Iconic roadside telephone becomes circular showcase

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All of a sudden they were gone. Hardly anyone noticed. The yellow emergency telephones that had bordered Dutch motorways for decades were well on the way to obsolescence, when our client Van Doorn gave the iconic pedestals a much needed make-over. They now serve a new purpose as charging stations.

For almost sixty years, roadside phones were the only salvation for drivers with car troubles. Enter the era of the mobile phone. Rendered obsolete, the emergency telephones were retired from service as of 1 July 2017. But that was not the end of the story. The former operator, the Dutch Public Works & Water Management department (Rijkswaterstaat), issued a challenge to companies: find a sustainable purpose for the 3,300 units. Out of all three thousand entries, the winning idea by Van Doorn builders was to convert them to charging stations for electric vehicles. The sustainable conversion operation was performed by Ecoleon, the label Van Doorn has been using since 2014 for its sustainable mobility initiatives. 

Rijkswaterstaat agreed to transfer ownership to Van Doorn, as long as the company was willing to collect the phones themselves. And so, over the course of a few weeks, a crane lifted the yellow pedestals from the ground one by one. They were collected at an industrial estate. Van Doorn put some up for sale, and as it turned out, the phones did have a special place in many Dutch people's hearts after all – within half a day, over five hundred units were sold.

Upcycling

Converting the emergency phone stations to charging stations is a fine example of upcycling, a combination of upgrading and recycling. The newest design, created in 1994, consisted of an aluminium pedestal and two plastic raised shields to keep the wind out. The phone itself contained a battery and a GPS device. “We completely strip and rework the unit,” says Ecoleon Account Manager Erik Claassen. “Next, we install all the technology required to charge electric vehicles, which is pretty high-tech stuff. In a nutshell, we're adding value to the product, or in circular economy terms: upcycling.”

ABN AMRO has been Van Doorn’s principal bank for many years, and also played a role in the establishment of the Ecoleon label in 2014.  The development of sustainable solutions for infrastructure and industrial areas ties in with ABN AMRO's strategy and focus on accelerating the transition to a circular economy. It was Relationship Manager Willem van Amerongen who raised the idea that ABN AMRO could use the new charging stations as a customer too, an idea that was embraced and executed by Facility Management.

Signboard and inspiration

The ABN AMRO office in Breda was chosen for the pilot, so last Friday the first four upcycled stations were brought into use by ABN AMRO. In the future, the eye-catching green-and-yellow pedestals will also be installed on Foppingadreef in Amsterdam and at all offices with the GREENE-concept. Employees, clients and visitors alike will be able to use them.

“These charging stations are a showcase for us, to demonstrate just how much you can achieve by thinking circular in your business,” says Sector Director Floortje Speelman, who was present in Breda when the first stations were activated. “This solution ties it all together. We help our client develop their sustainable business model, the old phone pedestals get a new purpose as charging stations for electric cars, and the circular economy and climate benefit too. Also, the design is a real eye-catcher. It draws a lot of attention in the street, and may inspire others to follow our lead. What’s so special about this project is that we’re involved both as principal bank and as customer of Ecoleon, which is going to further strengthen our relationship.”

 “The bank plays several roles when it comes to circularity, and one of them is that we want to inspire,” Christa Beaufort from Facility Management adds. “This project is similar to Circl in that the impact lies not just in where the raw materials come from; instead, we're working on several levels. Small-scale solutions do make impact in terms of materials, but more importantly we're inspiring our clients, our suppliers, and society as a whole to join in. Mindset shifts are always spearheaded by this type of initiative. Indeed, this is a good icebreaker to open a dialogue about circularity with clients, since it's still a bit of a tough subject for many.”

Creative solutions

Demand for the upcycled charging stations is on the rise. “It really helps that ABN AMRO is visibly using our product right in front of its offices,” Ecoleon’s Erik Claassen comments. “We primarily advertise through word of mouth, so ABN AMRO's network is a welcome addition. Our customers are very happy with the quality of our product, rating us a 9 out of 10, and one of the things they like is that we deliver and install the product ourselves, taking care of everything. In the meantime, we're working on other applications too. For instance, we've already started delivering multimedia pedestals that get equipped with a tablet, which makes it easy to do customer surveys and things like that. They're also being used as phones at the entrance barriers of industrial areas. New ideas are coming up all the time, but we're always open to suggestions!”

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