Europlatform Conference - sustainabilty in access

20 September 2022

Understanding and reducing carbon footprint, social inclusion across the workforce, reducing and reusing resources as part of the circular economy are key to effecting sustainable change, according to speakers at the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) Europlatform conference, which took place 15 September.

Understanding and reducing carbon footprint, social inclusion across the workforce, reducing and reusing resources as part of the circular economy are key to effecting sustainable change, according to speakers at the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) Europlatform conference, which took place 15 September.

Europlatform 2022 Panel

Around 120 powered access stakeholders attended the conference at the Grand Hotel Palatino, Rome, Italy – an event that was originally scheduled for autumn 2020 but postponed owing to the pandemic. Hosted in conjunction with official media partner Access International magazine, Europlatform is established as an essential annual event in the rental industry calendar, and the speakers covered topics broadly focused on environmental sustainability, diversity, digital development, ethical procurement, recruitment and the training and empowerment of industry professionals through social inclusion and giving all employees a voice.

Conference chair Euan Youdale, Editor of Access International magazine, started the conference off by commenting that in the time between the last Europlatform in 2019 and today’s event, sustainability was now at the top of people’s minds and almost at the same level as safety, as the leading topic in the working at height sector.

Peter Douglas, CEO of IPAF, welcomed the assembled delegates and conference speakers: “First of all I’d like to give a massive thanks to our sponsors, without which we wouldn’t be able to host events like this in such an incredible city. We look forward to a range of presentations from our speakers about delivering sustainable change in our industry.”

The first speaker, Marga Hoek, a sustainability expert, who delivered a keynote address on the need for urgent progress against global sustainable development goals, “We have the technology to effect change, and to make it quick, radical and at scale. We act currently as if we have 1.75 planets. This overshooting means that by the time we reach 25 July each year we have effectively used up all the resources the planet can deliver, and unfortunately this day gets earlier each year.”

Setting out the context for this need for radical change, she added, “By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Around $1 trillion worth of food we produce is wasted each year – to feed the world effectively we only need $80 billion of food a year, and we actually waste far more than this!”

She extolled the virtues of the circular economy, by pointed out how illogical is for one business to pay another to collect and recycle waste: “We pay the company, and the other company gets stuff. It doesn’t make sense! If we look at how we reuse or recycle materials ourselves, and cut down on waste in the future, it is a much more cost-effective way to do things.

“Unlocking creativity is a key part of the circular economy. If you set a bold objective, you’ll reach it earlier, not later.” She referenced Ørsted, the Danish oil and gas major, explaining: “It didn’t just adjust its strategy, it pursued radical change – transitioning to renewable energy to become a global market leader.”

She also referenced transformative innovations such as sustainable buildings cladding that reduces smog in cities and along roads, or stickers for fruit and vegetables that can stimulate chemical triggers in the produce and extend shelf life by up to nine days.

Social and sustainability

Douglas McLuckie, Managing Director of ESG at Ashtead Group, parent company of Sunbelt Rentals, also emphasise the importance of grappling with social and sustainability issues across his the entire business ecosystem: “Communications is key, and our strategy is actually very simple, broken down into four categories: environment, governance, and social (people and communities).

“We present sustainability as a unique selling proposition. We ask our suppliers to identify low and zero-carbon-emissions products. Rental is an integral part of the circular economy. Everything is a connected landscape, and we can help our customers report on their usage. What gets reported, gets managed.”

He talked about changing fuel sources, such as hydrogen – “that infrastructure is coming”, as part of creating integrated energy solutions. “We were at the forefront of battery technology from the very beginning, but not because of environmental concerns, rather because we needed machines that could work indoors,” he said. “People like us to be able to report on the benefits we can have through battery technology.”

He talked about embodied carbon, thinking about everything “from cradle to grave” in the lifecycle of rental assets. By renting a typical asset to around 20 different clients per year effectively saves the embodied carbon of any given asset when compared to if that client had gone out and bought the machine rather than hired it. He said Ashtead estimates that its excavator rental fleet alone saves around the equivalent carbon emissions of 77,000 passenger vehicles being driven per year. “Please don’t see this as a burden – there are phenomenal opportunities if you look for them.”

James Cadman, Head of Consultancy & Carbon, Action Sustainability & The Supply Chain School, asked: “Why do we need to be sustainable? What are the pathways to net zero by 2050? We had the IT revolution 20-25 years ago, we are now living through a similar kind of change period.

“There is a stated aim of 78% reduction of diesel use across all CLC sites by 2035; London’s NRMM ULEZ aims for zero emissions by 2040 throughout London; National Highways want all sites to use zero-carbon plant by 2030; HS2 wants all sites diesel-free by 2029.

“One of the silver linings to the pandemic were the conversations around sustainability. We really need early contractor engagement – so have that conversation as early as possible with your customers. Sustainability is becoming mainstream – it’s almost up there with safety now,” he added.

Touching on standardisation, he pondered “How many different phone chargers do we all have and there are new ones coming out all the time? We need common components, which use the same processes and systems, and we need universal infrastructure.

“We need to look at the supply chain, including reducing embodied carbon. We need to take a more modular approach and encourage innovation. Think of rental sustainability in terms of the tools you might have at home – hammers, saws, drills etc. How often do you use those tools? Equipment rental is the same idea, he concluded – it nearly always makes financial sense to rent rather than buy plant.

“Leaving commercial elements at the door, when we come into a room like this together we need to look at common problems and solutions. Can we set new minimum standards as an industry, to inform how we benchmark performance, communicate to stakeholders and train employees?”

Manufacturing future 

Barrie Lindsay, Director of Engineering at JLG, gave an overview of how the manufacturer is trying to help meet global net zero targets, recently recommitted to by many nations at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, UK. “How can sustainability initiatives provide efficiency across the whole construction ecosystem? We need to look at all levels, from depot to site, and also look at the players involved.

“Within the job site there are a number of micro-ecosystems that all deliver different value propositions. There has been a long-standing strategy to drive towards zero emissions. Interestingly, the pressure is not just from legislation, but from customers measuring and improving their own carbon emissions.

“If we take a holistic view of MEWP design, we need to consider product attributes that contribute to energy efficiency. Almost 70% of the carbon footprint can be attributed to steel and cast-iron components. So reducing the weight of these in each machine can significantly reduce carbon footprint. As a business, reducing carbon footprint is becoming mission critical.”

He touched on the challenges of electrification across the portfolio of JLG’s products and looked at the implications and limitations of the current charging infrastructure. “For a construction site, the charging points pose more of a challenge than for automotive applications. Equipment needs to be working during the day and charging overnight.

“New charging solutions are aiming at replacing diesel generators, so the ideas need to be scalable, and batteries need to have sufficient capacity to charge multiple machines. We have seen solar panel technology, but these are unlikely to be sufficient as larger battery technology develops. Charging points need to be standardised, including connector designs. Manufacturers need to combine efforts to overcome the charging infrastructure hurdle.”

He also talked about digitisation, telematics data, portable charging solutions while machines are in use and automation of work at height tasks, including robotic welding. “Product development can absolutely reduce carbon emissions in future, but it is willing collaboration across the entire ecosystem that can really assist in delivering against our net zero emissions targets.”

Paolo Pianigiani, Commercial Director, IMER International, also praised the circular economy: “Thinking global, acting local has long been a mantra of how we deliver to our key markets. Millennials often have a completely different approach to those that have been in the industry a long time. One main focus is the circular economy, reducing and reusing materials that we may have previously wasted.

“We can create change through innovation, we need to show the ability to interact with and influence the market, and to effectively communicate these innovations and their benefits. Digitalisation and increased capacity to share data is also another key part of how we can deliver change through innovation.

“We need to use materials that support greater sustainability and also processes that enable this. Enhance customer service also enables us to deliver a total-market approach that allows us to deliver to our clients and that is based on mutual respect.

“We must nurture and nourish this transition into a green economy. Electrification of machines is something the market has ratified and accepts; at the beginning the introduction of fully electrified machines was something of a challenge, but now we are moving towards this goal with impetus. The future is now!”

President’s view 

Karin Nars, IPAF President & Managing Director of Dinolift, placed emphasis on empowering workers and giving all stakeholders a voice: “I will focus on people and the human factor in being more sustainable. People cannot be overlooked if you want to improve occupational health & safety and business performance.

“Sustainability must have a social aspect to be successful – when we take people seriously, then we can expect them to take sustainability and safety seriously. Diversity and inclusion are values that we sometimes struggle to make into real actions. We need to follow up the messages with actions that correspond, otherwise the message gets lost in all the noise around us. To quote Verna Myers, head of diversity and inclusion at Netflix: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.’

“Everyone is included, new ideas are welcome, and everybody’s voice is heard. We all need to feel as if we can contribute in a meaningful way. For example, this spring we started our Women in Powered Access initiative. It is important for all of us, and we need to attract new talent, competing against industries that have a head start on us in powered access. We need to share the stories, and by actively communicating about the contribution of women in our industry we promote inclusion and generate a sense of belonging for others. We have also formed a working group committed to finding opportunities for sustainability in our industry; we want to create sustainable change and not just words on paper.

“If we encourage people to call out and discourage unsafe behaviour, people should not be afraid to speak up because they might feel they are making a mistake. We need to build trust, to allow people to bring their whole selves into the workplace, and to express themselves with confidence and without fear of being shamed. By doing this and by listening and empathising effectively with others, we can really encourage and empower those around us to contribute to safety of all in our industry.”

Panel discussion 

After lunch a round-table session featuring Glyn Brearley, Director – Procurement & Training at Loxam, Philippe Witte, Group Fleet & Technical Manager at Riwal, and Kai Schliephake, CEO of PartnerLift, chaired by Peter Douglas, considered sustainability from the perspective of rental companies’ procurement strategies.

Kai said he didn’t think the industry was yet keeping pace with either demand for electric booms or the innovation from manufacturers. Philippe said certain markets such as in the Middle East would continue to maintain demand for internal-combustion-powered machines, while Graeme agreed there was a need to continue driving the agenda for change aggressively but with a certain flexibility – for instance by utilising machines that could be upgraded or retrofitted with cleaner power sources.

Glyn added “if there is a machine in our fleet that we need and there is an electric or hybrid machine we have to buy that version”. Kai agreed that there are benefits to all-electric machines: “Unusually in plant hire when the operator is working, the machine is standing still, which does allow for the potential to recharge batteries while the MEWP is in use.”

Douglas posed the question of how the rental sector is managing increased costs of greener machines; Glyn agreed: “On a spreadsheet, the whole-life cost analysis looks good, but we don’t really know what things like maintenance or disposal really look like over the whole lifespan, while customers don’t yet appreciate the difference in cost implications of different types of machines.”

Energy costs are so high at the moment that Philippe suggested now is an ideal juncture “to look at pricing structures”, and Kai agreed that “now is the time to deal with this issue”. Meanwhile Glyn talked about futureproofing depots to ensure that the demand for electricity does not exceed supply during peak activity and to increase charging capacity overall.

The panel considered the impacts of geopolitical forces such as the pandemic, cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine: “It is difficult to discern exactly which of these is the primary driver”, Glyn said, but all panellists agreed that used equipment prices were being sustained by a lack of availability and increased lead times on new machines.

Søren Brogaard Jensen

Søren Brogaard Jensen, CEO of Trackunit, talked about advances in machine access and control, and the implications for sustainability. It’s a technology that faced daunting issues even as recently as ten years ago, and therefore it has come “a very long way in a short space of time,” he commented. “Access control has unlocked and evolved into a lot of new business opportunities. More than 150 access OEMs across the world that have the ability to put access control on their machines, 40-plus of which are installing it as standard.

“It’s moving from a nice to have to a must-have, driven in part by legislation but also by demand from the larger rental companies in terms of fleet management point of view. The development and adoption of the technology is opening up new possibilities for machine sharing and the sharing economy.”

He talked about the IPAF ePAL app, which Trackunit helped to develop, and said he had rarely seen “such rapid industry uptake”. He acknowledged that the first-generation application was a promising start, and highlighted some of the ambitions he can see for upcoming versions of the ePAL app. He pointed the way to unlocking the potential of the app to be integrated into machine access control.

“What is the black box of construction?” he asked. “Actually, it is telematics. We have a foundation there to try to ask ourselves, on top of the great reporting and data-sharing that is being done by the IPAF community, what are the root causes of the main types of fatal accidents in powered access.

“Doing the right thing is actually really good business. It’s for the common good, and access control has gone beyond the basics of what is required already. It unlocks data that can drive safety through logging equipment time, avoiding misuse, sharing operator experience and fostering good business practices all around the powered access ecosystem.

“This means we could create a single unified access work ID system that could sit within the IPAF ePAL app. We need to give IPAF the support to keep developing the app; on the access control side we need a push from OEMs; and from the legislation perspective we need to influence the adoption of new standards.

“We need to understand that data is like wind, data is like water; we still encounter resistance to this idea and need to escape the trap of thinking that data is like the new oil – data is not the new oil!” he concluded, in answer to a question from the floor.

Data analysis

Pier Angelo Cantù

Pier Angelo Cantù, Founder & CEO of Rental Consulting talked of the importance of gathering data and analysing it intelligently: “‘If you torture numbers hard enough, they will confess to anything’,” he quoted. “It is easy to make up results when gathering data and interpreting statistics. We need to think about a new definition of profitability in rental, taking into account all revenues and costs. Technology and telematics in particular play a very important role in this.

“All companies should consider how they interpret and communicate data; as this helps to foster the correct culture in our industry,” he cautioned. “We can develop the internal culture of our rental companies, and also help to develop the relationship between rental companies as an industry as well as influence relations with end users.

“How do we compare time and money utilisation against return on investment, for instance? What indicators should we prioritise when considering fleet renewal? We can analyse the different elements that make up profitability of different types of machines, sectors of fleet and even individual services. If a rental company offers IPAF training for example, and treats this as a separate business unit, we can see this really works well.

“There are no schools training how to conduct rental operations, so employees must be trained in-house by the industry. If employers are losing employees to their competitors as a result of not paying well, then they lose the vital experience their customers value.

“Methods of data collection include analytical accounting and increasingly gathering data through telematics. Of course, power is nothing without control, and so good analysis is critical to developing useful insights that can inform business strategy.

“Sometimes innovation goes unnoticed or unrecognised, often because people are distracted or feel they are too busy to adopt it. This can be frustrating – we can have sympathy with the individual or company who has been inventive – but it is often down to poor communication of the innovation’s benefits. We must improve this.”

IPAF update 

Romina Vanzi, IPAF’s Head of International Development and MCWPs, closed the conference with an update on IPAF’s latest developments in terms of territories and training, and also touched on the importance of member buy-in when it comes to incident reporting via IPAF’s www.ipafaccidentreporting.org portal.

“IPAF has 50 Training Centres, with more than 1,600 members in 80 territories, and IPAF has to ensure a consistent level of service across the whole membership. We owe a special thank you to our sustaining members, that supports IPAF in its core mission: Alimak, Aon, Apex, Eagle Platforms, Haulotte and Riwal.

“We are undergoing digital transformation – including ePAL – but also in terms of integrating internal systems as well as digitising paperwork for our training centres. You are going to see digital testing, which is intended to reduce the burden of administration of training members by at least 50%.

“We also need to be a little bit critical about accident reporting; not all of our members get it. Should accident reporting be compulsory in IPAF? In the UK for instance, reporting is compulsory for rental company members. If we don’t know what is happening out there, we cannot take proper action.”

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