The Maeslant barrier protects 1 million people in South Holland from the sea, as well as the Port of Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest seaport. It consists of two steel doors, each 240 meters long, that can sink down and turn away into the docks in the shores. The doors only close when necessary, and remain open most of the time so ships can access the Port of Rotterdam.
Innovation is as natural to the Dutch as gills to a fish.
Just as fish need gills to breathe, the Dutch have had to innovate simply to survive. In the early days of the Netherlands 800 years ago, innovation prompted Dutch people to collaborate with one another to build dikes to keep the North Sea from flooding their farms and homes. With two-thirds of the Netherlands at or below sea level, they had to find smart solutions to keep out the water.
And once they figured out how to keep out the sea, they learned to harness the power of the wind to pump out the remaining water and create dry land on which a growing population could live and farm.
But as good as dikes are at containing water, they cannot contain innovation, so Dutch innovation soon evolved beyond mere survival and spread into fields like the creative industries, security, and agrifood and horticulture.
In fact, the Netherlands has contributed a large number of revolutionizing inventions and scientific discoveries ranging from the first saw mill to LED lights and Wi-Fi. With strong profiles in electronic dance music, art, design, gaming, fashion, and architecture, Dutch creative industries have gained international acclaim.
As the Dutch people spread out farther onto the global stage, they saw the importance of promoting international law, human rights, and the rule of law. Through the years, the Netherlands has become known for its innovative approach toward combatting crime and countering violent extremism and terrorism.
Whether it’s creating masterful artwork in the 17th century, inventing gadgets that keep people connected to the digital world today, or finding new ways to grow food to feed the world tomorrow, Dutch people innovate.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that innovation is in our DNA. We’re always willing to try new things, to find a better way to do something,” said the Netherlands Ambassador to the US Henne Schuwer. “And if something doesn’t work, we’ll keep trying until we find something that does. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the Netherlands is the father of innovation.”
Living with water
In the last 800 years, the Dutch have succeeded in finding innovative solutions to water-related problems that threaten communities, economic capital, and quality of life. A series of measures help keep Dutch cities safe and attractive, including multi-functional levees, flood-resilient buildings, and green infrastructure.
The Netherlands and American regions at risk of flooding and storm surge actively exchange expertise on how to properly manage water for protection, taking into account the impact of a changing climate.
That means the Netherlands’ strategy has evolved from one that keeps out water to learning how to live with water and harness its power. The Room for the River project, one of the biggest mitigation projects in the country, served as inspiration for communities along the Mississippi River and in California.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy hit the Atlantic Coast in 2012, Dutch water management experts responded to help New Orleans, New York and New Jersey rebuild more resilient communities.
Dutch companies and experts are also partnering with their American counterparts to find ways to make coastal regions in states like Florida and Connecticut safer.
“We believe our work is never done,” said Ambassador Schuwer. “We might find a solution that solves a problem for a hundred or so years, but new problems or challenges always arise. I’m confident the Dutch have the experience and ability to innovate and meet these challenges.”
Feeding a growing population
Innovation has also sprouted in other areas of daily life, such as food.
While the Netherlands is one of the smallest countries in the European Union, it is big in the agrifood and horticulture sectors. More than half of the Netherlands’ surface area of almost 9.9 million acres is used for farming, making the Netherlands the world’s second largest agricultural exporter behind only the United States.
The Netherlands produces high-quality, sustainable food, and has developed innovative agricultural and horticultural solutions that contribute to a healthier diet, a more secure food chain, and a robust floriculture market.
The Dutch greenhouse industry has an astonishing logistical network, able to deliver vegetables to the New York streets on the same day they were harvested in the Netherlands. Dutch growing, monitoring and processing techniques are now popular export products on their own.
The Netherlands developed innovations that make food easy to cook while lowering the amount of sugar, sodium and fat, helping to combat diabetes and obesity. The Dutch also know how to give food superior texture and flavor so nutritional foods are more attractive to eat.
The Netherlands is an expert in offering solutions for sustainable livestock practices and developing smart methods with animal welfare in mind. And the Dutch food sector has created smart conservation and packaging techniques to keep food fresh while implementing scanning methods that quickly detect toxins and bacteria to keep food safe from the fields to the table.
“Because we focus so heavily on innovation, we’ve been able to build the infrastructure that has allowed us to become world-renown traders,” said Ambassador Schuwer. “What could we trade if we did not innovate? That’s how a country as small as the Netherlands, just 17 million people, can have such a large impact on the world as a whole. Innovation.”