25 Years of Dutch Environmental Influence

More work to do in maintaining the success of the first Dutch Environmental Policy Plan

The first Dutch National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP) was created with our support 25 years ago in 1989. Since then, more than 70% of its goals have been achieved despite three iterations, significant political changes, shifting priorities, and an increase in legislation.

Broad influence
In fact, the first Dutch NEPP became the blueprint by which other nations began to take action for environmental sustainability during the end of the 20th Century. Since its inception, it has been translated into many different languages, become the foundation for European policy and been adopted in states as far afield as California.

Changing attitudes
Aside from its success in meeting targets, another measure of its strength lies in the changed behaviour of the Dutch people. Since the first NEPP, successive Dutch governments have been encouraging the public to hold the environment in higher regard. Information, knowledge sharing and education have helped support this culture change.

Celebrating achievement
Today, the Netherlands has one of the most advanced environmental sustainability frameworks of any industrialised nation, and it’s with some pride that we recently marked the 25th anniversary of the first NEPP with a celebratory event at our office in Amersfoort.

Attending the event, former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers said: “There was a lot of publicity surrounding the first plan. I remember the French Prime Minister Michel Rocard calling me… he thought it was a great idea.” This publicity soon snowballed and led to a major international conference in The Hague.

The Hague event helped put important facts and figures on the table and sought to integrate social, economic and environmental stakeholders inside and outside the government. Whilst this integration may sound normal now, it was revolutionary back in the 1980s when agriculture, economy and environmental laws were barely united.

Continual Improvement
Stressing the issue of integration, Chris Kuijpers, The Netherland’s Director General for Climate, the Environment and International Affairs said: “Environmental improvement is not just about technical solutions, but about generating policy at the front-end and stakeholder engagement. And it’s in this field, from policy to integral plans that the Netherlands is an international leader.”

Since 1989, new addendums and agendas have been added to the original NEPP, expanding the original reach of the plan to meet new goals and regulations. Going forward, commercial innovation, strong government and a continued integrated approach will be needed to ensure The Netherlands maintains a leading position.

Hard work needed to maintain momentum
Speaking at the anniversary event, Ed Nijpels, President of the Dutch Association of Consulting Engineers laid out some of the urgent challenges: “Over the last 10 years, there was little attention paid to the issues surrounding renewable energy and our gas reserves… There is an enormous task for engineering companies when it comes to social and urban planning and development.”

Job van den Berg, a leading sustainable development professional at Royal HaskoningDHV pointed out the continuing influence of engineers when it comes to advising and guiding governments on the principles of environmental sustainability: “We’re committed to the challenges that face us here in the Netherlands and internationally despite the obvious work needed to maintain the momentum of the first plan. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that current European legislation stems from that plan. We’re currently helping the Czech Republic and Hungary for example to write their environment plans and we continue to maintain a leading position in waste management, flood prevention and in the circular economy too.”

The first Dutch National Environmental Policy Plan was formed on May 25th 1989. Attending the anniversary event were Ruud Lubbers, Dutch Prime Minister at the time of the plan’s inception, Chris Kuijpers, Director General of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, Ed Nijpels, Minister of Housing in 1989 - now President of the Dutch Association of Consulting Engineers, and Tjerk Wagenaar, Director of The Foundation for Nature and Environment.