Perhaps unnoticed to the rest of the world’s Twitter community that doesn’t follow speed-skating and climate change daily, the Dutch had some fun this weekend about our international reputation for speed-skating. NBC’s Katie Couric covered the Winter Olympics opening ceremony and informed the waiting world why the Dutch won so many medals at speed-skating. Her explanation: skating is an important transportation mode 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.

On speed-skating and climate change, highway

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


I remember going to school on my skates, but that was a sporadic event. I doubt if there are many children today that ever had that experience. There are so much fewer opportunities for skating, and 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 the Dutch are 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 greenhouse gasses emissions. 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 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).

Heineken drop the C

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 Science-Based Targets initiative will externally verify the targets. The brewer will also 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 the world’s first brewery powered entirely by renewable and reusable energy sources. Heineken’s brewery in Massafra, Italy, is one of the largest solar breweries globally, with a capacity of 3.3 MW. In Singapore, Heineken is brewing with solar energy, and in the Netherlands, the company uses wind energy and solar power. Currently, 29% of Heineken’s global electricity usage is renewable.

Renewable thermal

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. Besides, 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

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. Other images of the Netherlands have replaced the 17th century ‘Little Ice Age’-scenes of Henrick Avercamp. A country that innovates in times of climate change. It prepares for rising sea levels, and the industry can play a leading role in sustainability. A country of skating and climate change, where Dutch skaters, who most likely have never been on a frozen canal in Amsterdam, winning Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in the first days of the Winter Olympics.

Olympic Winter Games