Why Metabolic’s 150-strong alumni community is a powerful tool for change

Published on the 12th of July 2017

For Metabolic’s recent five year celebrations, we hosted our first alumni reunion party to reconnect former and current interns and staff. Metabolic Marketing and Communications Intern Hanna Dijkstra looks at how the reunion was not only a chance to learn about what our alumni have been up to, but was also a chance to collectively brainstorm ways to utilize the network of alumni talent as a tool for change.

Metabolic has grown in the past five years from a handful of people working out of a small, crowded apartment to around 25 employees in an office in Amsterdam Noord and two spin-offs. But the wider network has grown even more profoundly: more than 150 people have now passed through Metabolic, mainly due to the large number of student and early-career internships Metabolic offers. These interns have interdisciplinary skills and possess a wealth of creativity, as well as a desire to learn and grow. At Metabolic, interns get hands-on experience in tackling sustainability problems, be it through high-impact consultancy research, or prototyping new clean tech or software tools.

Although Metabolic is based in Amsterdam, our team is very international, and we have alumni living in over 40 countries on every continent aside from Antarctica (maybe soon!). Well represented Metabolic nationalities are American, German, British and French, however there have also been people from Indonesia, China and Colombia. Interns come to Metabolic from a variety of backgrounds, including in ecology, engineering, computing and humanities.

Interns tend to leave Metabolic with even greater enthusiasm for driving changes in sustainability. A total of 25 of our alumni have gone on to start their own companies. At the recent Alumni reunion, we invited some of the previous interns to talk about their post-metabolic life. Amongst the updates were inspiring stories of two companies that echo our ambitions and have been moving fast to achieve their goals. WattNow is reimagining how we use energy in decentralized contexts, and Sustainer Homes provides sustainable and stackable housing.


WattNow was formed in October 2014 to help festival and events understand and optimize their energy supply and demand, with the mission to increase efficiency, reduce energy use, and save money on energy costs. Jim van Oosten, co-founder of WattNow, was a mobile energy resources intern at Metabolic before starting the company. At Metabolic he worked on developing the mobile energy trailer, and learned about designing and building new energy systems, knowledge that has helped him in his own company. WattNow has had success in reducing energy consumption at festivals – up to 40% per festival- through data gathering and analysis and subsequent energy plans. WattNow plans to scale up and increase their technological abilities, and it will be exciting to see their continued progress in remodeling the energy-event system.

Sustainer Homes

Sustainer Homes came to life in 2014 with the goal of disrupting the housing market by building off-grid houses out of older shipping containers. As Nick de Haas explained at the alumni reunion, though the idea was inspiring and the team enthusiastic, the company faced challenges in making the houses work practically. A second challenge came after Sustainer Homes managed the technical difficulties and then realized, even with a working model, nobody wanted to buy the houses. Taking this in stride, Sustainer Homes switched gears away from shipping containers, and now they are successfully selling environmentally friendly, easy to assemble wooden homes that can be stacked and structured in a variety of patterns. The company now has 25 staff and a steady stream of customers, including a development at Wilgenwold that will have 63 Sustainer Homes in an integrated eco community.

A Diverse Set of Activities

Ahead of our reunion, we sent out a survey to ask what all our interns were up to. The results were inspiring in their diversity and missions. One alumnus is working in Madagascar providing alternative energy systems with the company Mada Green Power. The project builds hybrid energy systems both on- and off-grid, using solar, biomass and diesel. The company is helping fill the energy gap in Madagascar, where access to energy is intermittent and often very polluting.

Another intern switched hemispheres after leaving Metabolic, and now works at Australia’s first community-owned wind farm. The project is a milestone for renewable energy in Australia, and has also revitalized the region by providing 600 jobs and powering 37,000 homes.

Other Metabolic interns have gone on to work as journalists, writing about topics such as sustainable food production and agroecology. Others are participating in food and clothing recycling and reuse programs in Africa. Here in the Netherlands, interns now work for exciting initiatives such as Ecocoin (an alternative currency for environmental value), IDH (the sustainable trade initiative) and Climate-KIC (the EU’s public-private climate innovation partnership).

Even though most interns move on to do other things, they remain part of Metabolic’s growing community. As the network expands, we aim to create a system that provides a place to connect, share knowledge, and engage in discussion, so that the type of passionate knowledge exchange that we saw at our reunion can happen on a daily basis.

Our reunion was a great chance to find out exactly what our alumni want this network to look like and outline our thoughts for how the network can be a force for scaling up powerful ideas across continents. We are excited to be developing a platform that will allow every alumni to share ideas, collaborate on challenges, develop new skills, share what works, or  simply find a friendly face in a strange city.

For a great snapshot of the intern experience at Metabolic, make sure to read Theo Xenakis’ blog on his time here. As Theo says, ‘everyone at Metabolic has one dominant thing in common: being passionate about doing impactful work. Everyone offers their knowledge and skills to help each other grow and the company develop.’ As a company founded with a mission to build a fundamentally sustainable economy, we see the power of human connections – all motivated and inspired by a common goal – as a key way to get there.

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