Innovation in practice #1: what we’ve learned from ABN AMRO’s circular pavilion

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Circl is celebrating its third anniversary this month. To ABN AMRO, the circular pavilion is still the spot where sustainable banking strategy becomes tangible. The construction and exploitation prove system change is certainly possible and that circularity offers interesting opportunities. We would never have been able to achieve this without close cooperation. But what impact did we really make with Circl?


Together with Circl architect Pi de Bruin, knowledge partner Michel Baars (founder of New Horizon Urban Mining) and Daphne de Kluis, CEO of ABN AMRO Commercial Banking, we look back and to the future by discussing three statements with them.

Statement #1: Circl has been a ground-breaking project to me

What started as a ‘classic’ pavilion with a top-notch restaurant and art gallery evolved  into Circl as we know it today. Design, development and finishing turned out to be a laboratory of change to Pi. “It’s great to see that the bank took our circular ambition and picked up the pace. Together, we’ve created the ultimate result: circularity. In that regard, Circl has been ground-breaking.”

Circl wasn’t ground-breaking to Michel, whose circular enterprise New Horizon Urban Mining had already been operating for a few years. “But it’s been an important project in many aspects,” he says. “For starters because I don’t see the circular economy as a new wave of sustainability, but because I truly believe it to be a new economic model. Being able to show it off in the business centre of Amsterdam is amazing. There are many circular pavilions in the Netherlands, but the literal and figurative position of Circl give the project an additional dimension and create a bigger impact.”

Circl embodies ABN AMRO’s sustainability strategy Banking of better, for generations to come. Daphne can testify to that: “Circl has been a great help in kindling the enthusiasm of our clients, colleagues and other stakeholders, because it turns the abstract concept of sustainability into something tangible. Every space, system and service oozes sustainability. So yes, Circl was ground-breaking to me, as the building shows the possibilities of sustainability. It feels like something that belongs to all of us.”

Statement #2: A strong circular movement has arisen in just a few years

Daphne: “That’s an interesting statement. On one hand, I would say yes, as there has been a lot of experimentation. In just a few years, several circular enterprises with solid business models were founded, financed by us. On the other hand, I can see that citizens, the government and businesses don’t fully embrace circularity as the ultimate form of sustainability yet. I think it’s partially because of unfamiliarity. It also takes a great deal of courage as an entrepreneur to radically change your business model for a partially unexplored area. The first steps have been taken, but the pace could be faster. 

Michel agrees that a large part of this development takes places below the surface, where many people can’t see it. “But I’m convinced the transition towards a circular model is moving at a much faster pace than people think. Digitalizing and robotization especially offer opportunities and can play a vital part,” so Michel says. It is developing that circular model that’s so important to him. “A bank with a single circular building won’t make much difference. A bank with a fully circular process will.”

Pi emphasizes that good faith alone won’t be enough. “The road to innovation is not without obstacles. You need enthusiasm and expertise to really start a movement.”

Statement #3: I believe fully circular construction will be possible in the future

“Believing is an understatement. I know for sure it will be possible.” Michel is adamant. “Circularity is the only winning strategy. That’ll become clear soon.” Daphne is more nuanced. “I think we shouldn’t be too focused on reaching 100% circularity, as 90% would be fantastic too. And for products which are tossed out when they’ve reached their end of life, even 50% would be a huge improvement. It’s about heading in the right direction and to keep moving that way. If we do that, we’ll get there. Take Swanenberg IJzer Groep in Schaijk for example, or the circular homes by Elements in Breukelen. These are unique companies in the way they approach sustainability. Are their products 100% circular? Not yet. Are they incredibly sustainable? Definitely. I think that’s where we need to find our inspiration.”

People tend to follow a good example, Pi agrees: “These inspiring examples will prompt follow-ups, in which circularity keeps progressing. There has clearly been a mind-shift that embraces circular ideas, but we’re still nowhere near that 100%.” Michel thinks sharing knowledge is the key to success. “Share knowledge unconditionally and appreciate the collectivity a circular model brings.” We fully agree with that. Circl is the platform where we talk about a ‘right to copy’ instead of copyright, now and for the years to come. Cheers to a circular future!

Do you want to know more about Circl? Take the virtual tour.


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