Designing a business model to reduce CO2 emissions from the use of construction machinery

Johan M. Sanne, a lead researcher in one of four studies carried out in cooperation with the Construction Climate Challenge (CCC), an initiative with the aim of putting climate on top of the agenda in the construction industry, talks about the importance of designing a new business model to reduce CO2 emissions from the use of construction machinery.

In the bustling, urban environment of Stockholm, Sweden, some of the most important research and development in the field of environmental studies and climate change solutions take place. For Associate Professor Johan M. Sanne, the incentives behind the research project funded by the CCC initiative, mirror his own views as a discerning conscientious individual in the 21st century.

Hosted by Volvo Construction Equipment, the CCC initiative has had research as its primary focus from the very beginning. It was created to stimulate dialogue between industry representatives, academics and politicians, as well as providing funding for new research and sharing existing knowledge.

“The motivation for my involvement is quite simple. As a concerned citizen, the opportunity to make a change in terms of survival for humanity and for the ecosystem at large is something I cannot ignore. It definitely makes my everyday at work more interesting.”

As the lead researcher in one of four research projects funded by the CCC, Johan has played an important role in re-thinking how the construction industry can reduce its effect on the climate.

Johan brings a wealth of knowledge from both technology and social sciences, but at IVL his scientific approach includes a wide variety of angles and team collaborations from diverse subject areas.

“I’m a scientist working with technology and society, and complex value chains. I’m interested in exchanges in different parts of the value chain and how they can be made to change, but also how they can impact behavior,” says Johan.

“Me and my colleagues, one with a background in life cycle analysis, one in emission measuring and a third one in process control, went through the literature material from construction emissions and innovation and took the whole chain into consideration.”

Johan believes business models are crucial when shaping a sustainable future, especially when it comes to a reduction of CO2 emissions. And with a team of fellow researchers, a lead has now been taken on the complex relationship between socio-technical systems and economic incentives.


R: Your research suggests “incentives” are required to drive change. Do you have examples of what that might be? And is it predominantly monetary incentives you are talking about?

J: We were thinking both in terms of monetary incentives and in terms of professional pride. We think that monetary incentives are important for companies but also for individuals. That could be, for example, an increase in pay for reducing emissions. There could also be competition among peers or individually over time, which I think is a powerful incentive. Incentives could be based on perfecting personal skills in driving or designing, logistics or even opportunity packages.

R: What were your main findings in the pre-study?

J: We found that there are a large number of CO2 reduction schemes around but they are not linked or connected efficiently. There are a lot of resources that need to be utilized and put into action. We believe you need procurement packages and incentives to make a technology work more efficiently to take advantage of what there already is. We also found that operator behavior, the drivers of the machinery, have a salient influence on reducing CO2 emissions. We saw, for example, the difference between comparable machines doing the same kind of work was around 4-7% difference in CO2 emissions, whereas the difference between operators and their CO2 emissions could be as much as 40%.

R: It’s a difficult question, but if there was one thing that you thought was imperative to change in the construction industry to help reduce CO2 emissions, what would it be?

J: I think it starts with the buyer. The buyers of construction work need to engage with procurement practices that provide both incentives and freedom for entrepreneurs, to innovate and make radical improvements in how they use machinery and how they contract them. I hope to see the big procurers around really making a difference.

Watch the filmed portrait of researcher Johan M. Sanne