‘The CO2 Performance Ladder puts sustainability on the map’

Sustainability is a hot topic for most organisations. For this, businesses develop policies and ambitions after which they are implemented in daily operations. However, the translation of sustainability policies to practices leaves room for improvement. Thus concludes Niels van Geenhuizen, Global Sustainable Solutions Leader at Arcadis. “The CO2 Performance Ladder allows us to put sustainability on the map. Now it’s time to follow up with actions and turn sustainability into business.”

Pioneer of sustainability

As Global Sustainable Solutions Leader at Arcadis, Van Geenhuizen is mostly responsible for that which requires improvement in practice, namely the implementation of sustainability. “I find that sustainability is too much centered around persons”, says Van Geenhuizen. “When the frontrunner or pioneer of sustainability is no longer available within a project, it is often that sustainability has to be built up again from the start. There are organisations with great policies on sustainability that implement the CO2 Performance Ladder. However, most policies lack the required actions. Therefore, I seek opportunities to make projects more sustainable. I try to convince my colleagues to become more proactive when it comes to sustainability. On the one hand, it means that we assist our clients in translating sustainability policies into practices and on the other hand, it means stimulating bottom-up initiatives to act more sustainably.”

The consultancy and design agency has the mission to improve the quality of the living environment. The sustainability policy of Arcadis is subject to three themes in which the organisation has the most impact, namely business management, society and sustainable solutions in projects. “We are working on sustainability projects, but it is much more interesting to see how we can improve upon projects that would otherwise cause a negative impact on the environment. This is where we ask ourselves the question: How can we help our clients to be more sustainable in what they do?”, says Van Geenhuizen. As an example, the Global Sustainable Solutions Leader speaks of a road in the Dutch city of Amersfoort, which Arcadis specifically designs to be low in carbon emissions.

Another example is the project Knooppunt Hoevelaken, wherein Arcadis works alongside construction concern BAM and Van Oord in the Combination A1|28. In this project, the organisations work towards improving the traffic flow. Next to that, the consortium aimed at improving the accessibility and quality of the infrastructure. “There needs to be a pioneer in sustainability and I think this should be the role for Arcadis”, concludes Van Geenhuizen. “If the client is not concerned about sustainability, then we should be. If the client requires us to score a ten on sustainability, we should aim at scoring an eleven. We challenge our clients continuously to go about their business in a better and more sustainable way. This is not possible in every situation, but it is something worth striving for.”

The CO2 Performance Ladder at Arcadis

Arcadis is the first major engineering agency that acquired the highest level of the CO2 Performance Ladder according to the Handbook 3.0 in 2015. At the beginning of the implementation of the Ladder within Arcadis, the organisation had the ambition to reduce 40 percent of its carbon emissions in 2020 compared to 2010. As a measurable objective, Arcadis aimed at reducing at least 30 percent of its carbon emissions by 2020. “The goal of reducing 30 percent of CO2 emissions was only set for scope 1 and scope 2 of our carbon emissions. These are emissions directly caused by our buildings among other things and emissions indirectly caused by the generation of purchased and used electricity and heat. Soon we realized that it did not take us long to achieve 30 percent reduction of carbon emissions on scope 1 and 2”, says Van Geenhuizen. “After achieving the objective, I communicated to the management team that while we were on schedule, we have to work harder and strengthen our ambitions. Therefore, we decided to include scope 3 in our objective to reduce CO2 as well. Scope 3 involves carbon emissions that are indirectly caused by for instance business transport and air traffic. And what has this resulted into? Arcadis has set itself a measurable objective to reduce 40 percent of its CO2 emissions by 2020. The 40 percent reduction of carbon emissions is no longer an ambition, but it has actually become an objective. We are one year ahead of our schedule and have almost reduced 30 percent of our carbon emissions in 2017. Next to that, our initiatives on sustainability with the help of the CO2 Performance Ladder have led to costs savings of approximately 1 million euro’s per year.”

Geenhuizen: “Sustainability is business. If you continuously focus on it, work towards it and make it explicit, sustainability can really generate revenues. For this reason, I have always positively ‘misused’ the CO2 Performance Ladder. We do not use the Ladder as a trigger or push to act upon sustainability policies, because we focus on our own definition of sustainability that works for our business. Our policies and ambitions on sustainability adhere to the CO2 Performance Ladder, but they also adhere to the requirements of other comparable instruments. We adjust our story here and there, but it does not make sense for us to take simple measures that can generate environmental gains in the shortest possible term, only to adhere to certain requirements. My advice to other organisations that implement the Ladder is therefore to look beyond now and tomorrow. The CO2 Performance Ladder will also set higher standards in the future and certification on sustainability will not become more simplified. Thus, contemplate on the effects of your actions in the long run and do not focus on how to adhere to a minimum requirement today by taking simple measures.”

Making sustainability commercially attractive

According to the Global Sustainable Solutions Leader of Arcadis, the CO2 Performance Ladder contributes to the acceleration of the transition towards sustainability. “By means of the award advantage that companies can receive on their registrations in tenders, the Ladder makes sustainability commercially attractive. Most of all the element of competition can lead to change, because everybody wants to be the best in their field. It is marvelous when an organisation acquires the highest level of the Ladder, receives award advantage and a fictitious discount on their registration and wins the tender. That is why the CO2 Performance Ladder works. Moreover, implementation of the Ladder leads to a uniform language to request sustainability within projects. This too brings advantages.”

To other organisations that are considering to implement the CO2 Performance Ladder, Van Geenhuizen advices to definitely do so. “Make the connection between your own strategy on sustainability and the CO2 Performance Ladder. Combine those two elements and work towards it. Do not slowly acquire the highest level of the Ladder, but work with speed. I notice some organisations struggling to acquire the higher levels of the management instrument, but the Ladder is specifically designed for organisations to strengthen their ambitions and to strive for continuous improvement. Therefore, set higher standards for your organisation at the very beginning in order to receive the advantages.”