How Amsterdam is Setting a Green Example for the Rest of Europe

Words by Caitlin Webb. Caitlin is a Geography student at the University of Birmingham with a passion for the planet and a love of David Attenborough!


Amsterdam is famous as the most populous city in the Netherlands with a liberal party scene and beautiful classic Dutch architecture. In 2010 its inner canals, an iconic backdrop for many an Instagram post, were recognised as an UNESCO heritage site in 2010. Now this city is under threat.


A 2020 study found that Amsterdam is likely to be the 3rd most impacted by climate change by 2050; this has already been seen in recent years as a drought in 2018 and a heatwave in 2019 which left parks parched, grass scorched, and shrubs desiccated. Earlier in 2014, a sudden cloudburst and intense rainfall caused severe flooding in the city. This stimulated the city’s ‘rainproof’ strategy that aims to mitigate the effects of future waterlogging. Amsterdam must prepare for both extremes and adapt to all potential climate scenarios.

To plan for the effects of climate change, the City of Amsterdam has set some ambitious goals to transition towards a sustainable future, able to cope with the imminent effects of climate change. They aim to reduce emissions by 55% in 2030 and 95% by 2050, by which they state they will be a circular city. However, government policy is only one part of the battle. In order for institutional transition towards a sustainable city, public and private sectors must work together. The municipality recognises this and states that, the biggest differences we will make are as residents of Amsterdam’.


Having lived in the city, I really appreciated the everyday green practices that are embedded in Dutch culture. Residents routinely return glass and plastic bottles to supermarkets, markets sell fresh, local produce in every neighbourhood, and of course, everybody cycles. Over 2 million kilometres are cycled by Amsterdammers every day, and it is not uncommon to be overtaken by a cargo bike laden with children, dogs and shopping as locals zoom through the city. An abundance of second-hand vintage clothing stores and a plethora of vegan options in cafes, restaurants and supermarkets further add to the overall eco-conscious feel of the city.


An Amsterdammer carrying her dogs on a cargo bike

Amsterdam is a thriving ecosystem for sustainable innovation. In the past few years there have been many ground-breaking projects launched in the city which cements Amsterdam’s spot as a green front runner in Europe, and potentially the world. For example, Ecoplaza, a Dutch organic supermarket, launched the world’s first plastic-free aisle in Amsterdam in 2018. This set a benchmark in the global plastic-free movement and now in 2020, there are now over 100 plastic-free stores in the UK. The ‘Plastic Whale’, a Dutch start-up, coordinate an army of volunteers to clear plastic waste directly from Amsterdam’s waterways, and in 2019, a Dutch start-up installed the world’s first bubble barrier to trap plastic waste in Amsterdam’s canals. This technology is now being targeted in Asia where 8 out of 10 of the world’s most polluting rivers are located.

Amsterdam is a hub for green research and development, and it is obvious that the entire city has a passion for sustainability. Whether this be through ambitious government energy targets, subconsciously through habitual recycling and cycling, or through active participation in eco-conscious start-ups. This means that Amsterdam is already mitigating the effects of climate change, adapting to extreme weather events and on target to become a green trendsetter in Europe.


Cover image by Adrien Olichon via Unsplash.