Ruud Koornstra transition magician

When we make things available for free, there’s room for new possibilities. Past patterns are no longer applicable to the future.

Lenny Oosterwijk

Among influencers currently shaking up the Dutch business and political scene, sustainable entrepreneur and newly elected Energy Commissioner Ruud Koornstra may be the biggest name. He has spurred the government to aim for more ambitious goals. “Dutch ingenuity can save the world.”

“We cannot wait for large old companies to supply sustainable innovations” Koornstra elaborates in an energetic avalanche of ideas, “We have to do it ourselves. As a movement.”

He rose to become a successful entrepreneur in the production of the first led-lights in the Netherlands with his company Tendris, but Koornstra also became the green activist he is today during the Soccer World Cup in South-Africa in 2010. Ruud and his colleagues challenged lighting giant Philips in a David-and-Goliath-like battle. Rumour has it that the CEO of Philips South-Africa was very worried about the newcomers with their sustainable led-products and roused his employees with the legendary words: kill those motherfuckers!

Tendris was obstructed in every conceivable way. But then Koornstra and his business partner Maurits Groen introduced the enlightened marketing strategy that made all the headlines. By giving away 50,000 solar powered led-lights to the local population, thus offsetting the carbon emissions of the entire World Cup, they made a statement. But they also showed the world the advantages of their sustainable novelties. In villages with no electricity, free light sources come in quite handy. Koornstra’s reputation as a green bull-terrier has steadily evolved since then. After selling his companies, he established Delta-9, a foundation active in business, media, education, government and politics. And he was recently appointed the first Dutch National Energy Commissioner, aiming to make the Netherlands free of fossil fuels by 2030. 

“We want to attract at least 1 million members who support a fast transition away from a dependency on fossil fuels. We strongly appeal to the Dutch solidarity mind-set that emerged after the big 1953 flood.”

We want to attract at least 1 million members who support a fast transition away from a dependency on fossil fuels

“We can do it. The Dutch are incredibly innovative when it comes to crucially important transitions. After the south-western part of the Netherlands was flooded, killing over 1800 people and leaving many more lives and properties devastated, the Dutch government set up the Delta Commission within three weeks! The whole country was incredibly motivated to build a wall against rising waters. Unprecedented! Ultimately the construction of our flood defence system and the associated knowledge and expertise have become one of our main export products to countries with land under sea-level. The Delta Commission survived 16 cabinets and had a huge impact. The Energy Commission could do the same.”

The Energy Commission was initiated not by the government but by forward-thinking entrepreneurs, civilians and scientists. In a few months, the Commission has become so visible and recognized that it was mentioned in the Dutch House of Representatives.

“The Energy Commission’s goal is for the Netherlands to run entirely on renewable energy sources by 2030. And to leverage this energy transition to position the Netherlands as the leading hub of energy transition expertise, similar to our leadership on water management knowledge.” 

In 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change was launched, addressing the need to limit the rise of global temperatures by achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030. Koornstra continues uninterrupted. “We shouldn’t be thinking about merely reaching the Paris Agreement by 2030, we should aim to win it.”

Large corporations are no longer aware of real innovations

“Large corporations are no longer aware of real innovations,” he continues, “because they are no longer ahead of the game. In the past, those companies had their own large laboratories, but they have all been dismantled. So they now depend on external innovation power. The real inventions and innovations happen in grimy basements and claustrophobic attics.”

In the documentary After the transition, Paradise on Earth (working title), to be broadcast on Dutch national television towards the end of this year, he guides the viewer along a trail of inventors, programmers and innovators. “I show all the possibilities when you combine innovations and new technologies. It’s not about a fictive utopian world, it’s all already here. We can already fly electrically – it’s a breakthrough technology. So when it is implemented it accumulates.”

He shrugs when asked how he would legislate to reach the 17 UN targets by 2030 if he would have the means to make this happen. “I would immediately embrace a number of rapidly developing European organisations and companies that will make energy free of charge. I would ensure that mobility is made free of charge. Make sure that we think about basic facilities and needs not as scarcity but as abundance. That’s a transformation in the economy. We have to make the world transparent. In transparency you can simply calculate what is durable and what is not. You make it clear!”

Volkswagen recently announced the ambition to have a complete electric fleet by 2030. One downside is that three quarters of their employees will no longer have work. Koornstra only emphasizes the opportunities. “These new cars hardly need maintenance, so these people are out of a job. But we could also embrace another mind-set. In this new sustainable and cheaper world, not having a job might not be such a terrible thing. If things become very cheap and you do not have to work hard for an autonomous electric car because everybody has one, that changes the picture.”

In this phase of our civilization we are going to compete in a different way than in material matters

Ruud Koornstra is a family man and a Burgundian weighing 216 pounds. He enjoys the good life but recently became a vegan after seeing What the Health on Netflix. Nevertheless, he never harps on the necessity for people to moderate their lifestyle of overconsumption.

“In a time of abundance that will take care of itself,” he placates. “Take an all-inclusive hotel. On the first day everyone stuffs themselves. On the second day some may follow the same pattern, but by the third day most of us prefer an apple for brunch and a salad for dinner. If your car is no longer an extension of your penis, it is no longer appealing to bust your ass for one. If we make things available for free, there’s room for new possibilities. Past patterns are no longer applicable to the future. These are the pitfalls of current governments. Non-inclusive thinking is futile. So in this phase of our civilization we are going to compete with each other in a different way than in material matters.”

Dutch government leaders have given him an opportunity to inspire future green government agreements. Koornstra strongly emphasizes not locking it all down. “You never know what might happen in a few years. For example, capturing CO2 and stuffing it underground is not a bad idea, but it’s is not a fundamental solution. There are also far more advantageous and progressive measures. I wish Mark Rutte would stand up as a Kennedy. Expressing a dream and making it happen in a decade. In the Netherlands we have the ingenuity, money and entrepreneurship not only to achieve the Paris goals, but to become a leader. Failure is not an option.”

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