‘Change management has an essential role in reducing CO2 emissions to zero’

An interview with Christiaan Claessens (35) from Dordrecht, who for the past year has been managing the ‘Net Zero Emissions’ project at Van Oord. This large family business has over 150 years of experience in the international maritime contracting sector. Together with his team, Christiaan aims to reduce the company’s emissions to zero by 2050.

How did you find your way to Van Oord?

“I’ve been working at the company for around six-and-a-half years now having initially joined as a trainee after my civil engineering studies at Delft University of Technology were completed. While I’ve always been focused on data and digitisation in my work, I started working on sustainability solutions for Van Oord in my spare time. It’s no secret that I’ve been fascinated by this subject for a long time so when the company was looking for a manager for the Net Zero Emissions project a year ago they immediately thought of me.”

What type of sustainability solutions have you worked on?

“Van Oord regularly submits proposals for tenders, such as when the government recently needed a contractor for a new wind turbine park. At my own initiative I calculated the total footprint of this kind of project, including options for increasing its sustainability. Although we unfortunately did not win this particular tender it was a turning point for me and I decided to focus even more on sustainability.”

What does the role of Net Zero Emissions project manager entail?

“Van Oord has an ambition to reduce its CO2 emissions to zero by 2050… But how to actually achieve this goal is what I’m working on. It all starts with calculating the emissions we actually produce now, which is a hugely complex task in its own right. Things becomes even more complicated when you want to predict what we’ll produce in the future, taking the new innovations, laws and subsidies into account that arise every month. It is a very tricky puzzle, but that’s exactly what I love about my role.”

Tell us more…

“The energy transition is the defining issue of our times, especially for a maritime transport company like Van Oord. Sustainability is also very important in my private life and I try to take steps myself, from eating less meat to leaving the car unused more often. When you then see what difference it would make if Van Oord were to start sailing on bio-fuel – that would very quickly save far more emissions than I could ever achieve in my lifetime. These thoughts give me so much energy and I really want to be involved in the process.”

Walk us through a typical working day.

“I drive my electric moped from my home in Dordrecht to the head office in Rotterdam. On Mondays, my task often consists of one-to-one meetings with people from throughout the company. A major part of my work is change management – encouraging people to become part of the transition. The rest of my time sees my team of ten people and I mapping out information. We make reports, analysing emissions now and in the future. Van Oord uses 15 types of fuel for its vessels, and each has its own properties, depending on the engine model. That requires lots of calculations in Excel.”

How could emissions in the offshore industry be reduced: could you give an example?

“One solution is the use of green fuels. Seagoing vessels cannot yet sail electrically, which is why we are currently building a new one called Boreas that will have the capacity to sail on methanol: green hydrogen with CO2. Other major companies, including Maersk, are also making substantial investments in reducing the footprint of their vessels. We won’t be ready to operate our vessels on methanol by next year, but there are major worldwide developments and investments underway in this field.”

What is the hardest aspect of your work?

“You can’t just say that we’ll stop producing emissions. That would run a company into the ground fast, putting Van Oord’s 5000 staff on the streets. At the same time, you can’t invest millions of dollars in each project as that would always result in losses. We therefore have to ensure that our clients have an insight into how we can make sustainability profitable within the options that are available today.”

How’s that working out?

“Well, we can certainly see that there’s a huge drive within Van Oord to invest in these matters. A few years ago, I had to push hard to bring my ideas to the table but now people actively seek them out. For example, my team recently made a prediction for our emissions in the years up to 2030. While this still involved considerable margins it did include a nice graphic that was enthusiastically shared across all layers of the organisations. This was great to see.”

You’re currently surrounded by emissions and emission reports. Do you have a connection to the offshore world itself as well?

“Absolutely! Wind turbines at sea amaze me. Just the size of them nowadays is extraordinary and the way they produce energy is just so efficient. I’m also really busy with all the other fields Van Oord is involved in: offshore wind, dredging, those huge vessels. I really like the business and working on the Net Zero Emissions project within that framework is just perfect for me.”

AYOP aims to highlight the diversity in work in offshore, both to create more awareness of the sector and attract more people, and to give employees the recognition they deserve. This series focuses on several companies. Previously, we published an interview with Marcel and Chris from Equans,  Jordy d’Hondt and Torben Verleg from Bluestream, Dennie Koningstein from DHSSJoep Riksen from C-Ventus, David van Baak from REYM and Rianne Tiggelman from FMTC Safety.