The week: sand , commons and m2’s

I had a very interesting week , with many new insights and views from other disciplines . It started with an invitation to be part of a discussion panel about ‘Dutch land” organized by the governmental water authority . How to deal with a lot of issues related to land an soil: mining, storing, building, agriculture , etc. Our session focused at Sand and gravel, which are mined on large scale in the Netherlands ( Its about the only resources we have…) . It required me to put down my views on sand and gravel .

In principle there is nothing wrong with sand and gravel: its erosion products and as such part of a cycle. If not using more as is supplemented every year, the use is ‘sustainable’ . Processing in general has low impact as well. The question however is more broad, since its always used fro something: And if that is for concrete, the question becomes: do we need all that concrete: that can and should be a lot less, the more when alternatives with lower environmental impact are available, as is often the case in building construction. Which would reduce the need for Sand and gravel.

Which is again important, when the use is not the natural supplementation, (via rivers mainly ) but large scale mining of stocks formed in the past million of years. Since then you end up similar as other resources depleting stocks, with nasty side effects: like the province of Groningen facing earthquakes as a result of decades of gas winning, or half the Netherlands below sea level threatened by flooding as a result of centuries of peat harvesting. ( thats how we learned dredging) .

Unearthing things always has consequences.

And you would not expect this, but even sand is becoming scarce , and is internationally illegal traded. Islands in the Indonesian archipelago have already disappeared as consequence from sand suction from the nearby ocean beds. Not all sand is suitable for concrete, thats why. See the documentaries by Delestrac [1]

In the case of sand and gravel excavations in the Netherlands we also create large water ponds, loosing land for potential production. While we will need that land , every m2 is a important source ( read production factor) for the future, to produce energy, material and food in a sustainable way: as part of a biobased society, or as I prefer to cal it: a vegetarian society, from food to construction. And the land used for sand could better remain in place and be used to make productive on top of it, in stead of removing it for a one time harvest. For instance for wood or even bamboo, which has a three time higher yield as wood per functional unit. The soil can be used more sustainable, until eternity.

M2 land as the capital of our sustainable future, is also the unit by which we will have to compare required social functions, since its its the unit by which our only inexhaustible source, the sun, can be made productive for us. [2]

The discussion became lively, however dominated by the supposed idea that we cant do without sand and gravel…


Then on my way to Malmö , Sweden, to chair a discussion panel in the Sustainable Cities conference, as part of a series leading up to the world conference sustainable built environment next year in Hong Kong. Malmö is one of few cities worldwide with serious high sustainability ambitions , and really makes work of it . They even adopted the UN Sustainable development goals now, and added local ambitions for each of these.

I was sitting on the edge of my seat, while listening to the key note by Guy Standing. He defended very convincingly the public ownership against privatization of all our joint common possessions, read the earth. Whether its about land, or schools, or roads or squares that are privately maintained, we loose more an more influence , and even space to protest , when for instance a market square is privately managed. Its pretty simple in fact: “ If private wealth grows, common wealth declines”. A plea for a return of the commons, as there where many in the past, and establishing a basic income for everyone, both being conditions for a environmental and social stable situation. I thought of our ‘commons  sand and pebbles stocks’ being privatised… I immediately bought some books to read more about this [3][4] One of these is ’the Precariat’, in which Standing describes the danger of a new class of people mangled by the privatized system.

A second key note with a social focus also was an eyeopener, about the use of public space and revival of cities. “In public space we are all equal”, as Gil Penalosa argued. I did not know him, but he was convincing with many examples from his own practice. He is founder of a NGO called 8-80 cities: “if you create a great city for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for all people.”[5] Public space, not private space is where we unite.

To finish in the end again with the Dutch Governmental water authority, That was awarded the first price in Sustainable and innovative procurement during a session in Malmö . Very Special: their procurement was for a energy neutral high way construction. All impact during construction and 30 years of maintenance compensated within the building site borders. [6] It requires a commons ( government agency) to set a new standard…. a deserved winner. Now only wait for the cars on that road to be energy neutral as well…


[2] de tool daarvoor is Maxergy, dat die vergelijkingen maakt op basis van Embodied Land: het landbeslag van een produkt, nodig om een kringloop gesloten te houden .

[3] Governing the Commons , The evolution of institutions for collective action , Elinor Ostrom,

[4] The Precariat ,


[6] Procurement of a 0-energy road construction..! By Rijkswaterstaat NL , winner procura award

Author: ronald rovers