CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
As one of the largest family construction groups in Belgium, we consider it our duty to contribute to a sustainable and qualitative society and world. And our employees also find it important to stand behind this commitment. We have all made joint efforts in recent years to improve the impact of our activities on the environment. For example, we are committed to the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals. Willemen Groep was one of the first Belgian companies to sign the SDG charter. In 2020, the United Nations rewarded our efforts with the UNITAR certificate. A recognition of which we are particularly proud.
As mentioned above, we are already taking many specific measures to implement the 17 sustainable development objectives. These have been positively assessed so far by the evaluation committee, which rewarded us with the Voka Sustainable Business Charter (VCDO) for the third year in a row in 2020. It even earned us recognition at the highest level with the UNITAR certificate. In addition, we are pioneering circular construction together with several other players from the construction sector. Together with the other partners in the Circular Construction Green Deal, we are committed to building up and exchanging experience around this form of recycling economy in the coming years.
Our group currently has more than 2,400 employees belonging to over 30 different nationalities. Approximately one third of our workforce is over the age of 50. Only one principle counts in our recruitment policy: the best candidate gets the job. We never distinguish between gender, ethnic origin, religion, age, or sexual orientation.
In addition, some of our companies have been recognised as a hiring company because they offer opportunities for long-term employment to the long-term unemployed. In addition, several of our employees work under the IBO (Individual Vocational Training for Jobseekers) or GIBO (Specialised IBO for people with disabilities) status. These employees can count on internal guidance and additional training opportunities.
“I did not have a degree, but Willemen Groep was willing to look beyond a piece of paper. This has allowed me to evolve into an IT developer.”
Lars, employee with IBO status
In addition to Belgium, we are also active abroad. We recruit local workers for our foreign projects. We often provide additional training for these people so that they can grow in their profession and further develop their skills. Moreover, they can count on excellent terms of employment.
Our group has a total of around 350 employees under the age of 36. For them, there is the Willemen Intercompany Network for a Great Start (WINGS). WINGS brings them into contact with each other at regular intervals during fun and instructive activities. It makes it easier for our young – and therefore less experienced – employees to find each other if they need some advice or help. In other words, WINGS helps our young employees fly.
Accidents happen quickly, especially in our sector. That is why we regularly roll out awareness-raising campaigns with a focus on safety and safe working practices. It is our ambition to reduce the number of lost-time accidents to zero because every accident is one too many. In order to achieve that goal, the ‘GO FOR ZERO’, our own safety campaign in which we take numerous actions, was set up in 2012.
We also invest heavily in refresher courses and organise annual training days for our construction workers and road workers with safety as a central theme. Each site also holds at least one toolbox meeting per month, during which the real dangers on the site are discussed.
"Every accident can be avoided and everyone has a role to play: from construction worker to site manager or project manager and the management."
Peter, Head of the Internal Safety and Prevention Service
But this sense of responsibility for our employees does not stop when they leave the office or close the site gates behind them. Half of all fatal accidents at work in our country happen on the road, which is why we have been rolling out our own Safe Forward road safety campaign every year since 2016. We focus on specific themes, such as distraction behind the wheel, speeding, or stress and aggression. Our employees signed an accompanying charter that was given a prominent place at the head office. In addition, we are also supporting ‘Safety My Priority’, an awareness-raising campaign by the Belgian Construction Confederation to reduce the number of occupational accidents in the sector.
In addition to avoiding accidents, we put a great deal of effort into the health of our employees. New employees receive a reusable water bottle as a gift on their first day at work. It is also forbidden to smoke on all our company sites. But we also want to make a difference outside the company walls. That’s why we support ‘Join for Water’. Thanks to this NGO, tens of thousands of people gain access to sustainable solutions for drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, or water for agriculture every year. We provided very concrete support for this project in Ituri (East Congo) through Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs.
“By bringing potable water to African villages, we are concretely improving the prosperity of many people.”
Filip, Director of Administration
A company can only grow if its employees grow along with it. That’s why we give our people every opportunity to develop themselves. In 2012, we founded the Willemen Academy, our own training institute in which we offer, among other things, two-year (Advanced) Masterclass courses. The Willemen Academy bundles all of our internal training courses.
But we also support external initiatives with a focus on training. For example, we take part in the YOUCA Action Day every year. On this day, about 15,000 secondary school pupils between the ages of 15 and 18 go to work at businesses. Their full daily pay goes to projects that give young people abroad a chance at an education. We also fully support the YouthStart organisation. This non-profit organisation stimulates the entrepreneurial spirit among young people between the ages of 16 and 30 and gives them opportunities to realise their ambitions.
So we like to put young talent in the spotlight. Every two years since 2015, together with Mechelen Arts Centre nOna, we present the Cedric Willemen Award to a promising filmmaker. The winner receives an amount of 2,500 euros and further support from nOna. This is our way of encouraging video artists to develop their art further. In addition, the award should keep the memory of Cedric – himself a passionate student at the LUCA School of Arts – alive. Cedric passed away in 2015, at just 21 years young.
“Giving young talent opportunities and helping them grow is a core value of Willemen Groep’s corporate culture.”
Bram, Communication Maker
Our current economy is a disposable economy, and unfortunately, the construction industry is just the same. At best, the materials used in the construction of a building or infrastructure are currently recycled to be reused in the production of new materials. Willemen Groep wants to do better, which is why we are helping to find solutions for reusing products and materials rather than recycling them after demolition. Our group is currently taking the first steps in building up the necessary knowledge for successful circular construction. After all, circular construction is the superlative of sustainable building.
In addition, we take numerous actions focusing on sustainability and the environment. For example, we are actively looking for solutions to provide our sites with electricity in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Wherever possible, we opt for a connection to the public electricity grid and we increasingly use hybrid battery packs that can store excess energy in a battery. The generator only starts up if there is a high energy demand. So, not only do we use energy more efficiently, we also generate fewer CO2 emissions than continuously running diesel generators. In addition, the surrounding neighbourhood experiences less noise pollution.
Many of the environmental actions that we have undertaken are part of the environmental management system ISO14001. By the way, we were one of the first construction companies in Belgium to obtain that certificate. In addition, more and more of the buildings we deliver carry a BREEAM or Leed sustainability label. Plus, we have also gained in-depth expertise in passive construction.
Our infrastructure branch has five asphalt production plants that have all been converted to gas in recent years. Our installations meet the most stringent requirements in terms of noise and odour nuisance, and emissions into the soil and the air. In 2015, Willemen Infra was the first and only asphalt producer in Belgium to have an approved validation dossier for Asphalt Reduced Temperature (AVT). AVT is produced and placed at a lower temperature, releasing less CO2 and harmful substances. So, the asphalt is also better for the health and comfort of our road workers.
Since 2019, we are actively participating in a University of Antwerp and OCW (department BAC) research project on REjuveBIT. This VLAIO / Tetrafonds project studies, among other things, the quality and ecological profile of this asphalt enriched with rejuvenating agents. In any case, the asphalt has a smaller ecological footprint than the standard variant. We were also the first in Belgium to be awarded the BENOR TRA 50 certification for road concrete.
The most well-known product of our efforts in sustainability and innovation just might be Drainphalt®: an innovative permeable pavement we developed for the construction of car parks, slip roads, and roads around buildings. The asphalt buffers the rainwater, so that it gradually seeps through to the groundwater. It makes Drainphalt® the ideal solution for the constantly decreasing groundwater level. In addition, the Drainphalt® asphalt mixture is produced at a lower temperature, so that less energy is consumed and less CO2 is released.
Since 2016, many of our companies have been certified under the CO2 performance ladder. This management system stimulates companies to reduce their CO2 emissions within their business operations, but also in projects and in the supply chain. As a pilot in our group, Franki Construct achieves level 4 on this ladder. All other companies will join from 2020. The focus at our company sites, construction sites, and in our power plants is on green electricity.
In addition to sector-specific initiatives, we like to join existing campaigns such as the Car Free Day, in which we participate enthusiastically every year. But we also encourage our employees to commute to and from work as much as possible in a sustainable way throughout the year. For example, even our employees with a company car receive a mileage allowance if they leave the car at home and opt for the bicycle. Our employees can use company bicycles free of charge for short trips. Our fleet is becoming increasingly greener by the year with CNG, 100% electric, and hybrid cars.
Beehives at our head office not only provide delicious honey, they also contribute to the ecosystem and biodiversity.
Of course, you can’t improve the world on your own. We would like to introduce our partners, who help facilitate our CSR policy and thus build a better world together with us.