Sustainable bicycle lanes made from fibers from recycled toilet paper, repurposed old tires within low-carbon asphalt mixtures and recycled asphalt roads. For the Dutch construction company Roelofs, sustainability is no longer just a thought; the company is certified on the highest level of the CO2 Performance Ladder. However, the challenge of sustainability for Roelofs lies in preserving CO2 reduction despite economic growth.
Roelofs focuses on road construction, sand extraction, planning, developing and engineering. The company further aims to work on area development, mobility, construction management, maintenance and raw materials (extraction? Or what). In 2009, Roelofs begun exploring sustainability within the business. “At the beginning of our sustainable business operations, we focused on how we can make our business activities more efficient and less polluting”, tells Ernstjan Spijker, coordinator of Quality, Labor and Environment at Roelofs. “How can we preserve the environment while building roads, extracting raw materials and maintaining infrastructure? We have consequently followed up on this question by adjusting our activities. This led us to implement the CO2 Performance Ladder in 2010.”
‘The easiest road to emissions reduction is by tackling the obvious’
A tender from the Dutch municipality Apeldoorn, in which the ladder was implemented to provide contractors with award advantages, had triggered Roelofs to obtain a certificate. “At that time, we entered the tendering process with an ambition to acquire level 3 of the CO2 Performance Ladder. Our actual ambitions were higher, which led us to obtain a certificate on the highest level of the management system not long after our entry to the tender from Apeldoorn municipality. “Commissioning parties that implement the ladder in their procurement policies, such as the municipality of Apeldoorn, stimulate us to aim higher when it comes to reducing carbon emissions”, says Spijker.
After obtaining its first certificate on the ladder, Roelofs immediately focused its efforts on cutting down carbon emissions. “When it comes to diminishing our carbon footprint, the easiest way is to tackle aspects of the business that obviously cause the greatest amount of emissions. Immediately after we obtained our first certificate on the ladder, we managed to slash our carbon emissions by 15 percent in 2014, compared to 2009. This was made possible by applying different measures to cut back emissions all at once. Examples of these measures include electric vehicles, green energy and energy saving measures in all our buildings, the coordinator explained.
“In our experience, it is quite easy to reduce CO2 emissions at a first glance”, says Stephen Haverkamp, managing director of Roelofs. “The challenge is however, to preserve CO2 reduction and to become even more ambitious therein. To make this possible, we have made adjustments to our business policies. The importance to remain ambitious when it comes to cutting back emissions is enforced by organizational growth. When the organization becomes larger and more people are employed, it means that more leasing cars will be used. Simple measurements to reduce carbon emissions will no longer be sufficient if the company keeps on emitting more CO2 because of economic growth. For this reason, we notice that we need to become even more ambitious to continuously reduce our CO2 emissions.”
A climate neutral organization
Roelofs seeks opportunities and solutions in the circular economy to remain ambitious in CO2 reduction and sustainability. In 2016, the company took part in a project that develops low-carbon asphalt from waste materials. This led to the development of a new asphalt type that contains a fiber component extracted from recycled toilet paper. These fibers are added to the asphalt production process to enhance the quality of the material and to increase the lifespan of the asphalt road. The first bicycle lane made from this asphalt mixture was developed in 2016. Next to the recycling of waste materials, Roelofs is working on an asphalt mixture based on rubber from recycled tires. The so-called RubberPave asphalt has noise canceling qualities and a longer lifespan compared to traditional asphalt. At this moment, Roelofs is testing the quality of the asphalt mixture in different settings.
These circular economy measures have made it possible for Roelofs to win the first circular tender of the Netherlands in 2017. The tender requires Roelofs to renovate a district in the city of Apeldoorn which is in keeping with the principles of circular economy. For this project, Roelofs plans to build infrastructure that consist of reused and reusable materials. Moreover, the company aims to develop business models that ensure the maintenance of the infrastructure is executed with the least possible impact on the environment, while increasing the lifespan of the constructions. Haverkamp: “For Roelofs, it does not end at CO2 reduction. We aim to become a climate neutral organization in 2030. This is a higher ambition that requires us to implement sustainable employability. We want our building materials to be sustainable, but our employees as well.” With sustainable employability, Roelofs wants to make sure that the work satisfaction and wellbeing of their employees are upheld. This enables the employees to sustain their functions at Roelofs.
Keeping up with technology
“Our efforts to become climate neutral is based on seven pillars, which will be focused upon in the coming years. These pillars are circular economy, biodiversity, smart technology, mobility, energy, lifelong education, and efficient labor. The pillars form our framework to conduct business sustainably, because it provides us with a much broader view than the CO2 Performance Ladder alone”, Haverkamp continues. The director concludes that there are many similarities between the CO2 Performance Ladder and the ambitions that Roelofs has set to become climate neutral.
However, sustainability does not merely concern the end results of projects. The environmental impact that the company has during different project phases is equally important. “In one of our projects, we are testing different electrical machinery to reduce our fuel use, which also leads to a reduction of CO2”, Spijker stated. Furthermore, Roelofs is working on generating green electricity at construction sites and installing solar panels for sand extraction.
“Our business activities heavily depend on fossil fuels. This leads to the greatest amount of carbon emissions. For this reason, we are running various test to see which of the available technology is aligned with both our business activities and our ambitions to cut back CO2”, says Haverkamp. “When we talk about sustainability, then we cannot make it happen without technology and innovation. We notice that there is a great deal of market demand for sustainability. As an organization, we want to become a frontrunner in the application of CO2 reduction measures.”