Published: 29 March 2023

Involve and enthuse small businesses too

Steven Declerq



Belgium is the first country outside Dutch borders to deploy the CO2 Performance Ladder. Belgian stakeholders are currently busy experimenting in a pilot phase. What is involved in successful implementation of a procurement tool like the CO2 Performance Ladder? Steven Declercq of Embuild Flanders, trade association for the Belgian construction sector, shares his opinion with us.

“Sustainability and CO2 neutrality are prominent on the agenda in Belgium these days,” says Declercq. “That is undeniably where we are heading, also in the construction sector.” Declercq is an environmental law and environmental policy advisor at Embuild Flanders, which represents some 10,000 companies in the Belgian construction sector.

“In relation to the CO2 Performance Ladder, we mainly take on an educational role. We make the procurement instrument known to our supporters and inform them about it,” Declercq said. Last year, for instance, Embuild co-organised a webinar series on the Ladder, which attracted around 150 procurement authorities and contractors.

A promising instrument

Embuild Flanders itself first came into contact with the CO2 Performance Ladder through consultancy firm CO2Logic and ADEB-VBA (representing the largest construction companies in Belgium), which are chiefly responsible for the creation of the pilot phase in Belgium. “They wanted to bring the Ladder to wide attention among construction companies. We helped with that,” says Declercq.

“We embrace the CO2 Performance Ladder and see it as a promising tool to make sustainability an integral part of procurement”

“In addition, it can help companies calculate and map their own CO2 emissions. After all, that is the first threshold you have to cross but many companies still find that difficult.”

Pilot phase in Belgium

The pilot with the CO2 Performance Ladder is currently in full swing, with the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels governments on board. The Ladder was and is being used in twenty-five tenders, with companies certified on the CO2 Performance Ladder enjoying a (fictitious) award advantage. To ensure that Dutch companies do not have an advantage, a reward is only granted up to and including  level 3 on the Ladder during the pilot phase.

In addition, the pilot focusses on projects with a minimum value of EUR 5.5 million. This way, smaller companies are also taken into account. These simply have less time and money available than large companies to get certified on the CO2 Performance Ladder more quickly. To avoid this competitive advantage, the Ladder will initially only be experimented with for large projects, with a minimum value of 5.5 million euros. 

Declercq sees the pilot phase, and the strategic choices made within it, as a good development.

“It is important to slowly get familiar with this kind of instrument. To first learn lessons and identify possible pitfalls”

Engaging and enthusing small businesses

Declercq notices that the construction industry is interested in the CO2 Performance Ladder. At the same time, most construction companies in Belgium are taking a wait-and-see approach for the time being: “They are first waiting to see which way the wind blows. First, contracting parties have to fully embrace it and use it in tenders. Only then will you get companies excited about it.”

What else is needed to roll out the CO2 Performance Ladder more widely and successfully, including after the pilot phase? According to Declercq, in the next phase it is above all important to involve and enthuse small(er) companies: “Large companies have the overhead to get started with this kind of tool. And they employ people who are used to dealing with quality systems like the CO2 Performance Ladder.”

“For smaller construction companies, that’s less the case. They have much less time, fewer resources and people to work with this,” he continues. “Their first impression about this kind of instrument is therefore often that it mainly involves a lot of extra work and effort. It is therefore important to make the threshold for them as low as possible.”

Highlighting the benefits and success stories

But how do you do that? It may be an open door, but Declercq recommends implementing instruments like the CO2 Performance Ladder in the most customer-friendly way possible: “Keep it comprehensible. And perhaps more importantly: highlight the benefits. What’s in it for them? In the current energy crisis, for example, saving energy can be an important motive to start working with the CO2 Performance Ladder. After all, it makes you more aware of your energy consumption and puts you in a better position to pick low-hanging fruit in terms of energy saving.”

In addition, Declercq recommends sharing the stories of small companies that have already achieved certification on the CO2 Performance Ladder: “How did they do it? Did it take them a lot of time and effort? What has it brought them, in terms of energy savings and winning contracts?”

“Highlight those success stories, of small companies that are reaping the benefits. That way, you will also win others over”

It’s up to contracting parties

But ultimately it has to come from the contracting parties, Declercq expects. Companies simply need the incentive from tenders to get started. His advice to other countries that want to get started with the CO2 Performance Ladder: “Ultimately, the right people on the contracting side have to embrace it and take substantial steps in the right direction. Then it can start flying.”

The CO2 Performance Ladder in your country?

Interested in reducing carbon emissions in your country with the CO2 Performance Ladder? Get in touch to find out how the Ladder can be used in your organisation as sustainable procurement tool and CO2 management system.

Maud VastbinderGet in touch