In July 2018 Helena Krivorucsko interviewed the founder and chairman of Stichting BRIQS Remko Zuidema in the context of Circular Economy.
H: Good afternoon. What exactly does your foundation do?
R: The BRIQS foundation supplies building blocks for natural gas-free, circular and healthy buildings. And those building blocks are mainly based on the past 20/30 years of experience in all these types of building processes from the organizational side. It is not so much all these technical possibilities, because they have long been on the shelf in the construction world, in the broadest sense. The question is more, how do they get rid of it? Not only do we apply them, but how do we also ensure that it comes from the customers of the building in the right place?
H: And do you know that a CE is a trend?
R: I do not know if it’s a trend, I hope it stays this time. I am working on that myself for about 30 years, and in the last ten years it is mainly the CE story, but also various projects from the industrially flexible demountable building program that we have had from 2000 to 2007. I was construction manager of the largest project “de Rode Haan” in Delft, inside. And before that in the 1990s, at the end of the 1990s, with various projects in social housing, adaptability was what we now call circular. That was the term then. But all these concepts are actually connected to each other. We will not start again at all. We should actually make use of the experience we had previously gained. And in between 2006 and 2010, we have an I3CON European program, from Horizon 2020, which is also fully implemented in Europe. You can also call that circular, but a lot of knowledge is also on the shelf. It is not a trend for me, it is the hope that we now go through once, there is every reason for it.
H: Which activities within your foundation have a relationship with a CE?
R: Mainly education in how circular buildings are created, which business models are there, how the partners should start working in a different way, how the companies actually reposition from raw material to user, but also back to raw materials. So how you actually shape circularity, and I will go into that in the workshop.
H: And do you participate in circular projects? For example City Deals Circular City or Circles?
R: I set up the Green Deal Circular Buildings. So I am one of the four founders of that. We have elaborated on that and that has been taken up by a number of companies and governments. I am a partner of C-Creators. I recently helped to set up Cirkel City 15 years ago in Rotterdam. And in the past five years I have helped to make the enlargement, to pick it up all over the Netherlands. I have written several blogs for that. The book “The Elephant” is about the circular challenge that we have with each other. These are a lot of blogs that I have also written for Circle City, and which Jacqueline Cramer has received as mayor of Circle City. But we are also working on further generating the answers. In addition, for six years as a board member of the Slimbouwen Foundation, I have set up congresses and projects and have given presentations and training courses.
H: So if I have understood correctly, are you still participating in Circles in Rotterdam?
R: There are many initiatives, Circles I do not know. But I myself have the community from CoCycles where we actually collaborate with many producers of building materials and construction products
with TU Delft. And we continue to build on that, especially for the manufacturing part of the building industry, and not so much the consulting industry. I do that much more from the BRIQS foundation, in the course and in the courses.
And when it comes to Circle City, the governments. And in addition, I have set up a Circular Economy expert team within the political parties, to actually train and support the politicians at the back or inside – whatever you want it to be – in what circularity is and how you apply it in the municipality and province.
H: And do you also participate in other circular projects? Or to circular projects in general? I mean circular construction projects.
R: Circular building projects as direct advisors in the construction project, I do not want that. I have led those in the past. That means that you lead a project, and that the knowledge then evaporates again, because nobody currently has the need in the building process to really take over and transfer it. Then you notice that it is only project-related. And I do not want to work on projects, I want to work on system change. And that means that I coach and train people who work on projects, but also carry as little as possible into the project itself.
H: Why not?
R: Then you know that nothing comes of it. Then that project might be nice circular, but then a stamp comes up, goes into the bottom drawer, and they never do it again. So we need a system change because there are just a few crucial mistakes in the way we work together in our Dutch building practice. And if we do not solve it, just like 10/20 years ago it will just be a fun Greenwash project, without it sticking. You really have to change basic business models. That requires a little more.
H: Which circular business model do you use?
R: There is a whole series of business models that can be done on their own, only you can see that parties do not know how to systematically build up cooperation in the construction industry. There is only project-based cooperation. And ultimately the disadvantage of project-based collaboration is that it always takes only one project. This means that you can not build up quality, that you can not build up knowledge, that you do not store knowledge, distribute and structurally improve and increase with each other. Construction is the only world where it is, where we start again with each project. And it is also the only world where there have been few developments in knowledge in the last 25 years. The nice thing about circularity is that it must come primarily from the construction industry. And that you have to give the construction industry a completely different position in that building world, a position that they do not have now. I will tell you more about this later in the workshop.
H: Do you also work with other companies?
R: Sure, you’re here in a circular office. Cooper 8 is one of the partners. They are the tenant of this. But I work with various other circular companies. They are more involved with tendering and building contracting, but also with product tendering. Van, “how do you do that, circular purchasing from the government?”. And so there are several partners that work together here. Everything here in this office has also had a previous life. This table, the chairs, the ceilings, all the walls around you, the carpet. Everything in this office is circular. So we just apply it here. Assuming that there are so many beautiful products that you can continuously use, to be able to transfer ownership to the next in the race.
H: Do you only work with large companies, or also with SMEs, with medium-sized companies?
R: Just only with SMEs. Large companies are not at all concerned with this, unlike Greenwash. So it’s all about small businesses. They have the innovation, they have the possibilities to work together on a personal level. Circularity has not yet reached the level that it really succeeds in scaling up. Of course there are large companies that are working on it, but they are actually working from a small part. Nothing wrong with that, but I work together with that, in the hope that we can have the business model taken over by the group. That it will be a new way of working, as a new standard. But we are not that far yet.
H: And what are the reasons that you are working with SMEs?
R: Of course, they are companies that can work with business models in a very different way, because they have a different scale on which they operate business.
H: What I mean by this is: How do you select SMEs for cooperation? Why do you say: “I will work with this company and not with it”? How are SMEs selected for cooperation?
R: Everything is on person level. Ultimately it is about whether the business model of that company can demonstrably improve or improve, by working in a circular manner. This requires commitment from the management, to actually have it as a policy. And it requires commitment from the individual partner to have the space and time to be able to carry it out. That there is a budget, internally. Often one of the two is missing. If the first case is missing, you know that it is a nice hobby, but you still do not know whether it is being worked on seriously. Is it the other way round, there is no budget, then you just know that that employee actually can not do that much. It simply does not have the time and budget to work on it structurally. You need them both. And in the larger companies that is just formally arranged, or it is not arranged and then it does not work. That is also the case with governments.
H: And what obstacles do you have to face during the collaboration?
R: I’ll show you in the workshop. There are simply various dilemmas that we still encounter in the field of structure and legislation and regulations. There is already all movement, but not yet the breakthrough.
H: Which factors play a role in working with another company?
R: I mentioned a few. And the other is that we enter into partnerships in partnerships, for example to initiate structural change in the Circle City or in the Green Deal Circular Buildings. And also in CoCycle as a team, together with the university, we tackle research problems from practice that require a piece of scientific research or technical research from higher professional education. And then we put that down there in an assignment, either with a trainee place or graduation place in the company, so that we create direct contacts between research and results, which is also applicable. And also has the greatest opportunity to be applied in the practice of construction.
H: One last question, could you perhaps repeat again what the type of company you are working with?
R: I work with many different types of companies. But preferably I work with construction producers. So producers in the building world of construction products, who thus use the circular model, ie making products based on maximum reuse of earlier materials and products. And the ability to take back products, in order to allow maximum reuse in their own process. And thus basically the conclusion of chains to circles as a starting point. Several companies are currently working on this, but no one can change the construction world on his own. But it is precisely the cooperation of these companies as a supply for the construction, where there are many opportunities. This helps the actual construction companies, and also helps the demolition companies in their business. Because they can all want it, but they have dozens, and more, suppliers that are still fully aligned at the moment. As a result, the task is simply too large and something is happening at project level, but not at system level. At present, producers hardly have direct contact with the customers of the construction industry and therefore still lack specific knowledge of the demand. Especially because there are 2 basic types of customer questions, which I want to show in the workshop.
H: As a result of your answer, I have two questions. Do you also work with construction workers or architects? Or not?
R: Of course, construction workers are not, but architects are. I did an extensive workshop yesterday with a project developer, architect, installation consultant, constructor and financier / investor, to see how the new collaboration is within this team. And how can you tempt that building and how does that look like? What type of contracts do you need and how can you ask this in a structural way, instead of on an incidental project structure? We held an extensive work session about this. Ultimately, this is developing a new question, but at the same time you also need a new answer. And it’s about the answer, namely the actual circular building. That is just very important. Then you have very new partnerships, but they also run against all laws and regulations that currently do not help to work together. But in The Hague, in the
politically, people are very busy with that. Literally last night it could have been decided in the Senate, but it was postponed again for a week and probably lifted over the holidays in decision making. The chambers have been working on this for two years to adopt the new law that will improve cooperation. But I am completely dependent on the political decision-making. And that is a lobby circuit of all kinds of sector organizations and politics, where I stand outside and what forces I have little influence on.
H: But what decisions are they about?
R: That happens by chance about the Quality Assurance Act. This concerns the quality of the building that a contractor provides. And that concerns guarantees, the duration of guarantees, the content of the guarantees and the entire insurance on guarantees. A very broad story, but that is just a new law and that would make it completely different in one fell swoop, and in my eyes much better.
H: And do you also work with international companies, or only with Dutch companies?
R: We also have a Dutch department of international companies. And I am talking to a couple of international companies from my Brussels link, to help and help the European Parliament
to help the Commission to build and enable new legislation, which will make circularity, but also other climate solutions, much easier. That is not paid, of course that is through politics, that is volunteer work. That is why it is also a foundation. So partly paid, but a part is also meant to pay the other things, internally, the funding.
H: Really the last question: In the cooperation, what are the main reasons for working with SMEs?
R: Incidentally, I do not even work most of all with SMEs, but with micro companies. The M stands for ‘from 50 to 500 employees’, the small one stands for 10 to 50. But 1 to 10 is actually the microdefinition, according to what we have agreed in Europe. I notice that there is the most flexibility in that. And those are the freelancers, which we have a lot of in the Netherlands. They are much more ideologically driven, they are less attached to existing models that are very difficult to change, the ongoing business that is dominant over the development of new things. I also notice that most of the partnerships consist of this.
H: Very well. I think I know enough.
R: The rest comes at the workshop, and then you can of course also use it.
R: Unless something goes wrong. And if something goes wrong, it should be quite heavy for a contractor. It must collapse. Then he is in any case liable for 10 years, and then he can not just run away. Then there is still to see if they can hold him liable. But if that legislation had been approved last night, he would have been responsible for 20 years for all conditions that the government imposed on buildings. So 20 years responsible for the total license story, the licensing, the laws and regulations, the building decisions, and everything. Then it would have been a completely different responsibility. That mood is postponed so I can keep my story until it can go differently. That has been worked on for years, but this is quite exciting. Is this clear? Then I will supplement this later. But I’m going to take another step first.