The very first hotel in Europe that no longer emits CO2

Taco van der Meer is an entrepreneur pur sang. A multi-entrepreneur, so to speak. The hotel The Albus and the accompanying Senses restaurant are thriving businesses in the beating heart of Amsterdam. In addition, he also owns numerous other catering companies, invests in start-up companies, and was a board member of the Amsterdam department of KHN for 9 years.

Taco is not an ordinary businessman. To him the environmental aspect takes precedence in much of what he decides. That also radiates from the hotel. The Albus is the first hotel in Europe to emit no CO2: no gas is used, nothing, nada. How green does he want to go?

In the lobby of The Albus we open our conversation about grease traps. The fat warrior in him comes up: “I know that if you start a restaurant these days, you have to have a fat separator, that’s a legal obligation.”

Since the very start of the Vetstrijder campaign, Taco himself has been a Vetstrijder. “As far as I can remember, I have never had control over whether or not I have a grease trap. We have always had one, it has never been an issue. But I think it is the entrepreneur’s own responsibility to make sure you have one. ”

Have you ever had problems in terms of blockages? “Yes, but that was not the part of the sewer to which the grease trap is connected.” (laughs). That has more to do with the hotel part, and not with the restaurant, because these are two different systems. For example, the drain pipes are much thicker in the hotel area. The hotel is now 20 years old. After 10-15 years in a tube down in the basement, the drain (from high to low) has turned out to be just too little so that the dirt can accumulate. We also had to replace this piece. You can already achieve a lot by consistently cleaning the drain pipes, simply with water and baking soda.”

The kitchen area of ​​the accompanying Senses restaurant is cleaned every evening with a degreaser. The passage from the kitchen to the grease separator is very short: the grease separator is almost directly under the kitchen. In addition, all kitchen appliances, such as the dishwasher, are connected to it. The grease separator is emptied and maintained regularly. This is also necessary, otherwise it will lose its effect and there is a chance that it will overflow: The fat hardens and the float can no longer move. “We have a periodic maintenance contract with a collector, we also do this for my other company in Almere. The grease trap is much larger there than here. Everything is pumped out and cleaned under high pressure. ”

By consistently cleaning the drain pipes, simply with water and baking soda, you can already achieve a lot

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“Grease traps can be built underground, but grease traps are also available in freestanding versions, which can be placed on the floor. So if you as an entrepreneur believe that it is good for the environment and you want to contribute to it, then you make that investment too. But also for yourself: Of course you want to avoid blockages. ”

A hand in hand story

Taco has a holistic view of grease trap policies. Moreover, he has his own idea of ​​how it can be done differently from the government. “I would suggest that the person who manages the sewer builds in those grease traps,” he says. “The catering industry is only part of the whole fat story. A catering business in itself produces more fat than a normal household, but 20 households produce more fat than 1 restaurant, ”he illustrates. “We have our grease separator as a catering business, but all those individual households don’t. How can you ensure that all those individual households do something? Not by installing a grease trap in every house, of course. It would be easier if the municipality placed grease traps just in front of the public sewage system, where all household connection points come together and that they are emptied regularly.”

The entrepreneur goes on to illustrate: “Take an apartment building with a hundred apartments, for example: if a central grease trap were to be connected to which all those apartments are connected, you would already prevent a lot of grease from entering the sewer. And financially this may not be a bad thing either.”

He already has an answer about who has to pay the bill for this: “We all pay with taxes. We pay sewage charges on water consumption. If this reduces maintenance costs because grease traps are created that are pumped out regularly, then you only have a win-win situation. Then you have less fat that goes into the sewer, and therefore less blockages, less maintenance and less costs. New grease traps can be financed with these lower costs. I think something like that would only work positively. ”

He believes that the municipality should think differently and not point the finger at the catering industry: “We are only a small part of all the fat that goes into the sewer.” Taco says.

The green pioneer of the hotel sector

And is it a hassle to have a grease trap? “It’s all not so bad. Look, as an entrepreneur you have to want it yourself. You must want to contribute to the environment. And that has not only to do with grease traps, ”he says.

While the municipality of Amsterdam has the stated ambition to be completely natural gas-free by 2050, Taco is already well ahead with The Albus: “We are the first hotel in Europe that no longer produces CO2. Nothing happens anymore on gas. In The hotel everything runs on electricity: heating, cooling, hot water,… everything. And on green electricity of course! And you want that as an entrepreneur, you want to contribute to the environment, that’s where it actually starts. If you see it as a burden as an entrepreneur, you find it annoying, then the simplest solution is already a nuisance. You don’t want that, and you shouldn’t invest in that. But if you believe in a better environment, maybe not now for us because it doesn’t have an immediate effect, but may only affect the generation after you. You have to do it for that. If you are convinced of that, there will never be any problems.”

If you see it as a burden from an entrepreneur perspective and you find it annoying, then the simplest solution is already a nuisance.

Support from the municipality?

The City of Amsterdam is now fully committed to sustainable new construction: “Where I live, new-build homes are no longer connected to gas, and it is no longer allowed. Everything is connected to electricity or district heating.”

Do you feel supported as an entrepreneur by the city? “Depends on where you sit. Here in the center, within the ring of canals, it took an awful long time before I got a permit for my installation. The center of Amsterdam is World Heritage and protected. In our case we use air cooling. Since the metro’s north-south connection passes here, I am not allowed to sink water because of the risk of subsidence in the tunnel. But air cooling also involves a lot of space. Normally something like that gets on a roof. ” knows van der Meer.

But in the center of Amsterdam you can not put anything on your roof. He has several buildings next to each other in the street, one of which is a lot lower. Putting that air-cooled installation on top and then sealing the front and back would have been a great solution. But that was not allowed at all.

45,000 euros is a lot of money. For a hotel of this size, 75 rooms, it is still possible, but small businesses can never get it done.

What then ultimately was the solution? “We already had a technical room on the top floor. We cut out the roof and built a watertight box in it on the sides for air circulation, and placed the units in it, ”said Taco. “We managed to install air cooling, but indoors. It cost us an extra 45,000 euros!”

Is that annoying? “Yes, I find that annoying. But I get it, if there were units on every roof in Amsterdam, then that is not a nice view. But my solution to install on a roof that is a lot lower and that can be closed looking like it is an “attic” would not affect the aesthetic aspect. However, they did not want to do that, so it cost me a lot of extra money, ”he continues. “45,000 euros is a lot of money. For a hotel of this size, 75 rooms in size, it is still possible to cough up, but small companies could never get it done. ”

I wondered if his customers are paying attention to that, to his sustainable efforts. “It is a very small group who pay attention. For the average customer, the location is important, and the number of stars. I have been a Green Key Hotel of the highest rating, Gold Certificate for a long time. And luckily there are a lot of other hoteliers who are also affiliated with Green Key. However, this is not a decisive selling point to our customers. We used it would be, and it was mentioned on the front page of our website. But we have left it out because we notice that it is not clicked. Now there is a small mention at the bottom of the website. As I said, it is a very small number of customers who are interested in that.”

Next ambition: tackling plastic

Do you think you can go a step further in the environmental story in the future? “We are looking for solutions to reduce plastic within our company. To give an example: you can now replace a straw in your cocktail with an alternative made from vegetable material. ”

That is very ambitious. “Look, it’s about what matters to you.” he responds. “Making money is not a primary goal for me, but an outcome of good entrepreneurship. I became a hospitality entrepreneur to deliver a top product and experience to my guests. I want our guests, regardless of whether to stay overnight or just come and eat in the restaurant, the moment they walk out, say wow, it was great. That’s what I want to do. And if I can do this in a way that I can make a positive contribution to the environment, that is a bonus. That is my other motivation to do this.”

He concludes: “And if I do this very well, it is busy in the restaurant and it is also busy in the hotel. And then I will only start making money at the end. And with the money we earn, we can then reinvest.”

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