Eco-Clubbing Dutch Club to Recycle Dancers' Energy

Wind power is great. But what about all that energy you expend on the dance floor on Saturday night? A next-generation nightclub wants to use that energy to keep the strobes lit and the bass bumping.
Von Rachel Nolan

First it was your mom nagging you to turn off the lights. Then came the brick in the toilet to save water, the long-life light bulbs and carbon credits to ease your conscience during those polluting cross-continent flights.

Soon you can add a night out clubbing to your bag of green tricks. A new technology developed by the environmental innovation lab Enviu takes advantage of the vast amount of energy expended by revellers as they throw themselves around the dance floor. And its debut is right around the corner. On September 2, Iggy Pop will be performing at Club Watt in Rotterdam, Holland. And those on the dance floor will play their part in keeping the lights lit and the bass thumping.

"When you dance, you generate energy by the shaking of the ground," Stef van Dongen, director of environmental innovation lab Enviu, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "What we do, very simply, is to capture the movement of dancing people and transform it into energy."

The club will be among the first in the world to give back some of what dancers leave on the floor -- and it is part of a larger effort by Enviu subsidiary Sustainable Dance Club (SDC) to introduce environmental technology to an industry that has traditionally been a voracious consumer of electricity. Your average nightclub swallows up 150 times the amount of power normal households do. Club Watt plans to use 30 percent less.

'You Have to Do More'

Some of that savings is to come from a technology known as electromagnetic induction. The system, developed by SDC together with scientists at the Technical University of Delft and architects from a Dutch firm called Döll, involves a network of springs and magnets that convert downward movement mechanically into energy.

Club Watt, of course, doesn't want its floor to be too bouncy -- otherwise its dancers might be thrown off balance. But the floor will have a give of one centimeter, enough to generate 5 to 10 watts of electricity per dancer. SDC estimates the eco-club will require about 2,000 people moving at once to keep the place bright.

The move isn't one born purely of ecological altruism. Even as environmentalists are better known for tree-hugging asceticism than night club hedonism, the Dutch are -- like most Europeans these days -- anxious to do their part for the environment. A survey conducted by SDC last year found that fully 66 percent of Dutch clubbers would be willing to dig deeper into their wallets for a green night out. Enviu -- which is also helping the port in Rotterdam, Europe's largest, reduce its emissions -- could do worse than starting in the clubbing capital of the Netherlands. Over 10,000 people go out in the city each weekend.

And Club Watt is just the beginning. The Sustainable Dance Club concept has also set out a list of rules that clubs must adhere to if they want to earn the SDC label. To meet SDC standards, for example, a club must reduce energy consumption by at least 30 percent and waste production by 50 percent.

"One club wants a green roof, so maybe we'll put solar panels up there, or grow things, put up little windmills, who knows," said van Dongen. "Doing something is better than doing nothing, but to earn the label 'sustainable dance club' you have to do more."

At Club Watt, for example, the dance floor is just one of the energy saving novelties being introduced. LED lights will be used as will wind and solar power. The wine will be on tap to reduce bottle waste and drinks will be delivered in large, reusable containers. Even lost and found clothing will be re-used -- as insulation. Rainwater collected on the roof funnels into the club's plumbing system.

Hedonist Environmentalist -- Oxymoron?

Club Watt isn't the first eco-club on the block. Billing itself as the "world's first ecological nightclub," Club Surya opened in London on July 10 with organic, fair trade alcohol, a bar constructed of used cell phones and other eco trimmings, including a small, power-generating dance floor. Its owner, a multimillionaire property developer who calls himself Dr. Earth, sports an all white suit and a shaved pate in homage to Austin Powers. But Dr. Earth, whose real name is Andrew Charalambous, has raised some green hackles -- not least in Rotterdam.

Charalambous spoke with SDC before going ahead with his own project. "Everyone is free to open an eco-club or dance club, the thing was that he was using our concept, and we didn't have a second conversation with him," SDC spokesperson Vera Verkooijen told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Club Watt is the first club that will meet the SDC's energy and waste reduction targets, she added.

Dr. Earth's brand of environmentalism has ruffled others, too. Club Surya waives its cover for those who bike, walk or take public transit to get there, but Charalambous was thrilled that clubbers flew in from Brazil for his opening. He says he planned to donate proceeds from Club Surya and his next project, a party island in Greece, to an environmental NGO called Friends of the Earth.

The group, though, isn't interested. "Telling people that they can save the world by flying to an island to party is a green con," said Friends of the Earth funding director Ruth Ruderham in a statement.

Friends of the Earth is lobbying for Charalambous to stop using its logo on his Web site and promotion materials -- precisely the attitude Charalambous considers incompatible with a sexy, saleable brand of environmentalism. "Gone are the days that you preach to people," he says. "That's the old guard, Greenpeace and people like that."

Young and Green

The new guard looks different. A whole other slew of human-powered products -- iPods, video games, and televisions -- are in the works these days. An Italian inventor, Lucien Gambarota, helped design gym equipment that captures human energy to power lights and TVs for Hong Kong workout center California Fitness. The studio invested $15,000 in 13 machines.

The problem, though, is that even if the machines were used 10 hours per day, they would only generate about $183 worth of electricity per year. Gambarota himself is quick to point out the limitations.

"Human power is on a totally different scale from solar or wind energy because of the modest amounts produced and the obvious fact that humans can't work out 24 hours per day," Gambarota told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He says, though, that harnessing human power is "more of a statement."

It's a point of view that the people from SDC can agree with. Gone are the days of environmentalism heavy on the Birkenstocks and tasteless tofu.

"We think that 21 to 35 year olds, the group that we focus on, are the next decision-makers in line," said van Dongen, himself only 32 years old. "So if we want to have a quick change, we have to focus on them.”

And what better way to get youth involved then to lure them into a club? But hold the tofu, and the ick factor. Club Watt is still working out the kinks in advance of its opening date. One plan, to collect clubbers' sweat to operate the toilets, proved impractical: it would take two days of energetic dancing to enable one flush.

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