CO2-performance ladder and NTMB-system encourage sustainability certification
The greening of our society is a fact, and the construction and infrastructure sector does not want to miss this high-speed train. A party that plays a very important role behind the scenes in translating theoretical concepts into practical implementable solutions in the road and infrastructure sector is COPRO. By evaluating and certifying sustainability not only at product level, but also at system level, in the near future it also wants to take into account the context in which products are applied when striving for environmental friendliness and ecological performance. In that respect, there are some interesting recent evolutions: the CO2 performance ladder and the NTMB management system.
The certification of construction products is evolving rapidly. For a long time, the focus was on building physics aspects (strength, dimensioning, ...), but in recent years the importance of sustainable parameters (ease of maintenance, CO2 footprint, circularity, leaching, ...) has been increasing. "We look at sustainability more broadly than the product level ('durability') and also want to take into account the underlying systems and processes ('sustainability')", says Dirk Van Loo, CEO at COPRO. "A product itself can last a long time, but it may involve high transport costs or a lot of maintenance, which makes the total package look a lot less sustainable. We will try to integrate all of this into our certification systems soon - a shift that fits in with the general trend towards greening. Together with the Flemish government, we are also working on 'Green Public Procurement', in which tendering procedures are elaborated that do not only revolve around the lowest price, but also around ecological performance".
Sustainability incentive for executors
A certification system that fits in perfectly with Green Public Procurement is the CO2 performance ladder, a concept that has been causing a furor in the Netherlands for a decade now and will soon be tested in our country as well. "The CO2 performance ladder is a sustainability stimulus for executors, a management system that encourages certified companies to reduce their CO2 emissions in a structural way - both within the business operations and in the supply chain and in the execution of projects", explains Dirk Van Loo. "Energy saving, efficient use of materials and green energy are advantages that allow construction companies to rise one or more levels (from 1 to 5) on the CO2 performance ladder. In this way, they have a better chance of bringing in public contracts. Contractors tendering for public tenders could benefit from a fictitious discount in the Netherlands in the future if they have a certificate from the CO2 performance ladder. Depending on their level on the ladder, this discount may be larger or smaller. A total of twenty sites have been selected - ten in Flanders and ten in Wallonia - asking bidders to submit such a certificate. The Brussels Region is also looking into the matter. Once these projects have been completed, the government will evaluate whether the system has a future in our country and what changes need to be made to bring it into line with Belgian practice. COPRO has meanwhile been recognised as a certifier by SKAO, the Dutch scheme owner.”
There is also a second sustainable certification system that looks beyond the product level: the NTMB management system (Ecological and technical natural construction). This in turn relates to nature-inclusive construction, explains Dirk Van Loo: "It concerns products, techniques and applications that promote nature development. Think of riverbanks, canals or ditches that are not built with concrete, but with biodegradable products, for example. But within this category of biodegradable products there is also an important distinction to be made. Protective mats reinforced with polypropylene fibers will score less well than plastic-free applications. All this is valorised via the NTMB management system, which was originally owned by the Flemish Region, but which has been transferred to COPRO. We have plans to evaluate and expand the NTMB management system, in consultation with the sector. It currently mainly concerns shore protection products, but at the request of the sector, other applications can also be included. We are thinking, for example, of seeds for certain vegetation".
COPRO has the task, as a supervisory body, to assess neutrally and impartially what the construction and infrastructure sector wants and needs, in order to subsequently develop a concrete, reliable certification methodology that stimulates and facilitates the practical implementation of sustainable solutions. "The difficulty, however, is that clear standards and objective criteria generally exist for product characteristics, but not (yet) for overall sustainability. It is a complex exercise to quantify this, so greenwashing is always lurking around the corner", realises Dirk Van Loo. "Together with all stakeholders - prescribers, contractors, experts and producers - it is therefore important to determine which parameters are important to be able to evaluate the sustainability of products and systems. This is a long-term task, but one that is crucial to raise the environmental friendliness and quality of construction and infrastructure projects to a higher level. The same applies to the execution certification, which we will roll out in 2021 - for example, for the installation and replacement of crash barriers or the installation and maintenance of underground water buffering and infiltration systems. The quality of these products can be excellent, but if they are not properly installed and/or maintained, their operation will be compromised. We hope to avoid this by means of execution certification.”