We have made the unmeasurable measurable

Renkum is the first municipality in the Netherlands to hold a certificate for the CO2 Performance Ladder. SKAO spoke with Councillor Wendy Ruwhof and policy advisor Melanie Hutting about the green ‘treasures’. “CO2 reduction pays. That will win over even the biggest pessimist.”

As part of its mission to become an environmentally friendly local government, the council approached SKAO in 2014. Renkum had already gained some experience with the CO2 Performance Ladder in putting contracts out to tender. The time was right to get its own certificate. “When you are asking companies to get involved, it is only logical for you to get a certificate too,” Wendy Ruwhof says. In other words: Practice what you preach. The council aims for a 90% reduction by 2019 and zero CO2 emissions by 2040. Any greenhouse gasses produced will be compensated elsewhere. The council buys 100% Dutch-generated sustainable power.

That is quite a mission.

Wendy Ruwhof: “That is true, and being ‘climate neutral’ sounds rather abstract and many organisations who claim they run a sustainable operation often tell a rather vague story. We wanted a concrete story, show what you are really doing. Well, if we had only known. It was really, really difficult obtaining accurate data on our energy consumption. Did you know that nearly all local councils do not take measurements but simply estimate the amount of energy they use? Estimate. That means you can never prove that you are actually saving energy.

What contribution does the CO2 Performance Ladder make?

Wendy: ‘What’s great about the CO2 Performance Ladder is the insight it provides in consumption, and the steps you must take are very concrete. This allows us to substantiate what we do. The result of which is that in 18 months we have the unmeasurable measurable.”

Such as?

Wendy: ‘We installed smart meters. Digital energy meters that provide insight in energy consumption. We can see exactly how much energy we use for, for instance, street lighting. We also sorted the data on our energy consumption. It was a mess. One hell of a job.”

Melanie: ‘We did not have an Excel sheet with a convenient overview of our ‘energy guzzlers’. Another disadvantage: each buyer has their own portfolio. This makes one person responsible for street lighting, and another for pumping stations. So there is no systematically kept administration. To get an overview, we asked the power companies what our actual consumption was. Strangely enough, they couldn’t tell us. They could only make an estimate. In short, there was no way for us to check if our energy bills were accurate. Pure guess work. But the smart meters give us the exact data. Nowadays, we receive a lot of credit notes. And that’s something that councillors just love to see.”

Because ‘green’ equals greenbacks?

Wendy: “My colleague in the finance department was happy. I dare say that every local council that intends to climb the ladder will save money. So CO2 reductions not only serve the ‘green’ cause, but also bring in money. That will win over even the biggest pessimist.”

How do you inspire colleagues?

Wendy: “We appointed a number of colleagues as sustainability ambassadors. A group of motivated people from all levels of the organization. They make sure that colleagues become more aware of sustainability issues.”  

What problems did you encounter?

Melanie: “Setting the organizational boundary was really difficult. Which departments should be included in the certification? Renkum is a party to many authority agreements. So it cannot be compared to a company that looks to financial and operational authority.”

Please explain?

Wendy: ‘Nearly all local councils are party to at least 20 joint agreements that often cover a larger area than just the municipality. Quite often, you will only have limited authority. A good example is a safety region which includes a fire brigade, police force and ambulance service. Obviously, the council is included in that. These are services that you have to facilitate. So the CO2 footprint of an authority can sometimes be larger than the municipality. And an authority has its own executive. This is why we primarily looked at how much say we actually have. We must have real influence in a particular policy area.

What else is Renkum doing about sustainability?

Melanie: “Together with the region, we’ve put a contract out to tender for green energy. From 1 January 2018?, we switch over to green power. That will substantially reduce our CO2 emissions. We are also busy working on a tender to make all our lighting sustainable. In addition, we have taken a large number of measures affecting operational management.”

Wendy: “We are also running projects together with residents so they can make their districts more sustainable. For instance, sorted waste disposal. By 2020, 75% percent of Dutch households are to sort their waste before collection. We want to achieve that 75% as early as 2018. To this end, we have developed a new system in which: A, residual waste is less frequently collected and, B, a certain fee must be paid for it. And all recyclable waste flows are collected more frequently and free of charge. We already know that the sorting of paper has increased by 8% in just one month. And that is just one flow. This also applies to PMD (Plastic, Metal packaging and Drinks cartons). As a result, the volume of residual waste in the Renkum municipality has declined substantially.”

Wendy: ‘There is a lot of interest in sustainability in Renkum. We can tell from the many meetings we organize for residents. Ninety-eight percent of Renkum residents believe sorting waste is important. Best-case scenario? When an enthusiastic neighbour takes the lead, and manages to win over all his fellow residents.”

Melanie: “You can tell that people become even more enthusiastic when they hear there’s also something in it for them. Nobody installs solar panels on their roof just because they look so nice.”

Do you have tips for other councils?

Wendy and Melanie: “Make sure that you win over other departments. Appoint a group of ambassadors who were already keen on sustainability before. People who are really into it. That works better than one sustainability manager who has to ‘warm up” the whole organization by themselves.”