Stoop, Senior Property Management Advisor at the Van Gogh Museum
What can we expect from the Van Gogh Museum in the near future regarding sustainability?
Anja: “We are working with various suppliers to make our procurement process as circular as possible. By collaborating even better, we want to reduce our supply chains, starting with toilet paper and coffee cups. We challenge ourselves to make processes as sustainable as possible. That proves infectious. For example, we are now looking with various parties in the vicinity of the Museumplein square at how we can collect our waste ‘more efficiently’ so that it can be processed more easily into sustainable material and our carbon impact can be reduced even further. So we focus not only on our own organisation, but also on how we can do things better together with external partners and suppliers. We’re going to put a lot of effort into that next year. Everyone has ideas for reducing our footprint and reusing materials, for example. We hope to be fully circular in a few years, perhaps by then we won’t know any better!”