Ilja Huitema took part in the Green Business Challenge: ‘I didn’t expect that I’d learn so much.’

The Green Business Challenge is an initiative by BBENG: over the space of a week, 20 young professionals come together to create viable solutions for companies. The emphasis here is on realistic implementation, because plans alone won’t get you very far. The Green Business Challenge is a practical initiative that aims to raise awareness of sustainability.  Because it’s high time to present workable initiatives that are genuinely able to address sustainability initiatives.

Sustainable materials for Campus Emmen

Businesses in the Netherlands and Germany submit their sustainability-related issue, after which small groups of international students tackle these cases for one week. Ilja Huitema was one of this year’s participants; together with Adam from the Republic of Ireland and Joris from Leeuwarden, she investigated which sustainable materials Campus Emmen can use for its new innovation centre. ‘At the end of the week, we presented a project that really benefits the client: a moss-covered facade that captures rainwater, luminescent floors that generate energy, and systems for the reuse of water.’

Impact at the end of the day

The idea is that Campus Emmen, just like the other participants, will actually put the plans into practice. According to Eelco, this is the most important thing: ‘Companies are now in the early stages of developing the ideas. So far, however, all the clients are positive and are working on their projects. Follow-up meetings have been planned immediately, with new teams put together and strategies being implemented. Furthermore they’ll be developing the projects step by step in the coming years.’ 
Eelco continues: ‘By bringing everyone into contact with each other, you work towards several goals. We’re right in the middle of a transition as an economy, as a country and as the world at large. This presents businesses with many challenges. At the same time, we want younger people who haven’t yet entered the professional field to know what’s going on. The idea is to bring these various worlds together: by letting the parties work on the same issues together, you create more awareness. At the end of the day, the clients make an impact with their projects.’

International insights

This transition is visible in the Ems-Dollart Region as well. Ilja is increasingly coming across these same themes in her International Facility Management degree programme at Hanze UAS: ‘Each project takes sustainability as its starting point. In my degree programme, I learn to approach sustainability from a different angle than someone from another background. That’s what makes the Green Business Challenge so valuable. I knew I was interested in sustainability and international cooperation, but I didn’t expect that I’d learn as much as I did.’
Eelco: ‘At a later stage, perhaps, the Green Business Challenge could be extended to the whole of the Netherlands – but for the time being, we’ve achieved an interesting partnership between Dutch and German companies and international students in the Ems-Dollart Region. You get to take a look across the border and realise that the Germans are facing the same challenges, but respond to them differently. Crossing this boundary might seem a long journey, but at the same time we’re all so close together.’

Highlighting the sustainability issue

According to Eelco, the value of the Green Business Challenge is its practical application: ‘Students work on real issues, supplied by real companies. Their work is supervised by experienced specialists and business developers from the professional field. This is really valuable for students, because it increases the real-life factor. That’s a big shift especially for students from a research university background: university of applied sciences programmes are more practical. The partnership also yields new insights. It might be the case that a company itself doesn’t really know what it wants. It is then up to the business developer to identify a new approach.’
This is something that Ilja herself has recognised during the Green Business Challenge: ‘The best thing was that we really got to the heart of the issue, thanks to the supervisors, workshops and clients. We held several discussions to find out what the client needed. We then had to think as far “outside the box” as possible and develop that idea.’

A road trip through the Ems-Dollart Region

During the Green Business Challenge, Ilja and the other participants took a road trip through the Ems-Dollart Region. She found it an inspiring journey: ‘Each day we drove to a different destination – Leeuwarden, Emmen, Papenburg, Oldenburg and Groningen – all of which were hosting lots of different workshops and presentations. It wasn’t only lots of fun to meet some great people, it also had a huge motivational effect. This road trip was a nice opportunity to see what’s happening in the northern Netherlands and how other students are responding to this.’

Eelco: ‘There’s a lot of great stuff going on the region. We’ve got the companies, the student population, our shared mindset… We can really work together and achieve things in this area. We all need to utilise the potential of this region, but it’s not enough to work at the city level or province level. To manage this, we have to look beyond the borders, not think in a way that’s too limited or act on too small a scale. We have to move beyond just policy and fine words, we have to really make things happen. Because the potential is there.’