19 October 2023, Martin Doeswijk

Don’t worry, this blog is not meant to bore you. I attended the AquaConSoil conference in Prague at the beginning of September. Believe it or not, this is a fascinating international conference about developments in all matters soil and water. Soil and water management is becoming an important factor to solving the social problems that impact the structure of our living environment. You know the problems we’re talking about: climate change, energy transition, food supply, the housing issue. Yawn… I can almost hear you think: okay, these aren’t trivial problems, but does my contribution really matter?

It certainly does. Let me try to illustrate that using my observations of the conference. I and several colleagues travelled to Prague by train (and so could work in comfort!). The small hotel where I stayed did not offer an extensive buffet breakfast. Instead, they had a modest menu to prevent food being wasted unnecessarily. Dutch restaurants alone waste 55 million kilos of food a year, worth a whopping 650 million euros. At the conference we were served drinks in reusable cups and our key cords were recycled. However, I also noticed several small and large points for improvement, such as the lack of vegan options and the fact that many attendees still travelled to the conference by plane.

How does this tie in with solving the complex issues of our living environment? I’ll give you three examples of the encouraging solutions – big and small - presented in the many lectures at the conference. One was about reducing the need for natural resources by reusing construction materials in civil works. A second discussed how the ecological footprint can be reduced by employing innovative sensors and geohydrologic models, which can result in significant savings of ground water and energy. Lastly, a talk on degrading soil contamination using the force of nature through nature-based solutions, such as constructed wetlands. 
Unfortunately, I also saw examples of short-term thinking: sustainable and promising options that are financially attractive in the long-term, but which are dismissed because short-term profits are more important.

Yet it’s the little things that make the difference, the many seemingly futile improvements. Disregarding them goes unnoticed in the short-term, but they accumulate to have enormous effects later on. Ignore them at your peril. And no, it is not boring to set the right example. Living these improvements not only helps the environment, but also contributes to the innovative image of your company, acceptance by your surroundings and, last but not least, your own state of mind and feeling of well-being! As Wouter van Noort recently put it in a column of the NRC newspaper: at some point the undercurrent becomes mainstream.

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