Driving connections, balance and the circular economy on Amsterdam’s sustainability journey

Meet Eveline Jonkhoff, Strategic Advisor Sustainable Development at the City of Amsterdam. She connects many sustainability projects and staff across the city’s departments, and engages with many citizens, entrepreneurs, companies and others.

What is your vision of a sustainable future?
My key point of reference for a sustainable future is all about cities. My vision is one of a circular city, where it is nice to live, where inclusivity is the norm and where responsibility is taken from within the city – for what is happening in the city as well as what we bring into the city. A future-proof place for everyone, where Brundtland’s balance exists between the “here and now” and the “elsewhere and future”.

A sustainable future is not a fixed end-point, but an ever-changing journey, requiring constant engagement with the changes in the world around you. This also applies to the city, where we continuously balance the needs of the city and its (rural) surroundings. The city relies on its immediate environment for people, food and more; we cannot have a strong city without a strong surrounding environment.

What is your model of change towards a more sustainable world?
Driving change requires the ability to view issues from many different angles and then being able to bring that all together. Many parties in the city can work together as an organic network; like pieces of a puzzle. There are great initiatives that bring people together from across the city, all with different viewpoints and experiences. One of my favorites is the series of events about the circular city at Pakhuis De Zwijger. It creates a network within the city , that shares ambitions and works together to drive change. This embeds sustainability and change in the city’s DNA.

What drives you? What kind of role do you see for yourself in this change?
My role in driving the city of Amsterdam to become a more sustainable, circular city is all about connecting and supporting people with ideas and solutions. It is also about challenging people to think outside of the box, to be brave enough to try new things. My curiosity helps me to find out what really drives people, which helps me identify common ground. What makes this role challenging is the varied interests of the numerous stakeholders. I do not have a huge budget or formal authority, so to make them work together for a common goal of a sustainable city I have to use storytelling and seduction.

To be able to weave these stories, I have to really grasp the subject from within and learn from others. I am fortunate to have knowledgeable colleagues across the City’s departments, plus a network of other people in different kinds of organizations. One of my favorite sources for inspiration is the C40, a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and work together on sustainability topics. I am proud that the City of Amsterdam is categorized as an “innovator city” in this network. I am also inspired by the concept of Gross National Happiness as developed by Bhutan. I strongly believe in a human centered approach, that helps you chose what dreams to pursue and where to live, in balance with nature and the people around you.

What kind of leadership is needed for positive change?
With such a strong need for connections and working together, collective leadership is key to drive change. We need to keep a long term view, while moving in tune with the dynamics of short term events. Leaders need to inspire to drive change, as natural authentic leaders (rather than based on given authority). No longer can leadership only be held by one person, it is required at all levels. This includes entrepreneurial leadership, to drive change and develop new ways to create value. Value is about so much more than financial wealth.

What is next for you and the City of Amsterdam’s sustainability program?
My future is not mapped out in great detail. I see sustainable development as a journey, and there are bound to be many surprises along the way. The next step on my journey is a trip to Johannesburg for the next C40 summit, where I will present  Amsterdam’s approach to becoming a smart, sustainable city. I look forward to the opportunity to connect to many people to discuss challenges and solutions from around the world.

Amsterdam fietsers

For more information on the City of Amsterdam and its sustainability program, please visit the city’s sustainability subsite and follow @iamsterdam on Twitter.

Photo by Amsterdam Marketing


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