Regardless of what you think, the Ladder works

Construction companies certified for the CO2- Performance ladder achieve an annual 3.2 percent reduction in CO2. Very remarkable, given how the national average has CO2 emissions actually increasing. Half of the energy-saving measures taken by these constructors are a direct consequence of the sustainability tool providing an award advantage. This is the conclusion of research performed by dr. Martijn Rietbergen. De Cobouw followed up on this with an article.

Construction machinery was replaced much sooner, A and B label company vehicles were added to the fleet and sustainable asphalt became the preferred option. Despite these concrete sustainable measures, in the past year, Mourik Infra pulled in just five extra assignments as a result of the CO2-ladder. Sustainability manager Cora de Groot: "Thats not a whole lot, and it doesnt really compare to the time and effort we are putting into this." The ladder, an idea launched by ProRail eight years ago, has also made its way to other industries in the last half decade. The maximum 10 percent discount at tenders results in virtually all construction companies quickly making their way up the ladder. Many SMEs are stuck at step 3, reachable by making the organisation fully sustainable. Larger construction companies often collaborate with suppliers and other chain partners and quickly find themselves at step 5. Reaching the highest step of the ladder will demonstrably have one emit over 3% less CO2 per annum. Now that plenty of companies have reached that top level, extra green ambitions are hard to come by. Some parties within the construction industry therefore suggest to just remove the ladder and come up with something new. The days of it being a distinctive feature for a company have all but vanished. Parties often fail to reach agreement about implementing a new step, or about stricter control on how the rules are adhered to. The mandatory annual audit is the only real last resort. This cancels out any further greening and parties are left content at being passive. Many clients usually only ask for the certificate and barely ever raise the bar at a project level. The requirements for step 4 and 5 were increased last year and carbon footprints of suppliers now also have to be handed over. The question remains if a sixth step will solve anything. Has the ladder’s effect worn off?


"The lack of any real ambition is a definite concern", Martijn Rietbergen acknowledges, who recently obtained his doctorate at Utrecht University with research on the CO2 phenomenon. He mapped out the actual effects the ladder has produced. "In construction, emissions are mostly about mobility. Cars and materials, in nearly all cases, are responsible for more than half of a constructors carbon footprint. So thats worth looking at the most."


Award advantages

For the first time, a scientific link has been established between the award advantage and the concrete measures taken by construction companies. Rietberg noticed that one third to half of the measures taken by constructors are a direct consequence of the award advantage offered by the ladder. Because of the ladder, company awareness about CO2 reduction has increased 2.5 fold. Theres no one who doubts the ladders success. In recent years, the number of market participants on the ladder has increased from zero to over 700, 600 of which belonging to SME. Over 50 clients use the ladder as a quality criterion for tenders, with municipalities, provinces and water boards catching up. Rietbergen: "I was surprised to see that the ladder actually yields a 3.2 percent CO2 reduction per year. Thats nearly 10 percent in three years." A percentage that far exceeds the national average, which is stuck at 1,5% per year. "That difference can be attributed in full to the ladder." Rietbergen started by examining CO2 footprints and comparing the performances of over 50 constructors between 2010 and 2013. Based on these comparisons, Van Oord and Van Eesteren seem to perform the best, unless one takes a closer look, the PhD student offers as a nuance. "The examined years correspond to a setback in production and thats why those companies achieved those levels of CO2 reduction. It makes more sense to look at the achieved reduction per workspace or per euro of revenue."


Business operations

Some companies, like Beelen and G.P Groot, even saw an increase in emissions, although mainly due to extra projects and increased production levels. Rietbergen therefore concluded that its impossible to rank the best performing constructors when it comes to CO2 reduction. "All of these companies perform relatively well and are on step 3 or 5 of the ladder for a reason. Implementing the ladder has a big effect on their business operations. "The possible award advantage is huge, and that keeps you focused", Ronald van Oeveren acknowledges, director of Strukton Rail. As the first point of contact for CSR, he is confident that the ladder caused a mind switch across all levels. “Regardless of what you think of the ladder, it works. Prior to it, we barely concerned ourselves with CO2 emissions." Since 2013, Strukton has continued reducing its emissions by another one fifth, down to some 13.000 tonnes per year. And all of their lease cars have received a downgrade in size. The company also distributed train tickets to their lease drivers, with the amount of train-related kilometres per years still increasing. One special measure is the self-signalling short-circuit lance, which uses an app to turn the rail on and off from a distance. "It saves costs and its much safer." Its often a double-edged sword anyway. CO2 reducing measures tend to also be cost reducing, acting as an added incentive. Other measures include green energy, large machines, the recycling of materials/ballast and as of last month, the consistent purchase of CEMIII-cement sleepers that store the blast furnace slags. Van Oeveren: "Using multiple smaller machines to work on the rail results in 35% more CO2 output than using large maintenance machines. TUDelft verified this in their experiments. ProRail could reduce emissions even further by rewarding this per project in the tender phase."


Step 6

Van Oeveren doesnt particularly want a step 6, but he is a proponent of improving supervision. "Its still too easy for companies to hide behind a paper reality. A reality that doesnt correspond to real life at all. Thats still one area where we can make some quick progress. Sustainability manager Cora de Groot of Mourik Infra recognises the risks of a paper tiger and the increasing lack of having a distinctive feature for tenders. She has noticed that many clients show no real interest beyond asking for the certificate and they seem to care little for concrete measures being taken. At Mourik, 80% of the footprint is linked to mobility. Thats why the company now only purchases A and B label company cars and a number of construction machines have been put into early retirement for more efficient replacements. "Liebherr ranks relatively well." The ambition is to reduce emissions between 2010 and 2020 by 20 percent. Anno 2016 we rank around -17 percent with a yearly emission of 9.105 tonnes. De Groot tries to avoid a discussion about the ladder being future-proof or not, but would be glad to see it returning to being a distinctive feature for tenders, which is currently not the case with all constructors being at step 5.


Catching up

Nella Kamstra, who works for Jan Kuipers Nunspeet - steel constructions, facade elements and street furniture - has witnessed the distinctive feature of the ladder disappear at a rapid rate. The VKAM-coordinator regrets how ProRail is the only party who works with an award advantage and that other government clients barely make use of sustainable purchasing practices. That said, the supplier sees it as a massive improvement to now have more sustainable company processes and 54,1 percent less carbon emissions. Jan Kuipers was one of the first SMEs in the Netherlands to reach step 5 by making their fleet more efficient, switching to wind power and heat their office with wood pellets. "We received a few extra projects in the first year, but our competitors were quick to catch up. Its been a few years since weve pulled in extra assignments, but not partaking in the ladder at all will definitely cost you."