Eelerwoude on its way to 100% nature inclusive

Eelerwoude set up shop in PlusUltra II in March of this year and is thus a new resident of Wageningen Campus. Eelerwoude specialists develop & design creative solutions for the development, design and management of living environments, through which they connect urban en rural environments in a nature-inclusive manner. Stephan Schorn, commercial manager, and Nop Otten, operational manager, discuss Eelerwoude, their reasons for settling on the campus and how they benefit from this location.

What precisely is it that Eelerwoude does?

Eelerwoude focuses on a nature-inclusive living environment. We specialise in the nature-inclusive development, design and management of both rural and urban areas. We establish smart connections between regions, buildings, users and nature within these three stages. This approach enables us to contribute to four critical societal themes: climate-conscious working, the transition towards sustainable energy, increasing biodiversity and aiming for a healthy living environment.

Who are your clients?

There is an enormous variety. Our clients range from private persons to grounds managers, housing corporations and insurance companies to governments and administrators, such as provinces and Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch department of Waterways and Public Works). We help design outdoor areas in a nature-inclusive way. In doing so, we consider all aspects. We can help a private citizen apply for a permit for the construction of a dormer and conduct a bat scan. We advise clients on the construction of solar fields. Initially, our assignments were mainly focused on rural areas, but we are increasingly approached for the design of urban areas and nature surrounding new housing developments.

How many, and what kind of, employees work at Eelerwoude?

We have a little over 90 employees distributed over our four offices (Goor, Wageningen, Diever en Wassenaar). They work within various disciplines: landscape architects, urban planners, stewards, ecologists, nature and cultivation experts, and eco-hydrologists. But we also have a colleague focusing on health in combination with the living environment. Traditionally, we recruited people with degrees from Saxion, Van Hall Larenstein or Wageningen. But it has become clear that people with different backgrounds can also offer valuable contributions. We look at which disciplines are required for each project.

We set up the Eelerwoude Academy to involve employees in our nature-inclusive ambition and to provide them with the skills and craftsmanship to do so. We now have the luxury of clients and prospective employees finding their way to us.

Does your field of work partially overlap with some of WUR’s departments? And if so, where do you see overlap/competition/reinforcement?

We collaborate with WUR; we contribute our practical knowledge and WUR its fundamental research expertise. In our projects we bring these (sometimes separate) worlds together. Not always easy, but very interesting, we also learn from each other.

Schorn: I don’t see us as competitors but rather as mutually reinforcing.

Otten: we apply the results of research in practical situations. For example, we collaborate with WUR on a study where we conduct management experiments in twenty solar fields. We are the point of contact and act as coordinators. We keep logbooks registering practical issues we encounter during management. WUR focuses on the research aspects.

What has motivated you to settle on Wageningen Campus?

That is a rather unusual story. We were already working with WUR researchers, particularly from Wageningen Environmental Research / ESG. And we were searching for a location in Wageningen city as an alternative to our branch in Culemborg. Meanwhile, we became involved in the design of the eastern section of the campus (in collaboration with NIOO-KNAW and AERES University of Applied Sciences). When we started talking about the campus, the buildings and their various purposes, we learned that there are also multi-tenant buildings. The realisation dawned, and we saw an opportunity. And now, we are housed in PlusUltra II. Our mission partially overlaps with that of WUR; we also aim to contribute to a green environment. A sustainable building matches our mission, the surroundings are nature-inclusive, and the building is quite accessible, which contributes to our employees’ mobility. We are able to work flexibly. To have a branch on the campus was ground-breaking for us, as it motivates us to adhere to our mission during our work.

Are you convinced of the advantages of a branch on Wageningen Campus?

Students visit us to get to know us. Next year, we will open a workshop where students can work on practical assignments. Contacts and visitors also understand why we chose this location. You are surrounded by similarly-minded people working on similar things. That gives a particular type of energy that is keenly felt on the campus. It is a great place, with a lovely outdoor design, where you meet many different parties. That is a great combination for work, which explains why people from our other branches enjoy working in Wageningen.

The shared goal – sustainability and working with nature – makes us aware of our own behaviour. For example, regarding our mobility (shared vehicles, e-bikes, shuttle pass), sustainable buildings, less printing and responsible catering choices to reduce waste.

Does your proximity to budding businesses have advantages?

Otten: I think that still needs to develop; the paint is only just dry. We moved in just six months ago. I think it will.

Schorn: It is noticeable in the coffee corner. There, you meet people you don’t know and talk about work. And with existing contacts, such as ESG researchers, who can now easily drop in.

Do you use the facilities on campus?

Currently, we only use PlusUltra II. We know that we can also organise meetings in Omnia, but we are still in the discovery stage. One of our employees hosted campus tours as a student and is very knowledgeable about the campus. We are still discovering. We have noticed that everything and everyone is very open and inviting and that simply walking in to ask a question is no problem at all.

Are there things you would like to see added or changed on the campus?

Not really. Well, maybe. We recently acquired several speed pedelecs for our employees to use—quite an investment. What is lacking is a bicycle shed that can be locked or a separate shed where we might store the bikes during the night. That would be great.

We are still discovering the opportunities the campus has to offer. Perhaps, launching an information point where non-WUR campus residents can ask about things like catering, tours, facilities etc., would be a good idea. To the best of our knowledge, there is no such thing (yet).

How do you envision the future on campus?

We have invested quite a lot in our housing. The open space we rented has been remodelled for 26 people, including four workstations for students. We took the type of work into account. There is a work café with a large table, and small spaces with plants and sound-absorbing panels, silent areas and cubicles for online meetings. We are happy with it, and it inspires our other locations.

Our office in Goor is located on an industrial site. There, we upgraded the outdoor area with plants and an insect hotel. This proves that even an industrial site can be nature-inclusive, and that has attracted different kinds of clients. This shows that our domain has expanded to include urban areas. Our advice is not only for an agricultural environment but also for industrial sites, housing projects and a green environment.

On Eelerwoude’s website, you will find the talkshow ‘Plan E: Op weg naar 100% inclusief’, which was recorded on Wageningen Campus, with more information on Eelerwoude’s projects.