The learning lab for a circular economy


In a sustainable world, the circular economy is high on the agendas of both the government and businesses. Natural raw materials are becoming scarcer by the day. The global population and prosperity are growing and we consume more than ever before. But what example are we setting for the next generation? Sustainability cannot survive without continuity.

At AVEX, we believe in a circular economy. Awareness for sustainable solutions is growing day by day, among ourselves as well as our clients. Our team enables us to come up with smart solutions within the circular model
but by committing to the Circl pavilion, ABN AMRO is taking sustainability in the Netherlands to the next level. Construction, layout as well as operation are set up in accordance with the circular economy principles. In such an economy, production chains are closed and waste is a thing of the past. Quite an ambition, also for all facilities service providers in the building. They take on the challenge together, by forming an ‘FM Coalition’. That’s also level up but in terms of facilities management. Spirit Hosting & Promotions, Vermaat Groep, ENGIE, CSU, Securitas and AVEX are the coalition partners alongside ABN AMRO.

Circl can be found near ABN AMRO’s head office, at Gustav Mahlerplein on the so-called Zuidas. The function of the pavilion, initially intended for meetings and conferences by the bank, has evolved over the years. According to the website, ‘It’s a meeting place for start-ups and educational institutions, for local residents and settled businesses, for local governments and citizens, for NGOs and organisations.’ And also: ‘You can come to Circl to work, wine and dine, meet other people or attend a lecture. Circl is freely accessible – because anyone can make a difference. Connectivity is the key, that’s where anything of value starts.’

Logo Circl



Ambitious plans indeed, but then again, Circl is supposed to become a learning and living lab in the field of circular economy. A place that wants to spread that circular economy like an oil slick by means of storytelling. There’s a story behind every choice of material or beer brand in this 3,000-m2 building. Knowledge is freely shared with everyone who wants to have it, as formulated by Merijn van den Bergh, Circl director: ‘Building Circl has generated a lot of knowledge we want to share. We’re not talking copyrights but the right to copy. When customers start to follow our example, we’ll be creating impact for the developed environment.’

You could see the enthusiasm among the other coalition partners

And what about its operation?

How do you run such a sustainability landmark? That’s the question ABN AMRO presented to six facilities service providers who were already active at head office: Spirit Hosting & Promotions (reception services), Vermaat Groep (catering), ENGIE (energy services), AVEX (audiovisual services), Securitas (security) and CSU (cleaning). Each of these partners is among the best in their fields of expertise and each of them has taken steps towards sustainability.

Contrary to common practice, ABN AMRO gave the partners a blank cheque to provide a framework for a circular economy on the basis of their own expertise. That question resulted in the formation of the FM Coalition. A current trend in facilities management is for facilities service providers in a single building to work closer together. It increases efficiency and provides a full-service solution for clients who are making their facilities departments more and more flexible, turning them into retained organisations.

However, the FM Coalition does not have that lack of commitment other forms of partnership have, which means partnerships tend to be restricted to an operational level where coalition partners also find a strategic and tactical connection.

Progressive measures

Within the coalition, the six partners operate as independent service providers but with a single overall product towards ABN AMRO, the client. Partners complement and create synergy among each other. It is a form of service provision that has never been seen before, not at this scale, in any case. The creation and continuation of coherence between the various disciplines was the responsibility of a newly introduced ‘facilities connector’: an employee who streamlined the partners’ service provision into a single whole.

The facilities connector did not act as a project leader but as a process supervisor. The partnership is documented in a unique partnership agreement that describes the how and why of the FM Coalition.

Multi-faceted connection

It’s a multi-faceted connection. A receptionist can check the toilets in-between duties if extra help is required. The storage room for materials is shared. Materials and resources are collectively purchased from the partner who offers the best purchase conditions. Training for hospitality and safety, for instance, is organised centrally. Cleaners help out their catering colleagues with clearing the buffets. Starting the day together provides an insight into peak times. There will be a shared ‘cultural passport’ for all employees, setting out standards and values, etcetera, etcetera.

Each of the coalition partners has further integrated the circular concept into its own area of expertise. Inspired by each other’s enthusiasm, this resulted in increasingly progressive measures; in the circular concept world, boundaries are there to be pushed back. Giving people with poor employment prospects a job at the pavilion also fits in with the circular reasoning of ‘everything is used’.

Merijn van den Bergh: ‘You could see the enthusiasm among the other coalition partners. Many of them wanted to go even further than ABN AMRO but we have to deal with the operational side of things as well. This means you have to make choices all the time: if we start turning the circular economy button, how will it affect the operation? Or guest satisfaction?’

The circular concept is also a breakthrough for the ‘the wackier, the better’ philosophy in the audiovisual world

AVEX’ role as a coalition partner

AVEX has been ABN AMRO’s preferred partner for audiovisual services for 25 years now. So how do you fit in audiovisual resources and services in circular business operations? ‘That’s actually quite a tricky question’, says René Schaddelee, director. ‘Of course, as a business, we’ve been working on sustainability for some time now. How do you keep waste streams to a minimum? How do you prevent equipment from consuming too much energy? Circular business practice takes it one step further.’

Talking to suppliers

AVEX has the advantage of having been ISO-certified for 15 years and as such, it is alert to the environmental burden. Also, it then transpired there were more possibilities than initially anticipated. ‘A lot of the projection screens we use come in cardboard boxes and polystyrene foam. We’ve got a container full of that, every week. Projector lamps contain hazardous substances. I’m not saying we won’t use those suppliers anymore but we will talk to them: perhaps the screens can be packaged differently or maybe there’s an alternative way to make that lamp? We met with big suppliers to come up with smart solutions within the circular model. We discussed all the components to find out if they are environmentally-friendly enough.’

Equipment does not always offer the solution and in the case of Circl, AVEX found it in a different business model, pay-per-use. ‘Instead of ABN AMRO investing in equipment and disposing of it after an x amount of years, we continue to be the owners. We make sure it is disposed of responsibly or we look at the options of reusing it.’ The basic systems are also less comprehensive. If there’s an event at Circl that requires more technology, AVEX’ hire department efficiently provides the equipment as and when required.

A more basic approach

The circular concept is also a breakthrough for the ‘the wackier, the better’ philosophy in the audiovisual world, he says. ‘In some areas, we’ve taken a step back. Keep things basic. This is a world of gadgets in which the best-looking device still isn’t beautiful enough. More money is spent on that, especially when the economy is doing well. But do we really need an 80 or 90-inch screen that consumes a lot of energy?’ That basic approach certainly is not at the expense of the impact, René assures us. ‘Another solution may look a bit more luxurious but within the circular context of Circl, it won’t look out of place.’