Tag: green travel

Story of the week: A night of sustainable clubbing in Rotterdam, Holland


* Image from www.sustainabledanceclub.com

Midnight in Rotterdam and the city is exploding into life.

The bikes are stacked four deep outside the opening-night party at nightclub WATT, located between a rain-lashed public park and a fast-food Asian restaurant on a gritty downtown avenue.

A shaven-headed bouncer checks the guest list and twitching teenagers gabble into their mobile phones. Tonight WATT looks the archetypal cool new venue for Rotterdam’s hedonistic clubbers, who power the city’s reputation as the European capital of electronic music.

But, behind the scenes, WATT has another agenda as the trailblazer for the green-clubbing movement.

Run according to sustainable principles, it sets out to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent, water consumption and waste production by 50 per cent compared to a typical dance venue.

Green power

Earlier that night I have an exclusive preview of the club before the punters arrive.

Entering from the boulevard-style reception, it comprises four main sections: the main hall with capacity for 1500 clubbers, a more intimate, jet-black basement for 300, two relax roofs with chill-out space for smoking (banned this summer in Holland) amongst ferns and plants, and the Lulu Café with 20 covers at street level and an all-day menu.

Green initiatives include a rainwater-flush system for toilets, renewable energy sources and LED lighting, and a zero-waste bar serving organic drinks in recycled plastic cups.

The key feature, however, is the energy-generating dancefloor in the basement, whereby the movement of the dancing clubbers is converted into electricity by an electro-magnetic generator under the floor.

By midnight the club is heaving with a heady cocktail of hardcore clubbers awaiting a set by Paris-based Teenage Bad Girl, a multi-cultural mix of local teenagers attracted by the broad music policy from techno to R ‘n B, and curious locals who remember the club’s former incarnation as a venue for gigs by Underworld and Johnny Cash.

As I hit the dancefloor, busting my best moves in the sweaty basement, the sound of Euro trance pumps from the sound system.

When a MC dressed as a hip-hop nun, rapping the words “Hallelujah” over the beat while two DJs with towering afros deftly work the decks, the gauge at the side of the dancefloor glows green, indicating that the up-for-it crowd on the dancefloor have pushed power levels to maximum.

“I like the idea of a green club but I’m here more for the cool design and great music,” says Rotterdam-based multi-media design student, Tarona Leonora. “I wouldn’t come if it was just a green club.”

“But the way you can make a difference to climate change by coming clubbing here is, well, pretty cool.”

Sustainable living

I first came to Rotterdam when WATT was still a series of architectural drawings.

In rabbit-hutch offices behind a petrol station on the fringe of town, I joined Stef van Dongen, Director of green-entrepreneur consultancy Enviu, to peruse the blueprints for the world’s first venue to use the Sustainable Dance Club (SDC) concept he devised.

He spoke of enlisting clubbers as the foot soldiers of a new sustainability movement that combined youth culture with a commitment to sustainable living.

Things have clearly changed since our last meeting when, the next morning, I head across town to Enviu’s new open-plan offices, the bass-driven thud of deep house still ringing in my ears.

Inside water bottles hang like recycled chandeliers and cartoon-style murals sprawl across the bare walls. In keeping with the company’s green ethos of ‘upcycling’, old water cooler refills have been turned into a recycled filing cabinet.

“Around 130 clubs and festivals, including ones in New York, Cape Town and Sao Paolo, are interested in being direct customers of the SDC project; a larger group have taken the idea but are going it alone in developing the technology,” says Stef as we sip coffee in Enviu’s office, a bevy of young, green-savvy entrepreneurs busily answering phones and preparing presentations around us.

“With the first club now open in Rotterdam we hope to foster competition nature between clubs around the world.”

“When a new and more sustainable club opens, the others all have to play catch up,” adds Stef, whose next project is to send a flotilla of green-fuel hybrid tuk tuks to Indian in early 2009.

Hard cash

Rotterdam Council chipped in €200,000 to WATT’s total €5m cost as part of its affiliation to the Clinton Climate Initiative to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions reductions, while the European Union contributed €450,000 to stimulate cultural events in the city.

But does hard economic reality of running WATT as a business really live up to the pre-launch green hype?

After all, at present the 60m sq dancefloor only generates 300 watts of power – just enough to light up the coloured LEDs set into the floor tiles.

Professor Han Brezet of the Delft University of Technology, who patented and designed the energy-generating dancefloor in collaboration with Enviu, is sanguine.

“The opening of WATT is just a small step and the technology still has a long way to go,” he says. “But I think WATT will make a big difference in the context of changing mindsets.”

“I’m a scientist,” he smiles, “but also an optimist.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in The Guardian in 2008.

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Story of the week: Green tourism initiatives in Scandinavia


By 07.45 the total is 544.

Since May 2009, some 1,470,783 have passed this way.

I’m standing in Copenhagen’s Town Hall Square, by the statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Tivoli amusement park, watching the rush hour. Businessmen with iPod earphones gleaming against brooding Nordic skies, students in brightly coloured Wellies and parents taking kids to school in waterproof tag-alongs.

But they’re not driving. As the roadside electronic counter beside me confirms, peak period in Copenhagen is an increasingly two-wheeled affair.

Green debate

Copenhagen hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference from Monday, welcoming Messers Brown and Obama amongst others to hammer out a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

The politicians seem unlikely to reach a consensus but the Oresund region, comprising Copenhagen and Sweden’s Malmo, the two cities at either side of the Oresund Bridge, plans to use the event to showcase how Scandinavia does green tourism better than anywhere else.

Copenhagen is already rated as one of the world’s greenest cities with parks, harbourside swimming pools and a recent explosion in organic eateries. It aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025, Tivoli [pictured above] plans to run on renewable wind energy by 2010 and, in September this year, it hosted Co2penhagen, the world’s first carbon dioxide neutral-festival.

Throughout the conference, Town Hall Square will be full of stands showcasing Oresund’s green projects. Hotels and restaurants are busily trumpeting their eco credentials and tour agencies arranging green-themed itineraries for delegates.

Even the National Gallery of Denmark is getting in on the act with the exhibition, RETHINK presenting a utopian vision of the future, whereby we all live in floating biospheres.

Swedish scene

But how to spot the green gems amongst the green wash?

I start my quest in Malmo with the kind of roof-lifting gale that strikes cold fear into the most stoic of Viking hearts. “There’s an old Swedish saying, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’,” says my guide, Jennifer Lenhart, a sustainability strategist, eyeing my ill-prepared attire with the withering look of a women who spends a lot of time outdoors – and in all weathers.

Jennifer leads me through the windswept Western Harbour, an eco-showcase district regenerated from derelict industrial warehouses. After we explore the rabbit warren of sustainable built apartments, cute harbour-side cafés and green-powered galleries, we duck into the flagship organic restaurant, Salt & Brygga.

Over a late lunch of Smaland sausages, creamed potatoes and beetroot salad in the country-kitchen restaurant, Jennifer, who will guide UN delegates during the conference, explains how the harbour is a showcase for Scandinavia’s can-do attitude towards green living.

“Oresund may be small on the world map, but it can stand up and show the world how to make green projects tangible.”

Cycling ambassador 

The next morning in Copenhagen, after a breakfast of low-food-mile eggs, fair-trade coffee and organic orange juice from the Scandic Hotel’s new Climate Menu, I have a date with an ambassador. A cycling ambassador, that is.

On a nondescript sidestreet behind Norreport station, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark is planning to take their specialist knowledge of cycling culture to the world. Outside the work-in-progress office, a blue signs boldly proclaims ‘Pedal power. Yes, please!’

Lise Bjørg Pedersen, Head of Political Affairs, greets me with coffee and a vision of the future, whereby 50 per cent of all commuters will travel to their place of work or study in Copenhagen on two wheels by 2015. She says:

“In Denmark cycling has no gender, race, age or social status. Even our Crown Prince Frederik travels by bicycle.”

Lise will be hosting a group bike ride around Copenhagen during the UN conference to show the world that cycling is part of the solution. “People travel bike in Denmark because it’s easier than the car, not just because it’s a green,” she adds.

Copenhagen already boasts a slew of themed bike tours for visitors, including City Safari and Bike with Mike. There’s also a new sightseeing bus tour, the CityCirkel, which runs entirely on electricity.

City tour

But the latest green tour features around another form of transport and is run by a gregarious ex-pat Irishman with a fleet of Segways, a sort of two-wheeled, electric scooter priced at €6500 (£5850) a pop.

Seamus Daly gives me a crash-course in handling the Segway in a quiet car park before we hit the streets. The tours appeal to eco freaks and the downright curios alike with Seamus’ insider view of the city providing the commentary. Most involve a coffee stop at a cosy café, or a drop of the hard stuff at one of his favourite bars.

We set out to sample the new Globe Ale, the carbon dioxide-neutral beer from the local Norrebro Bryghus microbrewery, cruising in the cycle lane at a steady 13mph.

“Green living is not a theory waiting to be proven,” says Seamus, as we sip our slightly fizzy, amber-coloured ale, the gentle glow of candles bouncing off the stark, steel microbrewery vats.

“In their slow and subtle Danish way, the locals have already integrated the green mentality into daily life.”

On the way back to Town Hall Square my Segway skills are much improved for a pint of strong Danish lager. Weaving in and out of the bicycle rush hour in the half gloom of a winter afternoon, I can feel Oresund’s pragmatic enthusiasm for all things green rubbing off on me.

The politicians may not reach a consensus about a greener lifestyle this week, but the people of Oresund are already living it.

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2009. Liked this? Try also: West Sweden: Folklore traditions of midsummer.

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Heritage feature for the National Forest tourism brochure 2014


My latest copywriting job was brochure work for the National Forest.

The pitch was handled and commissioned via the nice people at Greentraveller.co.uk and I was assigned the feature combining heritage and family.

The new brochure is out for spring 2014 but you can read a preview of my story below:

Heritage is a tough sell for two perfect-pink princesses.

Learning is for school and talk of the olden days generally has the girls reaching for their Barbie Fashionistas app in disdain.

But a trip to the National Forest proved that that history is not always horrible, nor confined to a CBBC programme.

I had taken my two little girls, Maya (seven) and Olivia (three, above), for a fresh-air weekend in the National Forest.

The plan? Some bonding time together, some back-to-nature walks and, unbeknown to them, a subtle undercurrent of educational exploring.

All of which goes to prove that, even for the Barbie girls, history is not all about boring tours and stuffy museums. It’s a living, breathing, sometimes even pink-shrouded, pathway to the future.

History isn’t horrible. It’s cool.

Liked this? Try If you go down to the woods today.

And post your comments below.

On the road for Greentraveller – the Powys reviews


I’ve got my hotel inspector hat on this week, driving the rural backroads of Powys from the Ceiriog Valley to the Brecon Beacons National Park.

I’ll be visiting a series of places to stay, reviewing facilities and their green-tourism credentials as part of a wider project.

This work takes in the Greentraveller Guide to Mid Wales and a series of videos from around Powys.

First stop is a couple of places around Owestry before the long drive south towards Brecon.

This is my latest assignment for greentraveller, the last project being the review of Treehouse [pictured above] in the Dyfi Biosphere – read the story.

I’ll be posting content to Twitter this week, so follow for updates, images and news.

And please post your comments, tips and recommendations below.