Published: 29 March 2023

Encouraging the market to become more sustainable

Jacqueline Cramer

former Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment


Jacqueline Cramer knows all about socially responsible procurement. As Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment, she laid the foundations for sustainable public procurement by public authorities. And as board member of the Foundation for Climate-Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO), she was closely involved in the success of the CO2 Performance Ladder after her ministerial term. She is convinced that the Ladder will also be successful abroad: “The success factors in the Netherlands will also apply abroad.”

Cramer has always stressed the importance and necessity of sustainable public procurement: “It is an essential steering instrument to encourage the market to become more sustainable and innovative,” she says. On top of that, the public sector in the Netherlands purchases tens of billions of euros worth of products and services every year. From office chairs to water treatment plants. Couple environmental requirements to those purchases and the sustainable impact can be huge.

Sustainable public procurement was therefore one of Cramer’s main spearheads during her term as minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (2007-2010). For instance, she put an ambitious target on the agenda: 100% sustainable procurement by 2015. Unfortunately, this target was not achieved, but Cramer did lay the foundation for a more sustainable procurement policy in the Netherlands. Under her supervision, for instance, procurement criteria were formulated for 55 product groups, which are still used today.

“Main goal was to get people moving. That worked. More sustainable procurement policies got off the ground and important steps were taken”

Incentive to become more sustainable

Still, far from all governments today are seizing their purchasing power to encourage sustainability in the market. Procurement policy is still too non-committal in this respect. A pity, thinks Cramer. “Municipalities can embrace it, but also just brush it aside,” she says. “As long as there is no obligation, reward or other incentive, things will continue to move a bit slower than you hope.”

So when Cramer first came across the CO2 Performance Ladder, she was immediately enthusiastic. After all, the Ladder did offer such an incentive, in the form of the fictitious award advantage. And Cramer was impressed by what this triggered in the market.

“I immediately saw the CO2 Performance Ladder as an important instrument, especially for the construction sector. This is a highly regulated market, where everything is laid down in norms, standards, regulations, you name it. All those regulations make sustainability and innovation difficult,” Cramer said.

“The CO2 Performance Ladder offered a way to get the market moving”


And it succeeded. Despite the fact that the CO2 Performance Ladder was launched in economically difficult years (when sustainability was still mainly seen as expensive), the tender instrument managed to grow year on year. According to Cramer, this was because the Ladder fits perfectly with the construction sector’s sensitivities . “Construction companies are eager to finish high on the Ladder. On the one hand because the fictitious discount in tenders is very interesting for them. On the other, because they don’t want to lag behind their competitors. Standing out from your competitors has always been essential in the construction industry. Previously, construction companies mainly distinguished themselves on time and budget, but thanks to the CO2 Performance Ladder, sustainability was suddenly added.”

In addition, when the CO2 Performance Ladder was developed, the industry was really listened to. The tendering instrument came about in consultation and it was possible for the industry to criticise and suggest corrections. “That greatly increased acceptance of the Ladder,” says Cramer. “The sector did not feel that something was imposed on them, but experienced the Ladder as something of their own.”

Insight and roadmap

Anyone who starts working with the CO2 Performance Ladder can quickly achieve level 3 or 4 certification. And the costs associated with that are almost always less than what you can get in return. That too is an important reason for the success, says Cramer: “Getting in is relatively easy, the threshold is low. But once you get involved, you automatically orient yourself based on what else is possible. And you can do this in your own time and at your own pace. That, of course, is particularly attractive for companies.”

Another important advantage of the CO2 Performance Ladder is that it requires companies to map out their CO2 footprint and provides the tools to reduce it. That was certainly quite progressive in the early stages, says Cramer: “That often proved to be a real eye opener for companies (‘Oh, are our emissions there!?’). The Ladder allows them to map their emissions without being called to task about it. And it provides them with the possible routes to sustainability, but companies can choose for themselves how and at what pace they take them.”

Cramer does expect the CO2 Performance Ladder to face a significant challenge in the coming years. “The construction sector is innovating and there are all kinds of sustainable initiatives coming up, such as the Dutch Concrete Agreement,” she says. “All these different initiatives should not work against each other or get in the way, but rather strengthen each other. All these different initiatives and interests must therefore be coordinated well in the coming years.”

Not one on one

The big question, of course, is: will the above advantages also have value abroad? Cramer expects so. “The construction sector is highly regulated in other countries too, for example. And there, too, the sector faces a huge sustainability challenge. Then an instrument like the CO2 Performance Ladder is more than welcome. It gives market parties the impetus to start working on sustainability and CO2 reduction, without them feeling that it is being imposed on them.”

Cramer does caution that each country is different, with its own social, cultural and political context. “So don’t adopt the CO2 Performance Ladder one-to-one, but take into account things like national procurement policies, the political context and the wishes of the business community.”

“I am convinced that the success factors in the Netherlands will also apply in other countries”

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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