Sustainable property and private sustainable mortgages

Raphaël Nouwen, senior relationship manager SME

What challenge was the inspiration for your project?

Vuurtoreneiland, or lighthouse island, is a 300 year old, artificial island in the Markermeer lake, close to Amsterdam. A stone lighthouse was first built on the site in 1700. The current wrought-iron one is from 1893 and is still Amsterdam’s only lighthouse. The island also has a lighthouse keeper’s house and an abandoned fort. The fort is part of the old Amsterdam defence system and is on the UNESCO world heritage list.

To retain the island’s unique natural historic value, the Forestry department, that owns the island, issued a public European tender in 2012 to develop the island commercially. The income from the commercial activities should finance the conservation and maintenance of the landscape and the listed buildings. The Forestry department also wants to open the heritage site to the general public so that everyone can enjoy it.

Two young entrepreneurs saw this as an exciting challenge and submitted a unique plan to the Forestry department. It started with a pilot project in which they ran a pop-up-like construction and a small-scale restaurant for one summer. Visitors were ferried across to the uninhabited island, where organic and regional dishes were served in an idyllic setting. It was a resounding success and they’re now already into their fourth year with the full support of the Forestry department.

What was your innovation that addresses this problem?

The entrepreneurs succeeded in making this a unique island experience, connecting conservation and the experience of nature and the island’s special buildings.

They use the income from the restaurant to maintain and manage the landscape, the fort and the lighthouse. Conscious and sustainable choices were made to generate electricity. ‘Heat the people not the place’ is an old concept where instead of heating entire spaces, only areas which have people in them are heated. For example, in the restaurant, only the space under the tables are heated. The chairs are covered in sheepskin and wood from the island is used in the venue’s hearths.

What impact has Triodos Bank had on your business?

Triodos Bank has contributed towards the conservation of this extraordinary island. Its finance additionally ensured that the island could be open to the public, where people meet and are able to enjoy a piece of wild nature with roaming animals and rare flora, very close to the city.

What impact does your business have on the sector you work in?

Vuurtoreneiland is a source of inspiration for other re-zoning projects. The combination of the different and divergent aspects of sustainability with a small-scale organic catering facility makes this project unique and an attractive example for the sector.

What impact does your company have on the community?

People from Amsterdam and beyond visit the island to escape from the daily rat race and experience nature. As well as employing a small number of people locally It is also very important that, with the arrival of a commercial party, the natural and cultural-historic value of the island is conserved for the future.

How does Triodos Bank share your vision?

Triodos Bank finances sustainable projects that put people, the environment and society at their heart. This multidisciplinary vision is shared by the people who have developed the lighthouse island. After three successful seasons, Vuurtoreneiland has proven how entrepreneurs can combine commercial activities in a vulnerable environment in a sustainable way.