“Ecology must be our point of reference for building”

Nico Wissing and Lodewijk Hoekstra

Founders of NL Greenlabel

For years, Nico Wissing and Lodewijk Hoekstra have been pounding ‘the green drum’, as they call it. With their NL Greenlabel, these pioneers in sustainable design have provided a quantifiable reference point in the field of sustainability. Message: everyone building in the living environment should be held accountable for adding or extracting value.

In all that we do, and in our living environment, we have moved further and further away from nature. And the tide must be turned, in Hoekstra’s opinion: ‘Nature has become the guest in our living environment, whereas it should be the other way around. Ecology must be our point of reference in building, not a challenge of meeting our target number of dwellings. Ecology and biodiversity are not abstract concepts, it’s all about humans, about us.’ Wissing: ‘We desperately need more awareness: if you decide to develop amid nature, you have to add value rather than destruction, and to stop interventions that are harmful to flora and fauna. We want to make the world better, more sustainable, more beautiful. Not by being non-committal, but by making it quantifiable.’

Turning it on its head

Garden and landscape designer Nico Wissing and TV presenter Lodewijk Hoekstra (Eigen Huis & Tuin) want to turn the sector on its head. They developed a concept and method for quantifiable sustainability: NL Greenlabel. It’s much more than an accreditation for ‘good behaviour’. It’s a vision for using outdoor space and materials, a checklist for planners, a tool to maximize the value of green space, and it’s a complete methodology (with safeguards) for creating a healthy and sustainable living environment. This makes it possible to accurately define the ‘green content’ of each project development. As Wissing says: ‘If you work with the landscape in mind (rather than the building), you must ask yourself, what are you adding to the biodiversity, to what extent is a project climate resistant, are you using materials that are sustainably produced and that can be recycled, what does building cost in energy, years, what impact will its management have on nature in the years to come?’

Green before red

The first projects that are NL Greenlabel-proof  have already been completed. Wissing: ‘With this type of project, clients consult with us first, before the architect comes into the picture: what is the best location, what is the ecological situation, can we experience nature here and the changing of the seasons, what values can we create? Only then do you decide what kind of building would be most suitable.’

‘Not everyone is happy with our message’, says Hoekstra, ‘or perhaps they just don't want to know. But this is the future, we really have no choice. Fortunately, companies like Vandersanden are well aware of this: together we make the world better, more beautiful and more sustainable. More and more scientists are joining our ranks, we are getting a kind of wisdom of the crowd, a network with lots of cross-fertilisation that enables us to further develop and refine the concept.’

Sustainability passport

NL Greenlabel has defined the sustainability content of a large number of products, plants and materials in a sustainability passport. Hoekstra: ‘In terms of durability, bricks score extremely well, thanks to the use of locally sourced raw materials, their long life, and potential for re-use. However, you can use sustainable products and still do the wrong thing in the living environment. For this reason, we also focus specifically on attitude and behaviour. So, we also assess the context for use, application, and management in the long term. In fact, we chart the entire chain: origin, longevity, and footprint.’

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