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Province of Gelderland: The climate problem requires more than green energy

14-03-2019

Province of Gelderland: The climate problem requires more than green energy

As the first Dutch province with a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder, the province of Gelderland aims to become carbon neutral, climate neutral and waste free by the year 2030. The province knows that more efforts are required to achieve these ambitious goals than solely tackling the energy streams of their buildings. With the help of the CO2 Performance Ladder, Gelderland expects to not only accelerate their transition to sustainability, but also to come up with concrete solutions that will be accessible and applicable in all layers of the organisation.

On Wednesday the 13th of February, Gelderland obtained a certificate on level 3 of the CO2 Performance Ladder. For the Foundation of Climate Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO), owner and administrator of the CO2 Performance Ladder, the certificate award ceremony was a great opportunity to ask the province about its experiences and ambitions in reducing CO2 emissions with the help of the Ladder. SKAO spoke with Margareta Rajkowski, member of the board of directors of Gelderland, and Els Martijn, external advisor of Firm of the Future, project leader of sustainability for the internal organisation.

Gelderland is the first province in the Netherlands with a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder. How did you make this achievement possible?

Rajkowski: We are extremely proud of this achievement! It was the request of our board members to obtain a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder for our organisation. When it comes to sustainability and CO2 reduction within our organisation, I have seen nothing but plenty of support and enthusiasm. The province aims to accelerate the transition to a carbon neutral and climate neutral organisation. A certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder is therefore a logical step, because it provides much needed structure in our plans to reduce CO2 .

Martijn: The province has been working for a long time on plans to make the internal organisation more sustainable. To make this possible, we mapped out the carbon emissions of the entire organisation and the factors and energy streams that influence the amount of CO2 emitted. Since 2014 we keep track of our carbon emissions and energy streams for which we publish reports every two years. In 2018 we managed to structure all the data we have collected on carbon emissions and energy streams into a Climate Plan for the internal organisation.

Thanks to the CO2 Performance Ladder, we have now expanded our Climate Plan by broadening our focus and tackling more than just the energy streams, because that is too limited. Sustainability is about CO2 and energy, but it also concerns subjects such as waste management. We now know exactly how much waste the organisation produces and how much CO2 is emitted, not just in the organisation, but specifically in our activities and projects. When our board members requested a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder, it became easier for us to obtain the certificate at an accelerated pace, because all the ground work had been done before. All the necessary data was available, because we have previously used the data to pinpoint our biggest challenge in climate mitigation.

And what is the biggest challenge for Gelderland to mitigate climate change?

Rajkowski: We want to share our knowledge and experience on the CO2 Performance Ladder with our entire supply chain. Therefore, we will request sustainability and carbon reduction methods in all our purchasing and procurement activities. Not only will this be done for large scale infrastructure projects, it will also be applied in the purchase of office supplies, hiring external organisations and the purchase of IT products. Therein lies the biggest challenge for Gelderland, because we notice that the market is oftentimes not yet ready to adhere to our requests in sustainability and CO2 reduction. The question is then how far we can go in requesting sustainability to our suppliers. We want to have sufficient offers in our purchasing and procurement activities and we want to be able to go the extra mile when it comes to sustainability. However, we also want to offer more organisations the opportunity to collaborate with us. On the one hand, we want to stimulate suppliers and other organisations we work with to do more with sustainability and on the other hand, we must also accept what businesses can handle at the moment and the limitations they are faced with. This is why we need to continuously think about our sustainability policy and be sensible about both current market developments as well as our own ambitions to become more sustainable.

When for example, a company we work with is not certified on the CO2 Performance Ladder, then it does not have to mean that the company is not sustainable. The company can also choose to not obtain a certificate on the Ladder. However, when a company is certified on the CO2 Performance Ladder, then they can demonstrate that they are sustainable and it will be more promising for us as well as the company to collaborate.

Martijn: We not only work with large corporations that can demonstrate sustainability by means of a certificate on the Ladder. We also work with smaller enterprises in our supply chain. These smaller companies cannot be forced to obtain a certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder, but what we can do is think along with them on how they can make their activities more sustainable by reducing carbon emissions.

To enable this, we are developing a so-called Social Return approach, but specifically designed to reduce carbon emissions and enhance sustainable practices. The existing Social Return approach contains a clause in which contractors are required to invest 5 percent of the contract price in social projects. We want to develop something similar, but directed to investments that contribute to climate mitigation. We want to help different organisations turn their sustainable policies into actions and focus on possibilities. Many organisations might not yet be far ahead in their ambitions for sustainability, but that does not mean that we should not request our contractors and suppliers to conduct business more sustainably and responsibly. If we would do that, we would not set the right example or send out the right message. So instead of waiting until organisations are ready to take the next step in sustainability, we want to proactively approach different business parties to collaborate with us to achieve more.

Thinking in opportunities and possibilities. What are the opportunities for Gelderland to achieve the greatest amount of CO2 reduction?

Rajkowski: Our provincial office building in the Dutch city of Arnhem has been officially reopened two years ago after major renovation work. The new building is now connected with the renovated building. Our building is now completely removed from the gas connection for heating, except for cooking, because the building still uses gas for cooking.

When it comes to sustainability and CO2 reduction, I see plenty of opportunities to go about it in a sensible manner. What I mean by that, is that we carefully consider which measures we can take right this very moment to achieve the greatest amount of carbon reduction and cost savings and which measures we should take in a later stadium, because we want to take current and future developments of sustainable innovations into account in our decisions. I believe that many techniques will be developed that can be applied at a later stadium, because it will lead to more carbon reductions compared to when we would implement them right away.

Martijn: It comes down to balance. We have renewed our buildings and we can implement even more measures to reduce carbon emissions in our buildings, but in this scenario, we want to make sensible estimations and increase our return on investments. For this reason, we see more opportunities in encouraging our employees to make the transition to sustainability along with us, because our employees make use of all our facilities. This too leads to CO2 emissions. In our Climate Plan, this subject is thoroughly explored as a matter of awareness. We want to completely focus on raising awareness on sustainability among our employees. An example that demonstrates this notion, is our investment in electric vehicles for our employees to travel from the office to business meetings. We noticed that it was not quite as easy for many of our employees to transit from driving a car with a diesel engine to driving an electric car. They had many practical considerations, such as charging the electric vehicles. For this reason, we provided an assistant to enable them in the process of driving an electric car. When an employee decides to make use of the electric cars, they will be assisted in all their questions and considerations to arrive safely from point A to B. This way, we managed to remove a roadblock that our employees experienced in driving electric vehicles and we enabled them to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Rajkowski: We could implement all these measures to reduce carbon emissions, but as an employer, we must also encourage and involve our employees to take ownership of these measures. Oftentimes, it is not about convincing employees to conduct sustainable practices, because many people know that driving an electric car is better for the environment than driving a car on fossil fuels. It is also about the practical side of CO2 reduction measures. We aim to optimally facilitate our employees therein.

A final advice to government institutions that also aim to structurally reduce their carbon emissions?

Martijn: What I find very important to notify is that the climate problem requires more than enabling the transition to green energy. The CO2 Performance Ladder helps organisations to focus on other important aspects of climate change, next to energy. This is extremely important for organisations in every business sector. It is not enough to focus on purchasing green energy and taking your buildings off the gas connection. Climate change also requires us to think about subjects closer to us, such as the reuse of materials and becoming more conscious in handling waste, energy and fuels. The system of the Ladder provides many perspectives for us as an organisation to have a broader view on the climate problem and come up with concrete solutions that are relevant for the different layers of our organisation.

Collaborate with your employees. You do not make a difference in CO2 reduction by only making your buildings more energy efficient, but also by means of behavioral change and consumption. How people act in society and go about their business, therein lies the key to tackle the climate problem which we all face.