The CO2 Performance Ladder (CO2PL) started in 2009 with only one procuring authority, ProRail, and a handful of tenders in the Dutch infrastructure sector. Since then, the tool has grown to become the standard GPP tool in the Netherlands, used by over 300 procuring authorities, with (at the time of writing) over 2000 active tenders in many different sectors. The first experience implementing the CO2 Performance Ladder in tenders outside the Netherlands came in 2019, when all three Belgian regional governments began piloting the GPP tool in tenders.
How can we explain the success of the Ladder in the Netherlands and Belgium? What can this teach us about implementing the CO2 Performance Ladder in new sectors and countries? The Foundation for Climate-Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO, the owner and manager of the Ladder) and CO2logic (coordinator of the pilot in Belgium), combined their experiences to identify the most important factors for the successful implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder in new sectors, regions and countries. Our aim was to gain a clear insight into the crucial building blocks, and enabling accelerators to facilitate the effective and impactful implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder in new contexts.
On the basis of our analysis, we have identified:
- 10 ‘building blocks’ – aspects that are necessary to implement the CO2 Performance Ladder in a new geographical area or sector, based on our experiences in the Netherlands and Belgium.
- 3 ‘accelerators’ – factors that are useful but not crucial, as they lead to an acceleration in adoption and scaling-up.
“Our aim was to gain a clear insight into the crucial building blocks, and enabling accelerators to facilitate the effective and impactful implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder in new contexts”
First procuring authority
The theory of change of the CO2 Performance Ladder is based on the ‘Power of Procurement.’ In this way, public authorities initiate and stimulate the decarbonisation of companies, their supply chains and heavy industries by using the CO2 Performance Ladder as an award criteria in their tendering process. This also motivates companies to get certified. Therefore, to implement the CO2 Performance Ladder, at least one public authority is required.
To achieve higher emission reductions and to send a stronger signal to market parties, however, it is highly recommended to include multiple procuring authorities in implementation (see accelerator 1 below).
National coordinating organisation
To stimulate local ownership and coordinate effective stakeholder engagement (see building block 6, multi-stakeholder approach), a national coordinating organisation is needed to coordinate the implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder in new country contexts. This organisation should ideally be active in relevant networks and sectors, and familiar with the local language, culture and procurement context. Bringing all stakeholders together and liaising with SKAO is an important building block during the pilot phase and beyond, as demonstrated in Belgium.
Understanding the CO2 Performance Ladder
It is crucial that key (future) users of the CO2 Performance Ladder, primarily the procuring authorities, companies and the auditors, understand the tool and how to use it. SKAO has published many documents and videos explaining how to apply the CO2 Performance Ladder. It is useful to make these materials available in the local language and adapting the information so that it reflects the local context (policy priorities, procurement regulations, etc.).
Capacity building and communication
Engaging with (future) stakeholders is important, as our experience shows that publishing documents and guidelines about the CO2 Performance Ladder is not enough to ensure awareness and knowledge of the tool. In order to effectively inform and stimulate current and future users, capacity building activities such as (peer-to-peer) events, communities of practice, trainings, preferably in the local language, should be organised on a regular basis. Procuring authorities should also ensure to communicate their plans for implementing the Ladder clearly, to give market parties adequate time to understand and prepare for system implementation.
Furthermore, publishing examples and case studies can illustrate the wide range of applications of the CO2 Performance Ladder. Collaborating in these activities with stakeholders like industry federations, knowledge institutes, governments and NGOs will ensure maximum and effective outreach. Industry associations have been particularly important in spreading knowledge and broaden support for the CO2 Performance Ladder.
The CO2 Performance Ladder is aligned with the 2014 EU Procurement Directive, and has a strong track record in implementation in the Netherlands and in Belgium, with no legal challenges across the CO2PL’s near 15-year existence.
Yet, public procurement is a strongly regulated field and many public procurers hesitate to take risks when implementing new GPP instruments. To overcome potential concerns in new pilot projects, it is recommended to conduct a review of legal considerations about the alignment of the CO2 Performance Ladder with EU, national and local procurement regulations. Such a legal assessment could be carried out by legal experts, as in France, or through a working group of experts, as in Belgium. Stakeholders can already draw from multiple resources, such as the Procurement Guide, Answers to Legal Questions and Belgian Tender Model Clauses,
For successful implementation of the Ladder in a specific country context, a multi-stakeholder approach is crucial. Structures bringing together all relevant stakeholder groups serve to collect input, broaden support as well as address relevant substantive and practical issues. Relevant stakeholders include for instance procuring authorities, procurement policy authorities, certification and accreditation bodies, industry associations and companies, research and civil society organizations. Key considerations for such groups during implementation are to make sure they ensure appropriate representation of the different users of the CO2 Performance Ladder, and offer possibilities to gather input and experiences to effectively direct implementation.
For example, SKAO is guided by various committees and groups, covering a broad cross-section of representatives from all stakeholders. In Belgium, a steering committee, coordinated by CO2Logic brings together contracting authorities, businesses and certifying bodies, while three working groups address more specific issues.
Adequate capacity and resources
To create ownership and to ensure long-term financial stability of the CO2 Performance Ladder, all stakeholders need adequate capacities and resources. Even though the instrument is relatively easy to use for procurers, implementing it in a new country or sector requires upfront efforts from participating organisations, particularly national coordinating organisation(s), and procuring parties. For example in Belgium, the Walloon and Flemish governments provided a subsidy to the coordinating partner for the duration of the pilot period.
Key figures who champion sustainable procurement, and the implementation of the Ladder both internally and externally have been essential players in the development and evolution of the Ladder. In the implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder in new contexts, brave sustainability leaders will be required to navigate the challenges and to advocate for green public procurement. These individual leaders understand the need to act now, make impact, and see more opportunities than barriers, and have the mandate to create momentum internally and/or externally. Such leaders within contracting authorities are especially important.
One tool one approach
The fact that the CO2 Performance Ladder certificate is based on a consistent norm – the CO2 Performance Ladder Handbook – means that one certificate can be used everywhere the CO2 Performance Ladder is implemented. This ensures that there is no fragmentation across various regions or countries. We believe this increases the overall impact of the system and provides a stronger incentive for organisations to get certified. Therefore, it is essential to ensure the national implementation of the CO2 Performance Ladder does not affect the interoperability of Ladder certificates or lead to divergences across borders. In this way compatibility with international standards and methods can be assured.
Sufficient certification bodies
To effectively assure third party verification sufficient capacity for certification should be available in the market. There should be sufficient certification bodies in a country/region able to carry out Ladder assessments.
The more contracting authorities the better
At least one contracting authority is needed to start a pilot, but the more contracting authorities that are active in a specific sector implementing the CO2 Performance Ladder, the more momentum is created, and the stronger the signal to industry. For instance, the uptake of the tool the Netherlands grew rapidly once more organisations, such as the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, joined ProRail in using the CO2 Performance Ladder in their infrastructure and construction procurement.
Influence and market share
If the contracting authorities and organisations participating in the pilot are large and important players with a large spend in the market, they have more influence in the supply chain and the CO2 Performance Ladder can spread faster. Some of the earliest adopters of the CO2 Performance Ladder in the Netherlands are some of the most significant: ProRail and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management have a large influence over the Dutch public infrastructure market, while Royal BAM Group is a significant player in the infrastructure sector.
Political support and conducive policy context
If the CO2 Performance Ladder is integrated within broader net-zero strategies and GPP policies, and is seen as a way to concretely implement them, this boosts the impact of the tool. For example, the Sustainable Public Market initiative in Wallonia and the Green Deal Sustainable Civil Engineering works (DGWW) in the Netherlands led to a broader adoption and increased impact.
We are grateful for the research carried out by Jonathan de Clerck, Gijs Temeer and Jan Janssen, as well as the whole SKAO team for their input. We would also like to thank all interviewees, and IISD and CO2logic for their review and guidance.