Stephanie Potter


February 13, 2020


Translating the circular economy vision, in which everything is reused and nothing is wasted, into tangible business best practices is critical to addressing the needs of a sustainable future, yet it could be a challenging task for businesses that are just getting started. To help U.S.-based businesses learn from their European peers that have made great strides in adopting a circular economy model, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation led its fifth "Circular Economy in Action" business delegation tour in Amsterdam in September.

Held in partnership with our global partners—including Philips, Rabobank, AmCham Netherlands and the Embassy of the Netherlands—the tour featured site visits, inspirational speakers, peer-to-peer discussions and workshops, allowing the cross-border exchange of cutting-edge solutions on how to achieve a fully circular economy. Leading Dutch organizations Delta Development Group and Park 2020, C-Creators, ING, DSM-Niaga, Waternet, ChainCraft, SHIFT Invest, Fairphone, CircleEconomy, and the Raw Materials Collective of Almere offered a peek behind the curtain to their own circular economy practices and gave participants tangible roadmaps to advancing similar programs domestically.

Circular manufacturing

We began the day at Philips global headquarters to learn more about the company’s sustainability mission. It was motivating to hear about Philips’ ambitious goal of improving the lives of 3 billion people by 2030, while striving to decouple development from resource use in all it does. These opening remarks provided a great foundation for the rest of the day’s discussions and interactive site visits.

A smaller but equally ambitious Benefit Corporation, Fairphone, has prioritized consideration of people and the planet in its approach to building a high growth modular cell phone. Delegates heard from Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens about the complexities of e-waste, social and environmental risks common in cell phone production supply chains, and commercial electronics recycling before engaging in a hands-on cell phone refurbishment workshop to understand Fairphone’s notoriously sustainable modular disassembly and repair feature.

Another glimpse into innovative circular manufacturing processes was led by DSM-Niaga, a joint venture between start-up company NIAGA and the global science company DSM. We learned about DSM-Niaga’s first fully circular carpet, mattress, and particleboard/paneling.

Circular city services

At the Raw Materials Collective of Almere, a collection site of Almere’s biomass, wood, debris, glass, sand and paper, delegates explored the on-site processing of biomass into fibers, protein, and soil refurbishers. The visit included a tour of the most sustainable concrete factory in Europe, producing green concrete and concrete without cement.

At Waternet, a wastewater treatment facility that generates positive returns via the conversation of waste to energy and new products, delegates observed the municipal water reclamation facility responsible for treating Amsterdam’s storm water, drinking water, sewage, and wastewater. We toured the “calcite factory” that extracts the water-softening calcite to produce new products such as non-microbead, calcite face scrub. Waternet also detailed its contributions toward Amsterdam’s commitment to using 50% fewer resources by 2030, being fully circular/zero waste to landfill by 2050, and using 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Circular financing

At the Port of Amsterdam, a premier circular economy incubator that provides tools and resources to entrepreneurs who are passionate about transforming the society and resource use, delegates learned about financing from circular investor SHIFT Invest and its portfolio company ChainCraft, which focuses on converting organic waste into usable products for animal feed, flavors and fragrances, pesticides, and more. It was interesting to discuss the long-term potential of shifting away from petrochemical building blocks to building blocks produced from organic waste and bi-products.

Delegates also heard from Rabobank and ING, two Dutch financial leaders that co-launched the first international circular economy financing standards at the 2018 United Nations High Level Political Forum in New York City alongside ABN-Amro.

Circular buildings

At Park 2020, an office park that combines the most advanced sustainable and ecological designs with a groundbreaking, fully circular business approach. It was interesting to hear about Park 2020’s operating principles centered upon workplace productivity, green building research, healthy and safe material usage, and access to renewable energy. As CEO Coert Zachariasse of Delta Development Group who designed the park explained to delegates, “It’s not hard to make decisions once you know what your values are.”

Our last stop was a WELL Certified co-working space launched in 2014 with a focus on the application of healthy principles to workspaces, including the integration of several DSM-Niaga carpets.

The delegation tour in Amsterdam played a key role in bringing U.S. businesses to the frontlines of the circular economy and enabling them to learn from their peers in other parts of the world. Participants not only gained firsthand insights into circular opportunities, but also came away with applicable ideas on how they can bring circular solutions to scale in the U.S. market.

Interested in learning more about similar programs like this? Explore the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s sustainability and circular economy programming here.

About the authors

Stephanie Potter