The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Annemiek Lauwerijssen, General Manager at SKAO, owner of the CO2 Performance Ladder.
“We are all part of nature, not above it.”
When I was 25, I took a sabbatical from my job with a big consultancy firm to travel in Southeast Asia. Driving across Malaysia, from one side of the country to the other, I only saw palm tree plantations. I also saw a lot of plastic waste, in the streets and while I was diving in the sea. Although I’d known about all this before, it made me really sad. But I also realised that we need to solve these problems in my lifetime. I got quite excited and decided to dedicate my life and my energy to this kind of work.
After the sabbatical, I transferred to another part of the consultancy, which was more into sustainability. Then, in 2015, I returned to Southeast Asia, this time to Cambodia.
During this trip, I was attacked by a water buffalo. Its horn pierced through my face and ripped it apart. The only reason I survived is that I played dead. While I was lying in hospital, completely paralysed in my face, I thought: “I almost died, but now it feels like I have a second chance.” I was on the road already, but I wasn’t going fast enough. After my face healed—which took quite a long time—I saw the vacancy at SKAO. I applied, went for the interview, and all the pieces came together.
Small is beautiful
SKAO is a Dutch organisation, whose name translates as Foundation for Climate Friendly Procurement and Business. It’s the owner and the administrator of the CO2 Performance Ladder, both a CO2 management system and a green public procurement instrument. It works by giving a discount to companies who commit to structurally reduce their carbon emissions when they bid for government contracts. This accelerates carbon emissions reduction through the power of procurement. It’s a huge success in the Netherlands and Belgium.
When I started this job, I was surprised by how much interest there is in CO2 performance, both in the Netherlands and internationally. We’re a small team from Utrecht—but I’ve realised that you don’t have to be big to make an impact. Being small means that we’re also quite flexible in adjusting to changes so we can have even more impact.
There have been some difficult moments. Personally, I’ve found it frustrating when things have moved slowly. But there’s a saying: “Alone you can go the fastest, together you’ll come the furthest.” I think one of the powers of the CO2 Performance Ladder is that we work so closely with our stakeholders such as procurement parties in government and companies. By working together, we can set a different direction for the entire market.
Branching out in Europe
Now we’re researching the roll-out of the CO2 Performance Ladder in Europe, with the support of the IKEA Foundation. Before, we had a lot of interest from other countries, but it was outside our scope. When we partnered with the IKEA Foundation, it was just such a good match.
We started with a quick scan of all European countries, seeing what their green public procurement policies are, what kind of instruments they use and what their practices are. It was like peeling the onion of Europe.
It was quite a difficult choice to move on with only 10 countries into our next phase, our feasibility study. After that, the next project phase will focus on setting up and implementing the CO2 Performance Ladder in the countries where is feasible. There’s been so much interest and I’m very proud of that. Since I started working for SKAO that’s been one of my main drivers—to also have this system used more widely across Europe.
Culture of trust
By 2050—or even before that—I hope that we won’t be needed anymore because carbon management will be part of every organisation’s DNA. So, if you buy new equipment or a new building, you can’t leave sustainability out of the equation.
With the CO2 Performance Ladder, we call for organisations to collaborate and innovate together. We need to see more collaboration between competitors, and between procuring parties and contractors in projects. For example, companies could share mutual depots or hubs where they store materials, so that people don’t have to drive from one side of the country to the other.
Beneath that is a culture of trust, which is such a good foundation for a new economy. I see the seeds of a circular economy, and more honest economy, being planted right now. I’m not sure how fast it will go, but I’m very optimistic about it.
Hopes for the future
If I had 10 minutes to speak at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference, I would say: “Imagine you’re outside in your favourite forest, in your favourite garden, on your favourite beach, rather than here negotiating about countries and politics. What could you do better? Also, remember that the only constant is change, as history shows us. Think about the generations that are coming and what would be best for them. And please, do not ever underestimate the power of one person.”
My biggest hope for the future is that we realise very soon that we are part of nature, not above it. And that short term gain is not a good way to measure your success. We need healthy oceans, forests, clean air, and healthy relationships based on trust to thrive as humankind. I hope we realise that and put it in to practice.
Annemiek Lauwerijssen is the General Manager at SKAO, owner of the CO2 Performance Ladder.
The CO2 Performance Ladder is a practical and powerful instrument that uses the power of green procurement to change carbon emissions of governments, companies, supply chains and heavy industries. It does this by giving companies a financial advantage in tendering processes when they commit to reducing emissions.
The IKEA Foundation is supporting the CO2 Performance Ladder because buying goods and services from companies that meet strict emissions standards will help governments move closer to their Paris Agreement targets and signal the importance of a low carbon economy.