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Construction sites are steadily becoming greener

Zero Waste Week starts 31 May. A perfect opportunity to take a look at Strukton Rail’s construction sites. What is happening here in terms of waste and sustainability? Pieter Cornelissen and Marjoleine Voortman tell us more.

As you listen to Pieter and Marjoleine, it quickly becomes clear that sustainability at construction sites is a very broad concept. For example, it pertains to waste (preferably as little as possible), energy (green versus grey) and flora and fauna (read: road plates). This means that Marjoleine and Pieter have their fingers in many pies. Marjoleine works at Supply Chain at Strukton Rail Nederland and sustainability is part of her portfolio. She and her colleagues have many contacts with suppliers to avoid waste flows and to collect residual flows. Pieter is CSR Coordinator at Strukton Rail Nederland and has contact with colleagues at the group level about sustainability and brings people together on the path towards sustainable initiatives.

Applicable and practical

It goes without saying that sustainability at construction sites has caught people’s attention. ‘It is important for us to leave a liveable world behind for future generations,’ says Pieter. ‘When I consider our organisation, construction sites are an important element.’
Important, but not simple. While the number of sustainable solutions is increasing, they are not all applicable and practical. ‘For example, we have a modular recycling centre: separate waste containers for different types of waste,’ says Marjoleine. ‘However, many of our construction sites are small and do not always have the space required for such a centre. We discuss this with the supplier: are there smaller waste containers, can the supplier remove its own waste flow?’
Another example: energy. Pieter: ‘At a large project of long duration, you can arrange for a fixed green power supply. For projects or maintenance of short duration this is often not feasible, for example because it takes too long to process the permit application. In that case you are dependent on power generators.’

We are always looking for the best combination of environmental gain and practical feasibilityWe need everyone to contribute this, inside as well as outside the company


Hand in hand

While it’s not just dropping into Pieter’s and Marjoleine’s lap, construction sites are slowly but surely becoming increasingly greener thanks to a wide range of initiatives. For example, Strukton Rail employees working on the tracks will soon receive two Doppers Insulated. Marjoleine: ‘This way we reduce the number of plastic water bottles. Furthermore, we will ask caterers to more often supply water at construction sites. This example shows that sustainability and taking good care of your employees go hand in hand.’
In the meantime, Pieter, together with his colleagues, is focusing on making the vehicle fleet sustainable. There are some good developments in this area, but things are moving slowly. ‘The loading and the tractive power of electric industrial vehicles is still insufficient for our work. At the same time we notice that second-generation vehicles are an improvement over first-generation vehicles. Of course, it’s not possible to renew our vehicle fleet all at once, but we are investigating the possibilities in terms of the vehicle fleet and equipment. For example, in 2019 we acquired the first electric locomotive and another three last year. This greens the transport of equipment. One impediment here is that these locomotives require an overhead line, and of course we often work in areas where the power is switched off. This is why we are currently working with Strukton Rolling Stock on a battery solution that allows us to bridge sections without overhead lines.’

Like a puzzle

Another example is the use of road plates. The steel version of these plates is not exactly green. They are heavy and therefore require many truck movements (CO2 emissions!) to transport them to the construction site. Loading and unloading them also produces CO2 emissions. In addition, the plates damage the subsoil. Marjoleine: ‘The subsoil has to be excavated and levelled, because steel plates are not flexible. The soil has to be stored and once put back it takes a long time for flora and fauna to recover. Furthermore, we often put construction film below the plates to prevent leakage. Currently we have agreed that the latter will only be done when absolutely necessary and that only transparent film will be used. This film is reusable. But plastic road plates are even better. We are starting a pilot with plastic plates.’ Plastic road plates offer many advantages: they are lightweight, which means more can be carried in a single truck load. They are also flexible, which means it is no longer necessary to excavate and level the soil. Furthermore, they fit together like a puzzle and do not require any film underlays. Marjoleine: ‘Just from a CO2 perspective alone, the gain is enormous: a fifty-percent reduction for transport alone. When you include loading, unloading and relocating the plates, this can go up to as high as ninety percent. And of course the flora and fauna benefit.’

We are always looking for the best combination of environmental gain and practical feasibilityWe need everyone to contribute this, inside as well as outside the company


Best combination

While a lot more is now possible, it continues to be important to critically assess new ideas and possibilities, say Marjoleine and Pieter. ‘Manufactures sometimes tell you that certain materials are reusable,’ says Marjoleine, ‘but when there are no companies in the Netherlands able to reuse them, you are still no further ahead. This is why we make an assessment every time to determine whether we can avoid waste in the first place. If not, we assess whether we are able to sustainably and efficiently collect it and potentially use it as a residual flow. The challenge is to find the best combination of environmental gain and practical feasibility.’
The bar is set high: the goal is for all construction sites to be sustainable by 2025. To be clear, this is not necessarily the same things as being CO2-neutral. ‘There are limits to what is possible, but that is not necessarily a serious impediment,’ says Pieter. ‘This is because there are other possibilities as well. For example, you could use materials that bind CO2. Or you could compensate for the emissions at construction sites in other areas.’

Holding each other to account

Marjoleine emphasises that it is important to subdivide the goals into small chunks. ‘That way they stay manageable.’ In addition, support is important: motivating colleagues to participate. Marjoleine: ‘Not everyone is aware of the importance of sustainability and waste separation. We will have to hold each other to account in this respect. This must become as natural as holding each other to account for working safely.’ ‘We need everyone to contribute to this,’ Pieter adds. ‘Inside and outside the company; in other words, in collaboration with competitors and suppliers as well. When you succeed, this gives you energy.’

Calling on all of you

Whenever you are busy working and you see something that can be made more sustainable, let Pieter ( or Marjoleine ( know. They can then start working on it.