Emissions to zero, reuse as much as possible and work greener and healthier. Those are Dura Vermeer’s sustainable ambitions in a nutshell. The construction company has been giving substance to these goals for years now and the sustainable achievements do not lie. From extensive use of electric equipment and experiments with bio-based materials to the construction of a 100 percent circular road.
Dura Vermeer is reaping the benefits of these sustainable efforts, notes KAM (Quality, Working Conditions and Environment) manager Theo Baggerman: “Sustainability is gaining more and more value in the market, especially in these times of energy transition, reduction of emissions such as CO2 and shortage of raw materials. If you are not a sustainable company, you won’t attract the new generation of professionals, for instance. They only want to work for sustainable companies. Of course, clients also have their sustainability goals. They are looking hard for builders who can help them achieve them.”
Independence and continuity are the main goals of family business Dura Vermeer. It is therefore important for Dura Vermeer to be constantly working on sustainability. The CO2 Performance Ladder has been helping the construction company with this for years, says Baggerman:
“The Ladder provides an insight into your own CO2 footprint, offers measures to reduce it and encourages cooperation with others”
“That really helped us, especially in the early stages.” Yet that contribution to sustainability was not the main reason for Dura Vermeer to be certified on the Ladder. That was the award advantage. “When railway manager ProRail first introduced the Ladder for the railway sector (where we also operate), we couldn’t miss that award advantage. Competition in the rail sector is simply too fierce. The fictitious discount was a must to win contracts and stay in the market.”
Benefits of the CO2 Performance Ladder
To date, Dura Vermeer is carrying out and executed a total of no less than 67 projects where the CO2 Performance Ladder was part of the tender. The construction company therefore knows the certification instrument extremely well and gradually discovered even more advantages it brings. Eldar Biro, sustainability advisor at Dura Vermeer: “For example, it also helps us to convince the internal organisation of the importance of sustainability. Because if sustainability is included as a requirement in tenders, it is also more likely to be budgeted for and contributes to innovation. It’s as simple as that.”
Companies seeking Ladder certification must also actively communicate the sustainable measures they are taking. Dura Vermeer is doing so energetically and that too has benefits, says Baggerman: “Partly as a result, we are seen and recognised in the market as a sustainable leader. That generates new work for us and makes us more attractive to young talent.”
“In addition, we inspire our construction chain and the rest of the industry to also take sustainable measures and innovate”
“This is important because we cannot do it alone,” he continues. “For example, if we say we want to switch to electric trucks, that is not convincing enough for suppliers to actually commit to it. But if the whole industry demands it, it becomes a different story. You need each other to convince partners and suppliers that there is a market for sustainability. The CO2 Performance Ladder gives an important push to actively publish about your sustainable ambitions and milestones.”
The CO2 Performance Ladder also improves cooperation with clients around sustainability. Biro: “We periodically sit down with clients to report on the CO2 Performance Ladder. That is an important input for us to discuss opportunities for further sustainability within the project. We like to talk to clients about more than just time and money, especially about sustainability. The CO2 Performance Ladder gives us that opportunity.”
Convincing contracting authorities
Contracting authorities are also increasingly open to this, Biro and Baggerman note. At the same time, there is still a world to be won there. “I see that as one of the biggest challenges we currently face,” says Biro. “Many clients know they have to start working with sustainability, but don’t know exactly how. If sustainability then comes with extra costs (which is often still the case), they are often still hesitant about it.”
Baggerman gives an example: “We recently started Urban Miner. That is a circular construction hub in the shadow of Rotterdam where we temporarily store used building materials and building components so that they can be reused. For example, there is now a bicycle bridge in fine condition there, which can be placed somewhere else in no time. But the biggest challenge appears to be finding a municipality that wants the bridge at all. They are often looking for a unique design or find a ‘second-hand’ cycle bridge a bit too challenging because of the differences between old and new. Think about lifespan and inspection reports, for example.
How does Dura Vermeer deal with this? “It’s about getting them enthusiastic and thinking along,” says Biro.
“Keep telling the sustainable story, keep emphasising the advantages and take clients to projects where it has already succeeded. Then you win them over”
It is also important to respond to the sustainable objectives clients have, Baggerman adds: “Find out what those objectives are and how you can contribute to them.”
Saving 1,000 tons of CO2
Fortunately, there are also plenty of clients these days who are leading the way, who are open to sustainability and who are driving it themselves, Biro emphasises. The city of Amsterdam is one such example. Dura Vermeer has been carrying out small road works and element paving for the municipality since 2019, within the Cooperation Agreement (SOK) Amsterdam. Within that cooperation agreement, Dura Vermeer can play its sustainable heart out. Various measures collectively already resulted in CO2 savings of more than 1,000 tons. Biro: “The municipality’s requirements in terms of sustainability and reuse were already high, but we went one level above .”
Within SOK Amsterdam, for instance, Dura Vermeer works exclusively with sustainable fuels and electric equipment. From articulated mops and wheel loaders to vibratory plates and dumpers. It also made use of an all-electric truck and mobile crane and employees also drive electric as much as possible.
A circular road was also constructed in Amsterdam. For the construction of this temporary road, next to the Johan Cruijff Arena, Circularpave was used. This is a 100 percent circular mixture from Dura Vermeer, consisting of recycled asphalt, secondary raw materials and recycled bitumen (from used roofing materials). Per ton of Circularpave, a CO2 reduction of over 57 kilos is achieved.
Challenges of electric vehicles
However, the above measures are not taken lightly. The use of electric equipment, for instance, brought several new challenges. In principle, diesel machines can run for 24 hours straight, whereas electric equipment needs to be recharged regularly. As a result, production can be lower, which has to be compensated for by smarter planning and logistics and the use of batteries. In addition, at some project sites there is no fixed power connection available, so Dura Vermeer has to work with mobile charging facilities. In addition, the construction company decided to start generating its own sustainable energy on building sites, using solar panels, wind turbines and the vehicle-to-load concept.
In terms of safety, electric equipment also poses challenges. Baggerman: “For example, the equipment makes much less noise, which can be dangerous. And some manual equipment pieces have become a lot heavier (because of the battery). At the start of each project, Dura Vermeer employees are therefore given extra explanation on how to use the new equipment.
But also consider the risk of fire: if an electric car’s battery catches fire, the entire car is dumped in a large bucket of water. This is because extinguishing is not possible with batteries. But how do you do that with heavy electrical construction equipment? You can’t just lift that into a tub of water. We are currently busy investigating that.”
So, in short there are challenges enough. But that is no reason not to work on sustainability, also given the challenging times we live in, argue Biro and Baggerman. The need and benefits are simply too great these days. “But it has to come from your own motivation,” Biro stresses. “Dura Vermeer reaps the benefits of sustainability, but that is not the only reason why we do it. We also have intrinsic motivation and pride in what we do. If you don’t have that, it’s not going to work.” For companies that do have the motivation, the CO2 Performance Ladder can be an excellent tool and big stick, Baggerman adds.
“So get in touch with companies that are already certified on the Ladder, get advice and experience exactly what it means in practice”