There is no getting around it: our climate is changing. Summers are getting drier, storms are becoming more intense and certain types of weather sometimes linger for weeks due to a slower moving jet stream. That combined with rising sea levels is putting pressure on the coasts of low-lying countries. Belgium is definitely one of them. Its beaches are vulnerable and lose a significant amount of sand to the sea every year.

Wanted (and found): minimal environmental impact

A sustainable method implemented in a sustainable way. Because specifically for this contract, the environmental impact was an important award criterion, in line with the long-term coastal protection vision of our client, the Maritime Services & Coast (MDK) agency of the Flemish government: we must prepare today for the consequences of climate change by strengthening the coasts while reducing the causes to a maximum. Jan De Nul's clear commitment to emit less CO2 during the execution of the beach replenishment works made us the most suitable party.

"As a public authority, we choose a contractor for each project based on the established criteria”, explains Elias Van Quickelborne. As MDK's project manager, he is at the heart of selection procedures. "In this way, we guarantee a level playing field for all bidders. For the beach replenishment works in Ostend, out of the five contractors selected within the scope of the framework agreement, we again chose Jan De Nul because it best met all the specific criteria for this project, including sustainability."

Sustainable choices

Trailing suction hopper dredger Alexander von Humboldt pumped the dredged sand from the North Sea through a floating pipeline onto the beach of Ostend. It did this while operating on 100% sustainable drop-in biofuel, which reduced CO2 emissions by around 90%. This focus on CO2-conscious operations and CO2 reduction is nothing new for Jan De Nul. Our many years of efforts in this area have already been rewarded with the highest-level possible CO2 performance ladder certification 5.

In the Netherlands, this sustainability index is systematically used in companies, for projects and during tenders. "In Belgium, this wasn't yet the case, but this is gradually changing”, says Elias.  "The projects in Raversijde in 2021 and in Ostend in 2022 count as pilot projects for integrating the CO2 performance ladder in our tendering procedures. For projects along the coast, we are also including other criteria such as noise pollution, air pollution and emissions of particulates and nitrogen."

To reduce fine dust and nitrogen emissions by 80%  is precisely why Jan De Nul deployed bulldozers and excavators on the Ostend beach that are equipped with advanced exhaust filter systems. We saved energy consumption with our latest-generation site offices, equipped with properly insulated materials as well as a heat pump.

An example for the whole sector

Ostend was not a first for Jan De Nul. In 2021, we had already carried out similar works on the beaches of Raversijde and Knokke. In 2019, we were another pioneer within the sector by pushing for the inclusion of a minimum mandatory 15% CO2 reduction in Flemish dredging contracts by 2022. "And that certainly set things in motion”, says Elias. "The exemplary role of contractors at project level cannot be underestimated.  They prove that a sustainable working method is possible. Meanwhile, we are integrating this CO2 reduction into almost all dredging projects we put out to tender. As a result, maintenance dredging is executed more sustainably. That is definitely a step forward."

Jan De Nul already carried out similar maintenance dredging works as well, in Nieuwpoort and on the river Scheldt. "We can certainly confirm that the dredging sector has great ambitions in terms of sustainability”, Elias notes. "Everyone is aiming for level 5 of the CO2 performance ladder, which makes the ambitious CO2 level criterion less and less distinctive. It also challenges us to evolve further and also pay more attention to other types of emissions."

Stricter criteria call for new solutions

Sustainability is gaining importance in all tenders of the Flemish Government. Are we moving towards mandatory reductions in emissions? "That will not happen overnight”, says Elias. "Not all companies in the construction sector are equally advanced today in terms of a sustainable approach. So we will systematically introduce stricter criteria to enable everyone to get on board." Currently, guidelines for setting the criteria are being determined. A climate plan that commits to a substantial CO2 reduction and defines actions to achieve that goal. 

Leader in near-emission-free coastal protection