Back to (green) business

Despite knowing the future is green, current students and professionals still have to adapt to future labour demands in fields such as sustainability and digitalisation.  

With that in mind, Amsterdam’s schools, employers, unions, and research organisations address the mismatch in the construction industry via BouwAcademie, the education institution for construction professionals.

“In there,” explains Mark van Marken, Manager for the European and Regional Development Funds (ERDF) programme for the City of Amsterdam, “the students will be educated in up-to-date technologies on building, for example, solar panels and other energy-saving techniques.”

One hope is that the present focus on recovery will have far reaching impact; rather than simply aiding the economy to get back to where it was pre-pandemic, it will enable a leap ahead.

The professionals of the future

Aligned with Amsterdam’s sustainability commitments, BouwAcademie tests the opportunities the local economic recovery entails. The institution was one of the projects selected by Amsterdam to receive funds as part of the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU). These funds provide financial assistance for the economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic as well as for the transition to a green and digital economy.

BouwAcademie was chosen to be part of the economic recovery after creating a ‘learn-work-innovation’ environment. On the one hand, it upskills, reskills and teaches students and professionals to acquire the right competencies for the work of the future, which contributes to their sustainable employability and job satisfaction.  

On the other hand, small and medium companies gain insight into new technology, have more productive employees with the right skills, innovate together with research partners, and are supported in introducing innovations into their daily practice.  

Meanwhile, as the mismatch between demand and skilled professionals decreases, creating a social benefit, this also helps make existing buildings in Amsterdam more sustainable. 

New beginnings 

Mark van Marken, manager for the European and Regional Development Funds programme at the City of Amsterdam

Van Marken says that “companies are the most affected by the pandemic.” That’s why the focal point of the city’s recovery is to boost the local economy through job creation and company development. 

Within the Netherlands, the four regions that benefit from the ERDF are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. They are all eligible for REACT-EU, with more than €82.5 million (€15.5 million for Amsterdam). These resources, available since February 2021, are in place to boost a resilient, digital and green recovery of the economy. In two months, over 150 applications were received for more than €200 million. Almost 120 projects received funding from REACT-EU (of which 17 are in Amsterdam). 

The municipality targets small and medium companies working on digitalisation, sustainability, and the mismatch in the labour market in local communities. The support mainly concerns entrepreneurs whose products are either in the demonstration phase and ready to be tested or are already operational. This prevents entrepreneurs from experiencing delays due to the crisis.

After the city of Amsterdam identified the fields of action that “most suit to the situation that we are facing,” says van Marken, related innovative projects get the municipality’s support to pursue green, digital and resilient recovery of the economy. 

Biochemicals as a reality 

Reducing pollution across different industries is no small feat, but one company is making waste into a new product. ChainCraft uses residual organic waste to create new valuable materials, rather than degrading it for energy production. Residual organic fluids are converted into fertiliser, clean water and fatty acids that can be used in a range of consumer products such as flavours and frangrances.

This way, the company explores the opportunities to reuse biowaste for things like animal nutrition instead of burning it. The milder processing conditions and more sustainable raw materials lead to a significant reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in production. “They’ve been developing this process for a few years now. It’s the moment to scale up and bring their product to the market,” explains van Marken.

Green waste is never waste

Another example is The Waste Transformers, a facility that will be built next to the Amsterdam football stadium. There, the green waste from companies and markets will be collected and then fermented into new soil and new nutrition for the pitches in the stadium and the city gardens. 

One way of following the green transition (and saving time) is to integrate digital compliance processes, for example, in the agricultural sector. This is the case with AgriPlace. 

The company created a platform to simplify agricultural companies’ processes to get certified and other required paperwork to export their products abroad. Not only that, but they also make supply chains transparent and sustainable and optimise time and costs for farmers and companies in the agricultural sector. 

They were selected to upgrade their digital system and get it upscaled to the market. “With the new developments that are possible through this project, we will ensure a more future-proof agricultural sector in the Netherlands and Europe,” a source from AgriPlace states.

More than recovery

In late 2020, the Funds from REACT-EU were added to existing ERDF programmes. Constant collaboration among the provinces and the four main cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague) helps to align activities. “At least a few times a month, I attend a working group or meeting to ensure that we work similarly,” van Marken explains.

This aligned investment foresees a paradigm shift in labour markets and company development. Amsterdam will continue to implement the REACT-EU funds during the next year to ensure the recovery is green and digital.

While many cities across Europe, like Amsterdam, benefit from these funds it is not the case everywhere, and with systemic challenges from high inflation to new responsibilities around cities’ response to the war in Ukraine, it’s important that EU member states work with their local communities to ensure that the REACT-EU funds do their job to help everyone.

This article is part of a series charting local recovery efforts made by cities all over Europe – cities want #MoreThanRecovery

The sustainable 20s

Tourism is boosting Zagreb and Ostend’s post-covid recovery

A digital mobility renaissance in Milan

In Bologna, a recovery in full swing

Cities want more than recovery

Recovery, Zagreb’s chance to play catch up

Boosting and rebooting Espoo 

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer