Organisations will reduce more CO2, and faster. But when? And why does creating a new handbook take so much time? CCvD members Charlotte Pars, representative of ProRail, and Tijmen de Groot, project leader and representative of SKAO, answer these and other questions and reveal  some of the substantive changes we can expect.

When was it decided that there should be a new handbook?

Tijmen kicks off: 'At the end of 2021, we decided to work concretely towards Handbook 4.0. And even before that, during the development of Handbook 3.1, there were topics we knew we wanted to incorporate into handbook 4.0, such as the addition of greenhouse gases other than CO2. But actually, it was always certain that there would be a new handbook. That sounds a bit cryptic, but what I mean by that is that we will always keep developing the handbook. We will always look to connect to new developments and changes in the market.'

Why handbook 4.0 and not 3.2?

Charlotte: 'We want the CO2 Performance Ladder to make a difference. To do that, we need to at least move with the times, and preferably keep ahead of the times. We want the Ladder to maximise its contribution to solving the climate crisis, and that means we need  an even more ambitious handbook, with new components, to make this possible. Even though we are building on the solid foundation of Handbook 3.1, the new handbook is so different that we can  call it a 4.0 version.'

When can we expect the new handbook?

Tijmen: 'We are aiming for users to be able to start working with Handbook 4.0 in spring 2024. But that's not a hard deadline: our priority is that the handbook is of high quality and developed through a careful process. From decision to publication, the process of creating the new handbook will take two to three years.'

Why does developing a new handbook take so long?

Charlotte: 'The main reasons are that we do everything very carefully and it is a large project. The CCvD does not take decisions overnight and things are not pushed through. We also sometimes go back on a decision if there is reason to do so. There is still room to discuss it.' 'Everyone's opinion is heard and everyone is constructive,' also says Tijmen. 'To make the new handbook a success, it is extremely important that all stakeholders support it. That support is thanks to our careful approach.'

Tijmen: 'Another practical reason is that the people developing the handbook, our CCvD members, are doing this alongside their other work. We are also a fairly large group, because there are so many stakeholders. We meet five times a year. We don't have the luxury of seeing each other without limits and therefore time passes.'

What has to happen to create a new handbook? 

That turns out to be an extensive process. Charlotte: 'It started with preliminary work. We did good, solid research into what we and the parties we represent were satisfied with and what we wanted to change. Working groups delved into the main issues that emerged from all the input: ambition, scope 3 emissions* and monitoring.'

Making decisions followed. Tijmen: 'We started by answering questions such as: 'How do we ensure more ambition? How do we ensure control of all scope 3 emissions? How can better monitoring contribute to more CO2 reductions?' The preliminary work of the working groups helped the CCvD make these and more decisions.

Writing verifiable, readable texts

'The next step in the process is to implement all the decisions and write all the texts. This is what we are working on now,' Tijmen continues. As an example, he mentions the 'climate transition plan', which will be introduced in Handbook 4.0. 'We have decided that organisations should work towards net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, but preferably earlier. But how do we expect them to go about it? And how do the requirements differ by level?' Everything is written down in a unified way, so that the text is suitable for an auditor to review. 'And we also aim to make the handbook more readable,' says Charlotte.

The next step is to check everything the CCvD has thought up and written down again with their networks. 'The principles will remain the same , but it's possible that something might still change as a result,' Charlotte explains. 'We want to maintain support for the handbook throughout.'

Accreditation and landing

Tijmen: 'And when all that is complete, the evaluation by the Dutch Accreditation Council  (RvA) and the Belgian Accreditation Body (BELAC) will follow. These independent government bodies then assess whether our handbook is reliable and meets all quality requirements. If the handbook is found suitable for 'accreditation', i.e. declared to be reliable, then the text is fixed.'

Is that the final step? 'No, because then a range of activities follow to ensure that the handbook reaches the user properly, such as design and the development of practical tools,' says Tijmen. 'All in all, then, it's an extensive project that we want to carry out as carefully and well as possible. We want an ambitious handbook that is widely supported, easily applicable for users and verified by an independent institution.'

What substantive changes can we expect from handbook 4.0?

Charlotte: 'Handbook 3.1 was still partly about having the right intentions and showing that CO2 reduction is  important within the organisation. Handbook 4.0 is more result-oriented. As mentioned, in the new version we expect organisations to make a plan towards net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.' That more concrete results are expected can also be seen in the levels, Charlotte explains: 'The closer you get to 0 emissions, the faster you achieve that and the more  of the organisation you include, the higher you'll climb on the Ladder.' In addition, Handbook 4.0 also looks differently at the emissions in scope 1, 2 and 3. 'Organisations will soon have to focus on the largest source(s) of emissions, so they may well start working with scope 3 much earlier,' says Tijmen. Or with another greenhouse gas, because the inclusion of so-called 'non-CO2 greenhouse gases (expressed in CO2 equivalents)' in the footprint will soon no longer be optional, as is currently the case in Handbook 3.1, but mandatory.

Insight into CO2 emissions data

Another important aspect of  Handbook 4.0's focus on  results is data. 'We are creating a central place where organisations will collect data on their emissions,' says Tijmen, 'so that an organisation can see, for example, how its own CO2 emissions are developing, and how it scores compared to industry peers.' Charlotte continues: 'And for contracting authorities, it becomes clear what is being done on their own projects.' An additional advantage is that this allows a better analysis of the Ladder's impact.

Connection to existing standards

Furthermore, Handbook 4.0 seeks more connection with other standards and instruments. The Paris climate goals are taken into account, for instance, and we can expect (partial) exemptions when requirements of other standards are already met. Tijmen gives an example: 'For Handbook 4.0, an organisation has to show which legislation applies to it. There are also ISO standards that already require this, such as ISO  14001 and 50001. If the auditor has already tested that for that standard, the organisation does not have to demonstrate it again for the Ladder.'  Charlotte also mentions environmental cost indicators (ECI): 'The CO2 emissions shown by and ECI can also be included later for the calculation of your CO2 emissions in a project.'

Does it still make sense to certify for handbook 3.1 now?

'Yes,' Charlotte and Tijmen both agree. 'There are numerous advantages to not waiting for Handbook 4.0 and getting started with Handbook 3.1. Commissioning authorities ask for the CO2 Performance Ladder now , so you have to have a certificate anyway,' says Charlotte. 'Besides: organisations that already obtain a certificate are gaining experience with a CO2 management system. Certification for 3.1 is very good preparation for certification for 4.0.' So, are there any drawbacks to starting with 3.1? 'No worries,' reassures Tijmen. 'We provide a transition period appropriate to the gravrity of the changes. And organisations are also not doing unnecessary work if they start certifying for the Ladder with Handbook 3.1 now. In that sense, you can really see Handbook 4.0 as an extension of the efforts you are already making for Handbook 3.1.'

*scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions from a company. These emissions are a result of the company's operations, but come from sources that the company does not own or control.

>> This is the first article in a series of five articles on Handbook 4.0. In the following articles, we will look at the substantive changes in more detail. The next article will be about the 'climate transition plan'. Stay tuned!