Published: 04 June 2024

The CO2 Performance Ladder in Belgium: time for structural implementation


Belgium was the first country after the Netherlands to use the CO2 Performance Ladder. Between 2019 and 2023, 24 pilot projects in three regions were launched implementing the Ladder. The results of the pilot are positive among both participating companies and contracting authorities, and can be read in the report on this successful pilot period. Now that it’s time to map out the further integration and scaling-up of the system in Belgium, the various actors came together for a roundtable discussion.

Step towards a more sustainable construction sector

Construction companies praise the Ladder’s clarity and simplicity. Jan Van Steirteghem, Chief operating officer (COO) of construction company BESIX: “It is not overly complicated. That offers two advantages. First, the initial investment is easy to recoup. Secondly, you can spend more time on achieving the objective that the certificate aims at (namely carbon reduction), than you do on the administration of obtaining the certificate. That’s important, especially for the younger generation who really want to make an impact.”

In addition, the Ladder puts the topic of CO2 reduction on the map within the construction sector and among companies. “The Ladder provides focus, unlike all the other things that are coming our way, like the CSRD”, Van Steirteghem says. “We started in the Netherlands at level 3 and a year later we reached level 5. On our major infrastructure works, experts enthusiastically search for CO2 reduction opportunities on the worksites. For Brice Duchêne, responsible for environment and sustainable development at Duchêne, the Ladder provides a framework to develop an action plan. Philippe Goblet, Chief executive officer (CEO) of Duchêne, jumps in: “We stepped into this to bring down our carbon footprint. This is the example we want to set as a bigger player. After all, it is still going to take a lot of effort to make our colleagues aware of the importance of CO2 reduction. But those who use the Ladder are very positive about its ease of use.”

“We stepped into this to bring down our carbon footprint. This is the example we want to set as a bigger player.” – Philippe Goblet, CEO at Duchêne

Unburdening of contracting authorities

Initially, there was some reluctance among contracting authorities, but during the pilot period, the popularity of the CO2 Performance Ladder grew, resulting in wider acceptance and application. Integration into public procurement involves little extra work.

Dirk van Troyen, road measurement engineer at the Agency for Roads and Traffic (AWV), notes that it is easy to integrate the CO2 Performance Ladder into tender documents. “The clauses can be found online. It is not an additional cost and creates little extra work for officials.” Alexander Lemmens, a lawyer at the Agency for Facility Operations, refers to the positive experience in the public contract for the renovation of buildings on the Martelaarsplein in Brussels: “The integration into the contract documents requires little extra effort. The checks and audits are done by accredited certification bodies, which, in case of a positive result, issue a certificate to the contractor. Thus, the contracting authority does not have to carry out detailed checks itself, but only checks that the contractor has a valid certificate at the appropriate level. This shifts the burden away from the contracting authorities, which is certainly also relevant for the lower levels. The CO2 Performance Ladder provides insight into the course of events and creates a clear framework for all involved.”

There are also positive signs on the Walloon side. Sylvie Loutz, Sustainable Development Project Manager at the Service public de Wallonie (SPW), argues that people see the usefulness of working with the Ladder. The targets are easy to verify. According to her, it is one of the tools that can help meet European climate targets.

Call for structural implementation

Now that it is time to map out the next steps, industry is asking for commitment from the government to get started with the CO2 Performance Ladder and implement it structurally in public procurement.

According to Philippe Goblet, the issue is starting to take hold in the market, but action is needed from the government. “Even though many see its benefit, they remain too hesitant. You can compare it to the introduction of the ISO9001 standard. It is there, but it takes years to implement and when it comes to sustainability, we don’t have that time. We need to take action together now. It is up to the government to take the lead, taking into account the resources and capabilities of all companies.”

“We need to take action together now. It is up to the government to take the lead, taking into account the resources and capabilities of all companies.” – Philippe Goblet, CEO at Duchêne

Need to support green premium

While companies are convinced of the added value of the Ladder, they want governments to pay attention to the costs involved. This is another reason why commitment from the government is needed. That way, the playing field is equal for all players.

Jan Van Steirteghem points out that green alternatives come at an additional cost. He questions who will pay ‘the Green Premium’: “In the Netherlands, subsidies are given for buying sustainable construction equipment. If you can show that you reduce CO2 emissions by 50 per cent and become 10 per cent more expensive, you can win the tender. In Belgium, this is unthinkable and governments still only focus on price. The CO2 Performance Ladder can be a catalyst to immediately lay down in the specifications which sustainable alternatives must be used.”

According to Alexander Lemmens, this awareness is growing among the government. He says the notional discounts for the Ladder are already shifting the focus towards quality.

Approach Flanders vs Wallonia

Several government agencies, such as the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM) and the Agency for Roads and Traffic and the Flemish Waterways, both linked to the Flemish department for mobility and public works (MOW), have already decided to implement the Ladder structurally, while others, such as SWDE and SOWAER in Wallonia, are positive towards further integration.

Sylvie Loutz argues that the differences between Wallonia and Flanders should be taken into account. There are currently consultations with colleagues on the integration of the Ladder but nothing has been decided yet. If Wallonia integrates a sustainability tool into public procurement, it will of course be the same as in neighbouring countries and Flanders. However, there is still a lot of work to convince companies in Wallonia.

The management of the Flemish MOW has already approved the implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder. “We will include the Ladder in specifications for infra works from 1 January 2025 starting from five million euros and progressing gradually”, says Dirk van Troyen.

Finally, BESIX and Duchêne hope to raise awareness among subcontractors. Jan van Steirteghem: “We need to get them on board. We often need data to meet Ladder requirements, but it is sometimes difficult to obtain. Other sectors, such as concrete, steel and aluminium, also need to take responsibility. That’s where the biggest impact is. We need to cooperate across national borders and impose conditions. We need a Coalition of the Willing where governments take the lead.”

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.

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