Notes from the Field: Emerging Integral Approaches at a Large Land Development Project in the Netherlands

Notes from the Field / March 2011

Emerging Integral Approaches at a Large Land Development Project in the Netherlands

Machiel Doorn

Michiel Doorn

This paper discusses the development and implementation of an integral sustainability framework, inspired by Cradle to Cradle principles, at a large land development project and horticultural show in the Netherlands.  It provides hands-on, real-world accounts and discusses novel monitoring and reporting methods that have been co-developed to account for the complexity of this cutting-edge project.



The Floriade is a large world horticulture exhibition that is held every ten years in the Netherlands. Held from April to October 2012, the sixth edition of the Floriade is being organized by the Region Venlo Floriade 2012. ( There will be approximately 100 domestic and 40 foreign participants participating with over two million expected visitors. The entire area comprises 66 hectares (163 acres) and, once the Floriade closes its gates, it will continue life as a green office and educational park, named “Greenpark.” GreenPark/Floriade is one of the first major sustainable land development projects in Netherlands inspired by the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) philosophy. This C2C framework developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart was originally applied to buildings and manufacturing design and is now being adapted for land development. (

For the Floriade, C2C means that activities are carried out according to a set of principles that must be taken into account by all contractors and organizations that want to participate. These principles, as well as vision and mission statement were developed in a large scale iterative process with multiple stakeholders, initiated by the local Chamber of Commerce. The principles with a brief interpretation are presented below.

  • We are native to our place—starting where you’re at and listening to what the place has to say.
  • Our waste = food—thinking in material, water and energy cycles and closing the loops.
  • Sun is our income—the only true source of abundant, sustainable energy is the sun.
  • Our air, soil, and water are healthy—traditional environmental issues
  • We design enjoyment for all generations—for visitors of all generations, but also for the future.

Major land development projects in the Netherlands are highly complex due to the limited physical, cultural and regulatory space available in this crowded country. Sustainable development requires additional ingenuity, knowledge and foresight. Traditionally, land development and other highly complex projects have been managed by drafting ever more detailed scopes of work and bid contracts. It has been the contribution of the Floriade team and other pioneers to acknowledge that these techniques don’t work well anymore for such projects and to experiment with more integral and systems-oriented approaches (2nd tier). This is further evident in the mission statement that leaves room for emergence: “Our mission is to use our Cradle to Cradle framework as an engine for innovation.”

This Study

This study examines the following question: “How can we exemplify and account for the added value at the Floriade as a result of using the C2C framework and other advanced approaches to project management?” Ten people were interviewed that all have hands-on involvement in the design and implementation of Floriade/GreenPark and responsibility in daily operations. The key question posed was: ” What are the significant challenges you encounter in implementing the Floriade principles?” Bear in mind that the Floriade has a fixed opening date and budget, so the project leadership is under severe pressure to make it happen and to make it happen sustainably.

Not only does management of today’s complex projects require novel approaches, monitoring and reporting these projects require similar evolutionary approaches that allow for the capture of this complexity. For the purpose of describing the findings of this research, a reporting system that was initially developed in the seventies was adapted—pattern language, developed by architect Christopher Alexander. (

The idea behind Alexander’s pattern language is that a well designed space, i.e. a building, is “alive.” Mr. Alexander and his team set out to capture how one can accomplish this. For this purpose he used patterns that were linked in a network. There would be higher and lower patterns, dealing with more conceptual or more detailed themes, respectively. The network of appropriate patters could be followed many times, never ending up with identical results, yet capturing the essence of what’s required for a “living” and functional space or structure. To make his language practical, Alexander worded each pattern as a question followed by an instruction. Essentially, Alexander brought the observer back into the equation, allowing for subjective experience.

From the interviews at the Floriade, eleven patterns or themes emerged. It turns out that the majority of the patterns relate to the internal, process side of the development project, e.g., building trust, maintaining enthusiasm in the team, expectation management, working with uncertainty, monitoring and communicating sustainable accomplishments.

This finding indicates that those responsible for design and implementation of large sustainable projects (in this case land development at the Floriade) are wrestling with the internal subjective issues and not so much with technical or hardware questions. This is a new insight, because the vast majority of sustainability literature has been on technical case studies and examples. As such, much more attention and support is needed for integrating subjective and objective elements into management of today’s complex projects to be sustainable and resilient. However, as was pointed out by one of the interviewees, inspirational sessions by facilitators that had no technical knowledge didn’t exude effect either. What is required is a new type of leadership that truly integrates subjective and objective wisdom. Pattern language is suited here, because process patterns and more technical patterns can be easily ordered and linked to each other. This was done in the full research report which includes a number of more technical patterns, e.g., water and materials management.

As with the novel reporting system (the pattern language), it was found that novel approaches to monitoring and measuring sustainability are also needed for complex projects like the Floriade. Traditionally, conditions are measured with hard (objective) indicators (e.g., percentage green energy, recycled materials). But these indicators only account for objective conditions. They are literally analytical, which implies that they provide objective snapshots of elements of the project in isolation. They say nothing about coherence, the perspective taken, the quality of progress or process, let alone the future experience of the result being “alive” or not.

From experience at the Floriade and other sources such a new approach to monitoring would entail the following. It starts with the comprehensive vision for the entire project and the area in which it is embedded. On this basis it can be determined what indicators should be monitored and why. Traditionally, existing, standard indicators would be applied to the project during execution or, worse, after completion, thus limiting monitoring opportunities and providing an incomplete picture of sustainability. A new approach would recognize the importance of new and often subjective conditions, such as commitment, connection, trust, degree to which vision and principles are integrated, etc. Additional research is needed on how these conditions may be represented in qualitative or perhaps semi-quantitative, yet transparent indicators. Such new indicators may then be used in conjunction with more traditional indicators for a comprehensive picture of the degree of sustainability for the project.

Suggested Integral Lessons

  • Land development and other projects that will have a major impact on the cultural, social and natural environment should be developed sustainably.
  • New, more integral and systems-oriented frameworks such as Cradle 2 Cradle or the Natural Step are much better suited for major projects or undertakings than more segmented sustainability frameworks (e.g. people planet profit or those based on extensive, objective monitoring protocols or management plans).
  • It is advised to develop a clear vision supported by principles that describe the framework in terms that are relevant for the situation and fully comprehended by team and stakeholders alike.
  • Strict time and budget constraints increase the likelihood for innovation and openness to new consciousness.
  • The people that execute a large sustainable land development project, such as the Floriade, are likely to have the most difficulty with subjective issues, not with technical ones.
  • Much more attention and support is needed for integrating subjective and objective elements into management of today’s complex projects to be sustainable and resilient.
  • New forms of process or change management may be needed that truly integrate left quadrant and right quadrant wisdom. Or in other words, that link process to purpose and implementation.
  • Not only are novel, integrated methods needed for designing and executing complex sustainable projects, also evolved reporting, communication and monitoring approaches are needed.
  • Pattern language seems to be particularly suited for reporting on 2nd tier sustainability initiatives.
  • New monitoring allows includes subjective, qualitative indicators and should start at the onset, with a thorough understanding of the vision for the entire project.

The report is currently undergoing review and should be downloadable forthwith, in Dutch.

About the Author


Michiel Doorn is from Raleigh, NC, USA and lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is a sustainability advisor with Arcadis, an international environment and infrastructure engineering and consulting firm. Additionally he facilitates communities of practice for the Center for Human Emergence in the Netherlands. His work focuses on researching, teaching and implementing integral and sustainable practices in today’s world. He may be reached at

Phone: in the Netherlands (0) 6 1102 8377; in the USA (919) 741 4246

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