Understanding and reducing carbon footprints, ensuring social inclusion across the workforce, and 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 on Thursday, 15 September 2022.
Around 120 powered access stakeholders attended the conference at the Grand Hotel Palatino, Rome, Italy – an event hosted in conjunction with official media partner Access International magazine. Speakers covered topics broadly focused on sustainability, diversity, digital development, ethical procurement, recruitment and training and empowerment of industry professionals through social inclusion.
Peter Douglas, CEO of IPAF, welcomed delegates and conference speakers, and gave thanks to all of the event sponsors. He then introduced sustainability expert Marga Hoek, who delivered a keynote address on the need for urgent progress against global sustainable development goals.
“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,” Marga said. 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!”
She extolled the virtues of the circular economy, by pointing out how illogical it is for one business to pay another to 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 future, it is much more cost-effective.”
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 the entire business ecosystem: “Our strategy is simple, broken down into four categories: environment, governance, and social (people and communities). We present sustainability as a unique selling proposition. 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.”
Regards changing fuel sources, such as hydrogen, he said “that infrastructure is coming”, as part of creating integrated energy solutions. He talked about embodied carbon – everything “from cradle to grave” in the lifecycle of rental assets. 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 bought the machine rather than hired it, he said. Ashtead estimates its excavator rental fleet alone saves the equivalent carbon emissions of 77,000 passenger vehicles 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. 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 have? We need common components and universal infrastructure. We also need to look at the supply chain, including reducing embodied carbon. Think of rental sustainability in terms of the tools you have at home – hammers, saws, drills etc. How often do you use those tools? Equipment rental is the same – 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?”
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.
“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. 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. 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, adding: “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. Our 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 the benefits of these innovations.
“We need to use materials that support greater sustainability and processes that enable this. Enhanced customer service also enables 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 to a green economy. The future is now!”
Karin Nars, IPAF President and Managing Director of Dinolift, placed emphasis on empowering workers and giving stakeholders a voice: “People cannot be overlooked if you want to improve occupational health & safety and business performance –sustainability must have a social aspect to be successful.
“Diversity and inclusion are values 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: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.’
“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. 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 communicating about the contribution of women in our industry we promote inclusion and generate a sense of belonging for others.
“If we encourage people to call out 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. By doing this and by listening and empathising effectively, we can encourage and empower those around us to contribute to safety of all in our industry.”
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 company procurement strategies.
Glyn said: “If there’s a machine in our fleet we need and there is an electric or hybrid machine, we have to buy that version”. Kai agreed there are benefits to all-electric machines: “Unusually in plant hire when the operator is working, the machine is standing still, which offers the potential to recharge batteries while the MEWP’s in use.”
In answer to a question on how the rental sector is managing the increased cost of greener machines; Glyn said: “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 full lifespan, while customers don’t yet appreciate the difference in cost.”
Energy costs are so high at the moment that Philippe suggested now is an ideal juncture “to look at pricing structures”, while Glyn talked about futureproofing depots to ensure that the demand for electricity does not exceed supply during peak activity.
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, while 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, 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; it has come “a long way in a short space of time,” he commented. “Access control is 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.”
He talked about the IPAF ePAL app, which Trackunit developed in partnership with IPAF, and said he had rarely seen “such rapid industry uptake”. He acknowledged the first-generation application as “a promising start” and highlighted some of the ambitions he can see for upcoming versions of the ePAL app, including unlocking the potential of the app to be integrated into machine access control.
“We have a foundation [in telematics] to ask ourselves, on top of the great reporting and data-sharing 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 really good business. It’s for the common good. Access control unlocks data that can drive safety through logging equipment time, avoiding misuse, and sharing operator experience.
“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 also 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.
Pier Angelo Cantù, Founder & CEO of Rental Consulting, talked of the importance of analysing data 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. 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.”
“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.
“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.”
Romina Vanzi, IPAF’s Head of Regional 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 now has Training Centres in excess of 50 countries and more than 1,600 members across 80 territories worldwide; IPAF has to ensure a consistent level of service across the whole membership. We owe special thanks to our sustaining members, which support IPAF in its 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.”
Karin Nars then closed the conference with some words of thanks: “IPAF is grateful to our sponsors, our speakers and all those who attended Europlatform 2022. I hope all those at the event have found it productive and heard new ideas to take away.”