ENVIRONMENT: A new environmental initiative is set to kick-start the sustainability agenda
by Tony Lawrence
Having recently completed its most ambitious, exhaustive and far-reaching environmental challenge to date, successfully overhauling its entire portfolio of engines and machines to meet new Tier 4 emissions legislation in Europe and the US, Volvo CE is piling pressure on the construction industry’s environmental agenda.
A leading advocate for sustainability, the company is set to go public with a new initiative – the Construction Climate Challenge – in an attempt to drive that agenda forward.
“We’ve been working on reducing emissions through our own internal initiatives for many years – and to considerable success. However, we cannot face climate issues by ourselves,” says Volvo CE President, Martin Weissburg.
“The idea is for us to help take things to the next level,” says Niklas Nillroth, Vice President of Core Value Management and Corporate Social Responsibility. “Yes, we want to broaden the debate, but the real goal is to co-operate with other stakeholders, our customers, our customers’ customers and our suppliers among them, to convert talk into action. It stands to reason – we can achieve more if we act together.”
The plan is to stage a 2015 summit, provisionally planned for Gothenburg, Sweden, which will bring interested organizations and bodies together, including governments and academics, to focus on future shared projects and initiatives. Commissioned studies and research, already discussed at specific events devoted to research and hosted by Volvo CE and a selection of invited partners, will also be presented at the proposed summit.
“Environmental care is one of our company’s three core values, along with quality and safety,” says Nillroth. “It underpins our identity and what we’re about. Our designers and engineers, for instance, are always looking for market-leading performance and fuel efficiency to reduce the impact of our machines on their surroundings. That is also why our equipment is at least 95% recyclable.
“But we want to reach out, outside our own capabilities and expertise, to work with others right across the industry’s whole supply chain, starting from the extraction of materials from quarries and extending right up to the construction of buildings or the laying of roads.
“We believe we can make a real difference, particularly at the interfaces of our organizations, where different companies can reorganize the way they work together.” The Construction Climate Challenge would not be limited to product technology or processes, but to instigating new behaviors and ways of doing things, Nillroth adds. “That would mean looking at different, sustainable business models, on the one hand, and individual ways of operating – and co-operating – on the other.”
Such ideas could involve projects like Volvo CE’s own eco-operator scheme, where construction equipment drivers have achieved up to 20% fuel savings after attending specialist courses. Today, many important companies, such as multinational construction group Skanska and building materials giant Lafarge, share similar approaches to Volvo. Sustainability can make both environmental and commercial sense, particularly with local authorities increasingly setting out environmental parameters when granting infrastructure or service contracts.
The idea of the Challenge, generated within Volvo CE, has created great interest in the Volvo Group as a whole. Specific plans are still being formulated as to how the idea could be publicized ahead of a 2015 summit, such as instigating small pre-launches at industrial association meetings and research universities, and even at stopovers during the Volvo Ocean Race which weighs anchor in October.
The Volvo Group has a long history of such proactive initiatives – its first environmental policy was framed in 1972, when President and CEO Pehr G. Gyllenhammar signposted the company’s commitment by saying: “We are part of the problem – but we are also part of the solution.”
Within a few years, Volvo had developed the oxygen-sensor-controlled three-way catalytic converter and the trend was set. More recently, the prestigious Volvo Environmental Prize has added three Nobel prizewinners to its award-winning ranks since 1990, while in 2011 Volvo was named one of the world’s most sustainable companies by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index.
In 2012, Volvo CE became the first construction equipment company to join the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Climate Savers program, signing up to the most ambitious carbon-reduction agenda ever undertaken within the industry.
As part of this, Volvo CE and the Volvo Group committed to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from production plants by 12% from 2008 levels. At the end of 2013, it was announced that Volvo CE’s 45,000m² articulated hauler facility at Braås in southern Sweden had become carbon neutral, relying entirely on renewable energy sources, including wind, biomass and hydropower.
“This has been a highlight for us, in terms of sustainability and environment initiatives – it’s the first facility of its type in the industry,” says Nillroth.
“Considering the Construction Climate Challenge as a whole, there are a lot of good ideas to bring to life. It is especially difficult as a project because it’s a broad area with lots of stakeholders involved, from customers and suppliers to academia across Europe and national and local governments.
“The key will be to keep the focus on action, not theory. We’re looking to instigate change through research. This challenge is for us all. We are merely acting as hosts – but we are happy to provide a lead, and we want to see this initiative become an important and integral part of Volvo CE in the future.”
Click here to watch the video Better together from the Construction Climate Challenge