The World Trade Center Amsterdam (WTC) set up a “green action plan” 15 years ago. Frank Folkers has been Technical & Facility Director at WTC since 1999 and has been involved in the sustainability drive right from the start. But as he says: “You don’t just replace all the lights overnight”.

“What many entrepreneurs are doing now for office buildings, WTC had already started in 2007,” says the director, who has been working in the Strawinskylaan building in Amsterdam for 24 years. “Fifteen years ago, we set up a “green action plan” consisting of 50 very simple measures that have led to significant energy savings.”

“You grab the low-hanging fruit first: making a big impact in an easy way, and without major investments. We have been doing that for years now. Parties that have done little or nothing so far can now easily achieve their goals. For us, on the contrary, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to come up with sustainable solutions and improvements, because we’ve already done so much.”


High impact, but also high investment

What is both an advantage and disadvantage of WTC Amsterdam is that a certain measure has a big impact (financially). “For instance, replacing all the office lighting with LED lights is costly, but also achieves a lot. However, you can’t simply say, ‘I’ll do that right away’ because the building is too big for that.”


A wind turbine on the roof

WTCA has always participated in pilots. For instance, there were two wind turbines on the tallest tower, reaching 104 meters. “Gaining experience with such initiatives is crucial. For example, from this pilot we learnt that all the rotating parts of the wind turbine need to be maintained, and extensive checks are vital. What if one of the blades ends up on the highway? These wind turbines were therefore not feasible, but we did try.”


Gasless towers

“The most interesting development is just behind us: making all the towers gasless. A very complicated process that took a few years”. Towers H and I were made gasless in 2018, as it was relatively simple, since there was only a gas connection for the catering facilities. “They switched to electric cooking, and that’s how we immediately took the bull by the horns,” Frank explains.

The other towers proved a little more complex. For example, a gas engine on the roof and central heating boilers had to be replaced by other installations, district heating connections had to be extended and connections with multiple purposes had to be accommodated. The entire WTC has been gasless since September last year.

“What makes it difficult is that for the final part of the project, there have been several years of consideration given to demolition and redevelopment of the towers. Suppose a tower is going to be completely demolished, suddenly you might lose a central cooling system. A solution must be devised elsewhere in the complex. Tower Ten, for example, has been stripped, redeveloped, and expanded in square metres. Such developments go hand in hand with sustainability efforts.”

Another challenge is that WTC is too big to make climate-neutral. There are 200 solar panels, but they only provide a limited portion of the energy consumption. “The ultimate situation is zero on the meter, but for a complex like this, this goal is too much of a challenge at the moment. Of course, we are doing everything we can to move in that direction.”


Master plan

“We have initiated an energy master plan for the next ten to fifteen years. In this, we will combine utility connections from different towers and start expanding and linking installations so that we can increase efficiency.”

WTC is currently also actively engaged in data collection through smart systems, to analyse and optimise installations. “After all, you can have a sustainable building, but if (sustainable) installations are not running or not functioning properly, energy consumption is still sky-high.”


There’s still room for improvement

Is there still room for improvement? “Definitely,” Frank believes. “District heating is not the most sustainable way of heating. It has to be more sustainable. WTC already has two thermal storage systems and a third one in preparation.” According to Frank, what helps enormously in the transition towards sustainability is that there’s a lot of focus on it. “Tenants have sustainability ambitions and want to achieve them. Under pressure, everything becomes fluid: we now get things done much more quickly.”

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