Five questions for Adrie van der Burgt

‘So much more than reusing’

How do you measure circularity? What exactly is circular construction? What can we learn from others? And how do we bring all people set on circular construction together? Everyday business for Adrie van den Burgt, who has been ‘Heijmans Infra’s sustainable conscience’ for four years now.

February 19, 2019

How did you get into sustainable construction?

“It started with my love for design and technology. I studied HBO (higher vocational education) Engineering and subsequently completed the master Building Technology at the TU Eindhoven. That study strongly steered towards sustainability. Here it quickly became clear to me that you can make a great difference by fully incorporating sustainability at the beginning of a project.

The day I graduated I ran into Heijmans at a company day. Soon after, they offered me this position at Infra. In my role I connect people set on sustainable construction both within as well as outside of Heijmans. In that sense, I hardly work on the hard technology side of it myself. I love working with people who know a lot about a certain topic and the fact that I can add sustainability to the mix.”

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Adrie at the Solar Highways building site in Uden.

Then you are probably also excited about circular construction?

“Circular construction is mainly about the system of material and energy use. And chain cooperation: closing the loop close to your project by cooperating with local parties. A beautiful and complex task, which we still need to learn a lot about. A practical example by Heijmans is the Schiphol-Noord bus station, which we built using materials of a British airplane hangar dating from the Second World War. I try to gather knowledge and experiences from such a project, which I then fine-tune and safeguard for subsequent tenders.

“Measuring circularity is another fun task. There is already a method at hand to create insight into the environmental impact of a building project. However, it does not include circularity. How often can you use a material? What is its lifespan? Can you easily undo connections?

Just recently, the Platform CB (Circular Building) ’23 was launched. Heijmans has joined this platform together with other building companies, clients and knowledge institutions in order to work out these kinds of issues.”

How does the industry stimulate circular construction?

“There are all sorts of agreements and programmes parties can commit to. As a country we are bound to the Paris Climate Agreement. Heijmans also signed the National Raw Materials Agreement, that was recently launched as part of the nationwide programme Nederland Circulair (Netherlands Circular) in 2050. The aim of the agreement is that by 2030 fifty percent of all used materials will be reused materials. By 2050 this will be a hundred percent. In order to achieve this, all government projects will be 100 percent circular as of 2023.

“On top of that, Heijmans signed the Green Deal Duurzaam (sustainable) GWW 2.0 at the beginning of 2017, along with all the big clients, consulting firms and contractors. Doing so, we pledge to incorporate sustainability into all our projects by 2020.”

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“We are seizing opportunities to proactively add sustainability to our assignments”

What circular projects Heijmans is working on?

“For instance, the Solar Highways which we are standing at now: a noise barrier with solar cells. Another beautiful project is the Beatrix lock, for which we developed a materials passport together with the Dutch Department of Public Works and Water Management. You use such a passport to document which materials an object contains, including data such as lifespan, composition, bearing capacity, et cetera. This way you will know exactly what to expect if you want to reuse these materials later on.”

“We are also seizing opportunities to proactively incorporate sustainability into projects. A recent example is the bicycle bridge with a pillar in the central reservation that was blocking the view. It was unsafe and resulted in a project to demolish the bridge and build a new one. Heijmans then suggested to move the pillar and renovate the bridge. If we spot such an opportunity, we will bring it up for discussion. Of course, only when the contract and tight tender process allow for it.”

What do Heijmans and you yourself need to increase circular construction?

“Our clients’ ambitions are very important. Some, for instance Schiphol Group and the Dutch Department of Public Works and Water Management, have already put out tenders in which circularity is an important aspect. This requires some nerve: the definitions are inconclusive and, as mentioned before, circularity is currently still difficult to measure. By tendering circularity, clients are putting it on the agenda of construction companies.

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I believe showing leadership and making choices will speed up the transition to circular construction. On top of that, we have to cooperate more effectively, internally as well as with our chain partners: start-ups and SME-entrepreneurs who are doing cool things. Circularity is not a one-man show!

I am always looking to collaborate with people within Heijmans who are inherently motivated. Colleagues who are personally motivated to incorporate sustainability using their own field of knowledge. I would love to find each and every one of them.”