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#94 Work to be done
Today, I returned to work after a 3-week holiday. Even though I will miss the time to go running, play guitar, teach my youngest to ride a bike, or go to the beach at will with the family, I was glad to be back. My work is the new job I started in June as program manager for one of the Netherlands’ premier contractors: BAM Infra NL.
So, how about the six or seven weeks at my new job? The company has proven very welcoming. I enjoy the action-biased, no-nonsense culture that seems to accept people easily. Last week at the campsite, I ended up in a conversation with a total stranger that turned out to be a colleague. He had seen my branded water bottle, which removed all need for introductions. “Dr. BAM, I presume.”
It is also quite nice that BAM is the A brand (with a matching CDP score). People expect us to take a leading role when it comes to making construction more sustainable. We are “de BAM,” and if anyone can, well. And, of course, noblesse oblige.
I received the best possible onboarding, getting to know at least a hundred people somewhat and much more quickly. I don’t claim to remember all their names, but by the end of the year, I feel my position demands I know hundreds personally. I’ve visited work sites, warehouses, and projects and seen some of the coolest (and most environmentally friendly) inventions up close, chatting with the engineers and operators doing the spadework on carbon reduction and circularity.
And spadework’s been done. Almost every week, a new electrified machine is unveiled. We now have an electrified roller, a drill caterpillar, an asphalt spreader, excavators, cranes, and many more. A lot of work goes into making our primary materials more sustainable and into using less of them overall. I don’t think anyone already has a complete overview of all initiatives in the organization, but there must be hundreds. This work has been in the making for years, building on a solid foundation of engineering expertise and good intentions.
As program manager, it’s my task to accelerate all these initiatives, bring more people and their ideas on board, and eventually translate all these efforts into new business opportunities. The last part excites me very much: I’d love to support the transition from doing the work in a good way (zero emissions, circular, biodiversity positive) to doing the good work (rebuilding our country’s infrastructure for a planet and people positive future).
Also, there’s a strong push to do more.
In 2021, the Dutch NGO Milieudefensie won a landmark case against Shell. The courts forced the energy giant to take climate action. Building on their success, in 2022, Milieudefensie sent letters to 29 influential large polluters in the Netherlands. Their ask: submit a plan to limit your climate impact and address climate change. A reasonable ask. One of these letters went to the BAM Group. In other words — in Milieudefensie’s words — I now work for a large polluter.
Everyone who has ever done house maintenance or upgrades knows that contracting involves a lot of pollution. There’s the drive to the DIY store, the materials you purchase, and the waste these produce. You may have rented machinery and, if the house was off the grid, a diesel generator. After the many odd jobs I’ve done in my home, I’ve often felt bad about the negative impact of a freshly painted wall or a new closet. Now imagine this at the scale of dikes, railroads, or highways, and you get a grasp of the potential impact of a company like BAM, one of the largest contractors in our country.
Construction overall is responsible for about 50% of raw material usage, 40% of energy consumption, and 35% of CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
I believe that Milieudefensie’s letters are a master stroke. First, yes, companies like BAM need to do the heavy lifting to tackle climate change. Second, more than any other organization on earth, businesses should lead the way in ensuring a livable future on our planet. (They may be the only ones with the actionable power to make a change for the better.) Thirdly, with governments unwilling to legislate climate responsibility, who but a well-established NGO can give willing businesses the much-desired nudge to move from intention to action?
There is work to do. The business and sector I now work for in polluting in nature, even though its business isn’t polluting. Our business is ensuring trains run all over the country, people can travel to their work and loved ones, and dikes and other water works protect low laying backlands. This is work that needs to be done. It needs to be done well.
I look forward to this work, and I was glad to return to the job at hand.
I returned to a full calendar, a full inbox, and a full set of ambitions for the months remaining in this year. There is a lot to do and not too much time to do it, as exemplified by the ongoing heat waves, drought, and extreme weather events of the summer of 22 (the coldest and safest summer of the rest of our lives).
I am intent to continue this newsletter. I want to write about concrete (from its Roman roots to its difficult reintroduction in the 20th century to its circular future), electrifying everything, knowledge management, and everything else that comes by. However, I cannot guarantee the updates will be weekly, so please stay put.
As always, thanks for reading, replying, forwarding, liking, etc. It’s great to have you hear. Thanks a lot!