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Carbon6: From space to place – bringing the Earth Charter into practice

Nadine Huids is a member of the Earth Charter Young Leaders Programme, a year-long leadership programme where members serve as focal points of the Earth Charter Youth Network.  Nadine studied Built Environment and Architecture with a focus in cities and cultural heritage and works in the Netherlands as a Program Manager with the Walas team to develop vital and lively places for people to live. Below, find her reflection on how the project and place where she works, Carbon6, embodies Earth Charter principles.


Let me take you with me to work. Deep in the south of Holland, in the town of Heerlen, I enter the area of Carbon6. The early morning sun awakens and starts to lighten up the big vibrant complex. People walking, talking, rushing into their morning rituals as they start their day. The parking attendant guides all visitors to a parking spot. Passing by, the smiley gardener waves good morning while taking care of the fresh growing vegetables in the inner garden. Together with the greenery team they are cleaning the outdoor space. Inside, I am welcomed by the people at the service desk. They offer me my daily mail. I walk through the corridors. The creative entrepreneurs are starting up their workshops, business meetings are getting started, the smell of fresh coffee comes towards me. I’m ready to start my day. The technical service is getting ready to upgrade my office, housekeeping swarms through the building, the Urban Farmer feeds the trout on the other side building, the Popschool is setting up their drums to give music lessons. For some, this might sound like an extraordinary day. For me, it is a pleasure to walk through this building every day to work.

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City Farming. Photo Ton Toemen

What is the story behind this ordinary day? Heerlen had a flourishing coal mining industry until the sixties. After closing the monocultural industry, Heerlen faced challenges with decades of economic decline. The National Statistics Office came instead in 1965, to bring some employment to the region and built a 500,000 sq. ft complex. Eventually, after 44 years, when one of the largest employers decided to move to a new centre, the complex became vacant. The city had two options; demolish the old building or find a new meaning for the complex. Luckily it decided the second option.

Carbon6, the new name of the building, has been making big changes in Heerlen since 2012. It facilitates a great opportunity for the region, developing an ambitious vision to revitalize the vacant building and its site. The complex is now home to the largest creative cluster in Holland, including the region’s largest pop music school and artists in painting, glassworks and digital media. Arts and culture, start-up companies and social enterprises now have a place in the building. The Dutch National Mining Museum, also located at Carbon6, honours the proud history of the region. This museum is located in an 1897 mineshaft building, and is classified as one of UNESCO’s top-100 monuments.

The community has developed many successful initiatives. A total of 1200 people are currently employed and bring new dynamics to the area. But what does this story have to do with the Earth Charter? The vision of Carbon6 is guided by the Earth Charter, with two technical core elements as driver for the concept: Economy and ecology. Innovations for circular economy, green energy and urban farming are prototyped and implemented in the buildings to improve the sustainability of the complex and to incubate new businesses. By improving the building bit by bit, it is on its way to being carbon neutral. The project fosters a vital society and sustainable practices, and the financial situation has completely turned around.

carbon-6-gathering

By using the Earth Charter as an inspiration and a guideline, we can bring its principals into practice and offer a practical example to inspire others. Interested in more details? Have a look at walasconcepts.com and earthcharter.org.


Gerben van Straaten Founder and CEO of World of Walas is the visionary behind the concept EcoGrowth – Carbon6. Carbon6 in Heerlen is one initial project. Since 2012, Gerben leads international platforms for change in North America, Europe, China and Latin America.