Perhaps unnoticed to the rest of the world’s Twitter community the Dutch had some fun this weekend about our international reputation for speed-skating. NBC’s Katie Couric covered the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics and informed the waiting world why the Dutch win so many medals at speed-skating. Her explanation: skating is an important mode of transportation in the Netherlands because we use the frozen canals in Amsterdam to get from place to place.

The Dutch twitter pages soon filled up with pictures of skating highways, people shopping on skates in beautiful Dutch landscapes, or by many that announced their intention to skate to work on Monday.

Dutch beer brewer Heineken was also quick to respond with this tweet:

I remember going to school on my skates, but that was a very rare event. I doubt if there are many children today that ever had that experience. Climate change is to blame for that. That other well known Dutch image of bicycles is more relevant, I have always biked to school, university or work when I lived in the Netherlands (and I tried but gave up in any of the non-Dutch cities in the world where I have lived).


Climate change in the Netherlands

The most famous Dutch skating race is the ’11-city tour’. This 200-kilometer track is the longest skating tour in the world. In the mid-twenty century, it was organized about once every four years. At the end of the 20th century, the frequency was down to once in 11 years. Scientists now predict that by 2050 the frequency will drop dramatically, in the worst scenario the chance for a cold enough winter may be as low as only once in 500 years.

Climate change will dramatically impact our lives. Those that follow my tweets or speeches will remember some of the much more alarming examples that I have shared. The frequency of a famous skating race may be less significant, but for the Dutch is a striking illustration of what to expect.


Heineken’s ‘Drop the C’-programme

I am often in touch with companies that actively work to improve sustainability and bring down their emissions of greenhouse gasses. Heineken, the second-biggest beer brewer in the world, is one of those companies. Today it announced a new ambition to reduce carbon emissions. The brewer aims to grow its share of renewable thermal energy and electricity in production from the current level of 14% to 70% by 2030. The new policy is presented as the ‘Drop the C’ program for renewable energy (the C of CO2, leaving oxygen).

This implies an 80% reduction target for Heineken in their carbon emissions (per hectolitre beer produced) compared to the 2008 baseline year. Heineken will be brewing with real green energy and will not achieve this impressive reduction target by buying unbundled certificates. The targets will be externally verified by the Science-Based Targets initiative. In addition, the brewer will set new emission goals for distribution and cooling and, for the first time, also for packaging. The brewer commits to set science-based targets for these areas in the next two years.

Two years ago Göss, one of Heineken’s breweries in Austria, made headlines as the world’s first brewery that is powered entirely by renewable and reusable energy sources. Heineken’s brewery in Massafra, Italy is one of the largest solar breweries in the world with a capacity of 3.3 MW. In Singapore, Heineken is brewing with solar energy and in the Netherlands, the company is using wind energy and solar power. Currently, 29% of Heineken’s global electricity usage is renewable.

The first image that comes to mind when discussing renewable energy is probably a windmill, or perhaps solar panels. But breweries need much more thermal energy than electricity, which makes the challenge to reduce CO2 emissions much harder. Some 70 percent of the energy used by Heineken is thermal energy. Renewable thermal energy is often self-produced and needs to be reliable to keep the breweries running. In addition, today there are very few commercial solutions available here.

Heineken has experienced the positive impact that renewable thermal solutions can have on the communities in which it operates. Unproductive waste from communities can be turned into energy and provide income for the local people. In Vietnam, for instance, the company sources rice husks from local farmers to heat its brewing boilers. In Brazil a new biomass boiler was fired up in 2017 at the company’s brewery in Ponta Grossa, solely using woodchips from certified reforestation companies.

Hendrick Avercamp, Ice scene, c. 1610, Mauritshuis, The Hague

The NBC comments on skating on the canals in Amsterdam may have come a few centuries too late. The 17th century ‘Little Ice Age’-scenes of Henrick Avercamp have been replaced by other images of the Netherlands. A country that innovates in times of climate change, that prepares for rising sea levels, where industry can play a leading role in sustainability and where Dutch skaters, that most likely have never seen on a frozen canal in Amsterdam, win Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the first days of the Winter Olympics.