Published: 28 March 2023

The arrival of the Ladder in Belgium. ‘We were immediately interested’

Didier Cartage



(The article below is about the pilot phase in Belgium. This phase has now been successfully completed and the CO2 Performance Ladder is being implemented structurally in the country)

In Belgium busy experimentation with the CO2 Performance Ladder is underway, in as many as 25+ pilot projects. A major reason for that success is the efforts of industry association ADEB-VBA, which actively promoted the procurement tool in Belgium. ADEB-VBA CEO Didier Cartage talks about that journey, the challenges involved and what is required to fulfill that leadership role.

When ADEB-VBA first came across the CO2 Performance Ladder, the industry association saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity to make the construction sector more sustainable in all three regions of Belgium: Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia. This is far from self-evident, Cartage explains: “In Belgium, it still sometimes happens that each region puts its own instrument or system on the market. That happened with the energy performance of buildings, for example. That is a shame. Because if everyone uses the same tools and systems, you can make a much greater and faster impact. Because the CO2 Performance Ladder had been working in the Netherlands for years, we saw it as a tool that could be embraced by all regions.”

“We saw the CO2 Performance Ladder as a fantastic tool to bring sustainability into tenders”

Making the construction sector more sustainable

ADEB-VBA represents Belgium’s 65 largest construction companies, which together account for 15 per cent of the total turnover of the Belgian construction sector. Thus, ADEB-VBA was at the forefront of the Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Construction, a network of partners across the construction sector value chain. The alliance is engaged in integrating sustainability into the sector at both micro and macro level (and across all regions), and ensuring that the entire sector uses the same standards and systems.

Support for the CO2 Performance Ladder

The industry association was first introduced to the CO2 Performance Ladder in 2014. “At that time, we were already looking for tools that could ensure CO2 reduction in the construction sector. We were therefore immediately interested,” says Cartage.

In 2016, it commissioned environmental consultancy firm CO2Logic to organise a meeting with various Belgian stakeholders, on the CO2 Performance Ladder. It included representatives from the three Belgian regions, several cities and Embuild (the trade association for the entire Belgian construction sector). The aim of that meeting? To raise awareness about the CO2 Performance Ladder and sound out whether there was support for it. There certainly was. After detailed presentations on how the Ladder works, a testimonial from Dutch ProRail and discussions on the legal aspects, all three regions granted subsidies for a pilot phase with the Ladder, which started in 2019.

Sustainability up front

ADEB-VBA took a leadership role during that entire process and was the pioneer of the CO2 Performance Ladder in Belgium. For instance, the industry association financed the initial assignment to CO2Logic to investigate whether there was support for the Ladder. It also held numerous talks with stakeholders, to convince them of the added value of the procurement tool. Cartage: “We felt it was important to actively promote the CO2 Performance Ladder.”

“It is a powerful tool that allows governments to include sustainability in their tenders from the start”

“That is important, because it removes the reluctance of contractors to start working with sustainability. After all, this way it is already part of the contract.” In addition, the CO2 Performance Ladder can also be used for other sectors, governments can get themselves certified and the procurement tool has been working in the Netherlands for years. “The fact that the operation and benefits of the CO2 Performance Ladder were already proven was a particularly important advantage for us,” says Cartage. “It helped us to win over other stakeholders.”

Convincing dozens of governments

But there were challenges in that regard, too. In Belgium, for example, there is a huge difference from the Netherlands when it comes to the number of governments involved in a decision, Cartage explains: “In the Netherlands, if a decision is taken by Rijkswaterstaat and/or Prorail, it applies immediately to a (large) part of the sector. In Belgium, you’re talking about dozens of authorities, all of which have to be convinced of a new system or instrument. That can make its implementation a lot more difficult.”

In convincing governments about the use of the CO2 Performance Ladder, several concerns surfaced: “Especially about the possible costs that could be involved. And about competition: would enough businesses sign up for a tender with the CO2 Performance Ladder?” said Cartage. 

Concerns about small businesses

There were also initial doubts and uncertainties about the Ladder on the contractor side, especially about small and medium-sized companies and whether they would be disadvantaged. After all, it is easier for large companies to be certified on the CO2 Performance Ladder. Small businesses have significantly less time and resources to do so. For this reason, in the pilot phase the CO2 Performance Ladder was only used in projects with a value of €5.5 million or higher. In other words, projects that are only of interest to large construction companies. 

Another challenge Cartage sees on the contractor side: the amount of tools and systems around sustainability that are on the market today. “It is difficult for companies to find their way in them. Because what actually serves which end? And what added value does it provide? The fact that the CO2 Performance Ladder has worked for years in the Netherlands helps with this. In addition, we established the Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Construction in June 2022 to further address this topic (among others).”

Creating clarity and involving stakeholders

So how did ADEB-VBA manage to convince both procurers and contractors that the CO2 Performance Ladder should have a place in Belgian construction? “It’s about creating clarity,” says Cartage. “What is the CO2 Performance Ladder? And what exactly is it not? What goals does it serve? What is its added value? How easy is it to use? And so on. It really is something that needs to be sold, both to clients and contractors.”

“Collect the questions from the market, put the answers clearly on paper and, above all, make sure you really understand the tool yourself”

That way you limit the doubts and ambiguities that can arise.” It is also important to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the plans from the early stages. That is the most important advice Cartage has for other countries that may also want to get started with the procurement tool: “Investigate thoroughly whether and where there is support for the Ladder and include as many stakeholders as possible in your plans. If you forget to include important players in the initial phase, it is a missed opportunity. After all, you very much need them to succeed.”

In Belgium, a good start has now been made with the pilot phase, Cartage concludes, “Now we must push on and convince as many Belgian governments as possible of the usefulness of the CO2 Performance Ladder as soon as we can.”

This article is about the pilot phase in Belgium. This phase has now been successfully completed and the CO2 Performance Ladder is being implemented structurally in the country. Want to read more about the results of the pilot phase? You can do so here.

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