High Tech Campus Eindhoven is, as the name suggests, a high-tech R&D campus. But to a surprising extent, this sprawling 1-kilometer-square research park really is a park, with green space, a lake and a surprising variety of animals – 150 different species, not counting the sheep that mow the grass several times a year.
For the 12,000 people who work here, an escape into nature is right outside their office door, and ecologist Nuno Curado has come up with a way to make it a more fun and enlightening experience. “People need motivation to do things … to not just go out for a walk outside but on a mini-safari around the place where you’re working.”
Nuno, a native of Portugal, created the Wild Breaks series of nature walks to get people out of their offices and into nature to revive and re-energize them and to help them be more productive by taking a real break. When he leads a group around High Tech Campus Eindhoven, the biggest compliment he gets is: “I didn’t think about work once.”
The Wild Breaks on Campus is a monthly hour-long exploration of the diversity of its fauna and flora; on how they live in symbiosis with humans or on why wildlife is attracted to cities in the winter. “If we manage our cities properly, it’s a nice place for coexistence between humans and wildlife,” Nuno says. On this, the largest high-tech R&D Campus in Europe, it’s not uncommon to see falcons and buzzards hunting along the main roads. During a winter walk, Nuno explained why flocks of sea birds on the lake gravitate to warmer cities where there’s more food during cold weather.
With lots of trees, quiet green spaces and natural cover, High Tech Campus Eindhoven is a haven for birds, some of which nest on the ground amid the Campus’s sizeable field of heather. In addition to ducks, geese and other waterfowl, the Netherlands’ native birds are here, including the green woodpecker, common starlings and the European robin.
The goal of Wild Breaks is to lure the endangered homo sapien corporatus – stressed, over-worked and losing focus – into the “wilds” of the campus, if only for an hour or so. It’s a break that benefits everyone – employees and employers. “We all know this,” Nuno says. “We’ve all gone to lunch with friends and colleagues, and we ended up talking about work 90 percent of the time. We don’t really disconnect.”
Wild Breaks is the way to help people de-stress and reboot. “There’s a lot of proven benefits to spending time in nature. And I think it improves our well-being and our vitality, either at work or at home – but in this case, at work,” Nuno says. The biologist plans to take the concept to other parts of Eindhoven, including its parks, but it’s fitting that Wild Breaks is starting here because the High Tech Campus inspired Nuno to create the series.
“The idea of taking work breaks in nature actually came to me the first time I came here because I saw a lot of people going for walks at lunch time,” he said. “I thought it would be amazing if, instead of just going for a walk and having nature as a landscape, they would actually go on a short wildlife tour during their lunch break, looking for animals and plants and getting to know the campus a bit more. “So, it’s been nice doing the Wild Breaks in the place I actually got the idea from.”
Wild Breaks fits neatly into the ecological management of the Campus and the goal to be the most sustainable campus in Europe by 2025. Nuno has taken more than 45 people on the walks since last August.
"I joined the HTC Wild Breaks last December, and even though a lot of wildlife escaped the cold Dutch winter, Nuno had a lot to talk about,” says Eline Kolken. With binoculars, they could zoom in on a lot of birds, “and for every one of them, Nuno had a story. We learned a lot about bees as well; for instance, how they tune the gender of their eggs. Amazing! Next to Nuno's enthusiasm, it was also really nice to meet fellow wildlife lovers. I will definitely be back in spring or summer!''
Nuno’s on his own long voyage of discovery. This is his second stint living in the Netherlands, with his wife Sabrina having lived here for 10 years and Nuno five. Sabrina, a biologist and plant specialist, did her PhD in plant chemistry and spectroscopy in the Netherlands at Wageningen University. When they returned to Portugal, they found her skills “didn’t fit the job market there,” Nuno said.
So, they returned to the Netherlands with their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter after Sabrina landed a job on campus with Signify, the lighting spin-off from Philips, two and a half years ago. Oddly, despite all the time both had spent in the Netherlands, neither had been to Eindhoven until Sabrina got her position at Signify. They’d heard Eindhoven described as “a brown city,” dull and ugly, Nuno said. Instead, they found a lively city ... a quiet, family-friendly place to raise their daughter and a city with an amazing amount of green space, including city parks and the Groote Heide south of Eindhoven.
Helping others appreciate the city, and High Tech Campus Eindhoven in particular, has turned Nuno into a “solopreneur,” with the goal of persuading every company on campus to send employees on Wild Breaks, a complement to their other wellness programs such as the gym and sports field.
HTCE management is deeply dedicated to the ecological management of the Campus, Nuno notes, from beehives to preserving reeds on the lakes for shelter to creating bat caves. So, it’s not just greenery for greenery’s sake. “They actually have the ecological perspective in mind. All of that makes the Campus nice, not just from an aesthetics point of view, but also from an ecological point of view, which for me as an ecologist is quite attractive.”
His hope is that other campuses and urban areas see the example High Tech Campus is setting and replicate that model. “That’s very important, considering the visibility High Tech Campus has.”
Because people will say: “If these high-tech guys are doing it, you know, we can do it, too.”