Michel Petitjeam Interview
Michel Petitjeam Interview

Why the rental industry is so well placed to support sustainability goals

The European Rental Association (ERA) is the ‘voice’ of the equipment rental industry in Europe. Secretary General Michel Petitjean, a veteran of the construction and rental industries in Europe and the United States, firmly believes that rental has a significant role to play in sustainability – and that the post-pandemic recovery will provide a crucial opportunity to advance this cause.


Powernews has an exclusive interview. 

“We’ve a lot to do if we’re to succeed in our commitment to greater sustainability, but I’m confident about the signs,” says Michel, lauding the efforts of ERA members who have used their ‘downtime’ to focus on much-needed improvements to process. 

Michel Petitjean

Some might argue that the rental proposition of allowing multiple users to access a single piece of machinery when they need it, thereby reducing waste with excess fleets sitting idle, is inherently supportive of the sustainability agenda, but the ERA strongly believes there is more work to be done.   

While sustainability has loomed large in many ERA members’ sights, those efforts have also been mirrored with a commitment to improving and advancing the industry’s digitalisation.

“We have seen remarkable work over the last year from companies who are determined to use innovation to accelerate their processes,” says Michel, pointing to a record number of entries received for the ERA’s innovation awards. 

“There’s real interest in finding new ways of working safer and making the working environment healthier. This is very positive, and I’m really proud of our members: rather than closing doors and hunkering down, they did the opposite, to accelerate change.”

Such a commitment is all the more remarkable, says Michel, because of that asset-rich nature of the industry. While other sectors, aviation for example, have used the pandemic as a means to rationalise their fleets by ditching older, less profitable models, such options aren’t available to the rental sector. “The airline industry has a limited number of very heavy assets,” points out Michel. “One of our members has 650,000 pieces of equipment on its asset register. You just can’t make a change overnight.”

But the flip side of that is the speed of innovation from the equipment manufacturers and OEMs themselves. “Innovation is moving so fast – huge and rapid steps, as Perkins knows only too well with its Stage V models.

“Rental companies have an important role to play in encouraging and promoting these new trends – but that has to be balanced against the huge numbers of assets they manage."

“It takes two euros of asset to guarantee one euro of revenue, after you’ve balanced capacity, maintenance, investment, customer service and so on.”

- Michel Petitjean 

"Yes, you have that speed of innovation, but it’s tempered.”

But Michel is clear about what he sees as the rental sector’s responsibility towards net zero goals. “The whole rental industry is geared around sustainability.

“Rent, and you can ensure exactly the right piece of equipment is put to use – not so big that you’re wasting resources, and not so small that the job is taking longer than you need. What’s more, it’s going to be well-maintained – increasing its efficiency and lifetime.”

Emissions of course, is where the industry comes under most scrutiny. In 2020, the ERA Equipment CO2 Calculator was released, based on the findings of its 2019 report Carbon Footprint of Construction Equipment. The calculator was designed to assess the carbon footprint of one piece of construction equipment. “It was a symbolic accomplishment,” recalls Michel, “and while not everyone was happy, at least we demonstrated that it was possible. 

“There’s still room for improvement, but by identifying a set of parameters and a standard measurement procedure, it’s streamlined the process and eliminated a lot of duplication of effort.”

The calculator was closely followed by a best practice guide on CSR KPI’s, including eight chapters which relate key performance indicators to specific Sustainable Development Goals. “This helps companies who are seeking certification under the ISO1400 family of standards, allowing them to change their fleet to suit and even arrange credits for the rest of their emissions. It’s a great example of how far the industry has come.”

Hand-in-hand with this process will be digitalisation. ERA members are working hard on the technology front, acknowledges Michel, but he says it’s an area where medium-sized companies often have the upper hand. “If it’s one country, one company, then all it needs is for management to give it the green light, and it will happen.”

With so many potential changes ‘waiting in the wings’, Michel says the next few years were going to be crucial for the industry anyway. “The legislative framework was always coming and that’s only going to intensify – the Green Deal, COP26, HVO, alternative fuels and so on.

“But the pandemic has perhaps sharpened the pencil a little. The rental model offers a lot of advantages to the construction industry, and I’m excited about how our members will step up to the plate to support their customers in achieving their sustainability goals with some of these new and emerging initiatives, when the rebound finally arrives.”

About the author

Michel Petitjean has been secretary general of the ERA since it was established in 2006, a role which includes overseeing the day-to-day activities of the association and organising its annual convention. 

Before joining the ERA, Michel enjoyed a successful career in construction and rental in Europe and the U.S. He was chairman of Prime Equipment, CEO of Pinault Equipment and CEO of Laho Equipment, working in France, Spain and the U.S. 

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