Open Business Day puts green entrepreneurs in the spotlight

Summary

Businesses in Flanders and Brussels will throw open their doors this Sunday – yes, on a Sunday! – for the annual event that lets visitors peek behind the scenes

Hotpots and Greenspots

This year’s Open Bedrijvendag, or Open Business Day, focuses on initiatives that combine an entrepreneurial approach with a sustainable attitude. On 6 October, everyone is invited, for example, to climb the Solar Hill in Zelzate, near Ghent, where a polluted industrial site was transformed into one of the largest solar panel parks in the Benelux.

Since 1991, a large and diverse number of Flemish companies have opened their doors to the public on the first Sunday of October. Sponsored by Flemish chamber of commerce Voka, Open Business Day has become a surprisingly popular annual event, with families showing a keen interest in peeking behind the scenes.

While this year’s event if not limited to sustainably minded companies, there is a special focus on these hotspots – or “Greenspots” – of climate consciousness.

Solar Hill

The province of East Flanders is hosting guided tours on the Zonneberg, or Solar Hill, in Zelzate. This was a gypsum landfill site until around 10 years ago, when the company went bankrupt.

“It was a neglected, polluted area that threatened serious contamination of the environment,” says Daan Temmerman, nature education expert at the province of East Flanders.

Public partners joined forces with companies to create the Terranova Solar consortium to clean up the site and convert it into a solar panel park. Solar Hill now supplies renewable energy to about 4,000 households. The grass on the green slopes is “maintained” in a particularly natural way – by a flock of sheep.

On Sunday, visitors will learn all about the site’s history and about different kinds of renewable energy during an hour-long tour. The view from the hill on Ghent’s canal zone is already spectacular, but children will also get binoculars to spot energy producers on the horizon, such as windmills and heating networks.

Last year, East Flanders also collaborated with Terranova Solar and the Zonneberg to launch the hands-on education centre Fabriek Energiek, at the foot of Solar Hill. “Through games and playful experiments – like a solar shower, for instance – kids can get acquainted with different applications of renewable energy sources,” explains Temmerman.

On Open Business Day, Fabriek Energiek will host many activities, such as making fruit juice with cycle power, exploring a solar car made by local students, a virtual tour around a sustainable business park, cycling through a virtual landscape with windmills and learning all about the use of biomass to generate green energy. A food truck will provide regional specialities like cuberdons and mattentaarten.

Bike to hotspots

Another option in Open Business Day’s Greenspot section is a visit to supermarket chain Lidl’s biggest distribution centre in Sint-Niklaas. Lidl is the official partner of Greenspot and is looking to highlight its ambition to become one of the most sustainable companies in the retail sector.

Visitors can also see how goods are sorted in the Spullenhulp charity shop in Anderlecht or check out BikeValley Incubator in Beringen, an innovation centre for the cycling industry. BikeValley is making its wind tunnel part of the tour, with one person getting the chance to participate in an actual test.

Open Business Day also has geographic hotspots in every province to allow visitors to take in several places close to each other. Tour & Taxis in Brussels has some choice options, including PermaFungi, an innovative project that uses coffee grounds to grow mushrooms, the Brussels Circus School and the urban farm Parckfarm T&T. Businesses assembled in the geographic hotspots are even connected by bike routes.

There are of course also interesting options outside the hotspots, like the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, where one can experience the feeling of cutting raw diamonds and learn to estimate how much they are worth. The Flemish Parliament in Brussels is opening its doors as well, so you can see where the decisions of the brand-new government will be discussed and decrees be approved.

Open Bedrijvendag, 6 October, across Flanders and Brussels

Photos: Daan Temmerman of East Flanders’ nature education department leads a school trip on Solar Hill
©Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen