After seven years of being in the board of the Foundation for Climate Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO), chairman Patrick Buck is retiring. The former director of projects at Dutch railway concern ProRail was involved at the very start of the CO2 Performance Ladder and recalls how it all began. Now that society and businesses realize the importance of sustainability and carbon emissions reduction, the former director sees a great future ahead for the Ladder as the ultimate CO2 management system of the Netherlands.
As a director of projects at ProRail, Buck was mainly responsible for everything that the railway concern had to build or renovate, such as train station buildings in various cities. Before he started as a director at ProRail, Buck was responsible for the Betuwe route, a railway of 172 kilometers that is specifically designed for freight transport. This railway takes freight trains from the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam to Germany within two hours without stops. An impressive, yet controversial project, Buck recalls. “The Betuwe route is not meant for passenger trains, which led to protests from residents living near the areas where the railway would be localized. The local residents were fearful that the railway would cause nuisance”, he says. “Eventually the project became a success, because we spent a great amount of time and care to prevent the nuisance and to maintain a healthy living environment. Sustainability played a central role therein.”
Making sustainability concrete
According to the former director, sustainability has always played an important role in his career. As a young student of civil engineering at the Technical University of Delft back in the ‘70’s, Buck learnt about the effects of water pollution. “Acid rain and the pollution of rivers, because many chemical companies would dump large amounts of their toxic waste in the surface water. These were the greatest environmental issues at the time. Due to pollution of the rivers, the water temperature began to rise. During my studies I had to calculate the effects of the temperature rise on the rivers. If the companies would continue to dump their toxic waste on the surface waters, the river Rhine would boil up in 2013 and completely evaporate by 2020. Fortunately, the companies realized that they could no longer carry on that way and effective measures were taken to protect the environment.”
“The same attitude is now noticeably arising in today’s society and businesses”, Buck continues. “We realize that we can no longer continue our wasteful ways if we want future generations to live a full life. That is why instruments such as the CO2 Performance Ladder are necessary to concretize what we will do to ignite change.”
The basic principles of the CO2 Performance Ladder
The CO2 Performance Ladder gained recognition when it was announced that all procurements in the Netherlands has to be 100 percent sustainable by 2020. The bar was set at an Olympic height, Buck recalls. As the second largest commissioning party in the Netherlands, ProRail had therefore decided to implement sustainability in its tenders. But how can sustainability be implemented in the tender trajectories and eventually be practiced upon? That was the big question. “At ProRail, we realized that we would have to set up different requirements for the materials we purchase, such as steel, concrete and diesel. Our contractors would have to show that these materials are purchased sustainably and for each material we would require some sort of evidence that the material is produced in a manner that is environmentally friendly. This naturally leads to an administrative burden”, the former ProRail director explains.
“At that moment, we decided that we have to implement sustainability in a different way. We wanted to develop a smart system that does not burden organizations with unnecessary administrative tasks just to show that they are working toward sustainability. We wanted organizations to have their own say in what it means to be sustainable in their sector and to let their efforts be evaluated by independent institutions. These evaluations should subsequently function as evidence that shows how ambitious the company is in its efforts towards sustainability. And so the basic principle of the Ladder was developed.”
Moreover, the system must reward frontrunners in sustainability. The more an organization makes an effort at sustainability in its projects and other activities, the greater reward it should receive in the tendering procedure. “This principle translates to the award advantage that certified organizations can receive once they obtain a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder. Rewarding frontrunners is the second basic principle of the Ladder. With both principles in mind, ProRail has developed the CO2 Performance Ladder and implemented the instrument in its tenders. We noticed that the market was very much interested to work with the management system. Not just the infrastructure sector, but also other sectors showed their interest.”
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Setting the right example
Not long after the introduction of the CO2 Performance Ladder in the railway sector, other commissioning parties saw the added value of the instrument to be implemented in other sectors. “The idea was to let an independent institution further develop the instrument. At that point, ProRail was introduced to the HIER Klimaatbureau, which eventually became the secretariat of the Foundation for Climate Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO). And now, seven years later, the Ladder is in hands of SKAO and more than 850 certificates have been obtained by organizations in many different sectors”, says Buck.
“We did not expect that the CO2 Performance Ladder would be so well received by other business sectors. Initially we thought that the system would be exclusively implemented in the railway sector. However, Rijkswaterstaat, the executive organization of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water state, decided to implement the Ladder in their tenders as well. Rijkswaterstaat is the largest commissioning party of the Netherlands and ProRail the second largest. When both commissioning parties implement the Ladder in their tenders and set the right example, then the rest will follow. And that is exactly what happened.”
Buck mentions the Gelderse Energieakkoord, an agreement between government institutions in the Dutch province of Gelderland to implement the CO2 Performance Ladder on a large scale. “This is a great milestone. If all government institutions in the Netherlands obtain a certificate on the Ladder and implement the system in procurements, then it would create an enormous boost for CO2 reduction. Another great milestone for the CO2 Performance Ladder is the amount of business sectors that make use of the system”, the former director says. Next to the construction and infrastructure sector, other organizations that have obtained a certificate on the Ladder are active in the sectors of ICT, waste management and greenery.
Keep it accessible
Due to the increasing importance of sustainability in society and in business, Buck sees opportunities for the CO2 Performance Ladder to contribute in the transition towards a climate neutral world. In order for this to happen, the Ladder must overcome certain challenges. “The CO2 Performance Ladder has to remain accessible for all types of organizations, large or small. This means that the system must make use of clear language that is understood by everyone”, the former director says. “There will also be new laws and regulations on conducting business in a sustainable fashion. It would be great if organizations can adhere to these laws by obtaining a certificate on the Ladder.”
“Therefore the management system has to remain up to date and be aligned to the most recent developments, such as the circular economy for example. The Ladder can contribute therein as well. If I look at the enthusiasm of all the people behind the CO2 Performance Ladder and the energy they put into it, then I see a great future ahead for the Ladder to become the CO2 management instrument of the Netherlands.”