Ingeborg van Teeseling

Good News: In Holland, the Bus Stops House Bees and the Banks Are Building Off-Grid Houses

In such divided times, I feel we need a dose of good news. Over in Holland, one city has turned bus stops into bee stops, and one local institution is changing the definition of ethical banking.

 

In my tiny little series on good news from the continent, I have a few more treats on offer.

First of all, I am going to make you think about bus shelters. Yes. No, seriously. And pay attention, because this idea could save you a whole lot of money.

This is what I am talking about: in April this year, Utrecht, in The Netherlands, placed the first bus shelter with sedum on its roof. Sedum is a succulent, that needs almost no soil, no water, and no attention. It is the quintessential “can’t kill it with an axe” plant. Utrecht council put the sedum on the roof because this way bus shelters turn into bee stops, and that is vital in a world that is running out of bees.

 

 

The other thing sedum is great at is catching rainwater, attracting butterflies, dealing with dust, and bringing the temperature down under the roof. In fact, the plants are so good at it, that plenty of research has already flagged it as a cheap alternative to air-conditioning, especially on houses with a flat roof. And that would be good for you, and all of us, because, hey, the world is warming up and we all want to be cool.

At the moment, there are more than 300 sedum bus shelters in Utrecht alone. It has cost the council precisely nothing, because they have given the shelters to an advertising agency to deal with. They can put ad posters on them, but in return, they have to take care of the shelters and the sedum, water the plants, keep everything clean and tidy. Including the bamboo bench, which they also had to pay for. And they have won the job by promising to do all that with electric cars. Everybody is happy. The city has 2,000 square meters of extra green roof space, which cools the whole of the town down.

The experiment has been such a success that cities from all over the world are lining up. From Mexico City to, yes, Melbourne.

What about you, rest of the world?

***

The second bit of good news is another climate-related idea that has been put into beautiful practice. Again, it is a Dutch plan and has to do with banking.

ASN Bank, a bank originally set up by the union movement in 1960, has become the first bank in the world to become climate-neutral. ASN has 13.6 billion euros of assets under management, but has been trying to be socially responsible and make sustainable investments for a few decades now. And that is working, because, first of all, the bank is growing rapidly, with more and more people realizing that banking with a morally good bank is a win-win: you make the same amount of money, but don’t feel guilty doing it. The bank hasn’t invested in coal, oil, or other fossil fuels for years, but it has gone even further.

 

ASN Bank is growing rapidly, with more and more people realizing that banking with a morally good bank is a win-win: you make the same amount of money, but don’t feel guilty doing it. The bank hasn’t invested in coal, oil, or other fossil fuels for years, but it has gone even further.

 

Three years ago, they started helping out homeowners make their houses more climate neutral. They set up a special mortgage that invests money into assisting homeowners to get off the grid while paying off the money they owe at the same time. The bank also invested a lot of money in solar farms and wind energy: 1.6 billion euros so far. Two years ago, ASN founded the Platform Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF). It brought out a booklet to explain to other banks how it has managed to get where it was. Since then, a number of other banks, insurance companies, and pension funds have joined the club.

Fifty Dutch financial institutions in total, who manage assets worth 3,000 billion euros. ASN, in the meantime, has already moved on. It has set itself the goal to become climate-positive by 2030. They are investing heavily in agroforestry, projects that combine agriculture with environmental restoration. They are also planting new forests and subsidizing companies to build off-grid housing. Together, this should lead to a situation where the total of the bank’s investments takes more emissions from the atmosphere than it adds. Somehow, I think they will manage nicely.

***

Then lastly, something that cannot, in all honesty, be accused of helping the world combat climate change. You could also not call it a social enterprise. But nevertheless, in terms of European ideas it deserves a place in this story. I am talking, of course, about Virgin Galactic, the brainchild of Richard Branson.

It aims to take paying passengers into space and it recently proudly announced that early 2020 it will be ready for the first test flights. And if they go well, as expected, the first people will be welcomed in the Mexican desert as soon as possible. Of course, there are men (and even some women) lining up, because a ticket only costs $250,000. For that, you get a couple of days of training and a ninety-minute journey to the earth’s orbit.

 

 

Branson recently said that he has already taken 80 million dollars in deposits from future astronauts, so the company is going great guns. Hopefully, they will do better than one of the co-pilots of an earlier test flight, who died when the space plane crashed in the Californian desert in 2014.

Anyway, Virgin Galactic is now putting the finishing touches on the first two planes that can take six passengers at a time. Two more planes are in production. And really, it is for the good of mankind, not some hobby for the uberwealthy, said commercial director Stephen Attenborough (what’s in a name?): “In future, this will be a quicker and cleaner way to get around the planet.” Sure.

Stephen. Richard. Saviors of the human race.

But still: good news, right?

 

Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating to Australia from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She is writing a book and runs Lifebooks, telling people's life stories.

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