Five Questions on Sustainability with Wubbo Ockels


Wubbo Ockels was the first Dutch astronaut in 1984. His flight aboard space shuttle Challenger motivated him in propagating a sustainable futuristic view. He spreads this idea as professor at the Aerospace Engineering faculty of the Technical University (TU) Delft and via innovative transport and energy concepts. Well-known examples are the Nuna solar car, the energy-generating Laddermills, the Superbus and the Hydrokite, a combination of an airplane and a sailing boat.

What are good examples of sustainable entrepreneurship?

“Sustainable entrepreneurship means taking risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. A building company and a contractor have worked very hard on the construction of energy-neutral residencies in the Frisian town of Kollum. The first energy-neutral neighborhood has been built in Heerhugowaard, consisting of 1,500 homes with solar panels, wind turbines and a planted forest that compensates for the carbon emission. My Ecolutions company is working on a self-supporting sailing boat, together with two other companies. All of these projects show that a sustainable society is within reach.”

Wubbo Ockels

How has sustainable entrepreneurship taken shape within your organization?

“The TU fulfills an important role in the development of knowledge and skills to speed up the transition of energy. The young generation is enthusiastic and intelligent enough to create a better future. For this reason, the government really needs to invest more in research, development and in innovating the energy policy.”

Where should the responsibility for sustainability lie within an organization?

“Everyone at any level can contribute. The CEO has a clear position as the leader that determines the direction. People can also invent many initiatives locally. These can include very simple solutions, like decreasing the amount of fluorescent lighting in offices.”

What are realistic targets to set within an organization?

“The Netherlands could be 100 percent ‘clean’ in 2050. Targets differ, depending on the kind of organization. The above is nearly impossible for oil companies, as their shareholders demand huge profits from oil. Banks such as Triodos and Rabobank are important contributors, as they financially support sustainable energy initiatives. We must learn to make the right investments based on their present as well as on future values. Analytical software makes this return on investment measurable and predictable, and is therefore an important key to success.”

How sustainable are you in daily life?

“I sold my house in order to build our ‘Ecolution’ sailing boat, and we now live in a house with solar panels. I can get everywhere on my bicycle in Amsterdam. I do not think that you can solve energy problems by tightening one’s belt. You can, however, by creating new forms of transport and communication, and by dealing with nature more wisely. This also involves having a good time when doing so. Guitarist Jan Akkerman, for instance, performed a gig in 2007 in Groningen using energy produced by a kite. Because of the playfulness that is involved, initiatives like this get people to dream and actually act upon these dreams.”

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