Manage Complexity in Environmental Governance

The Dutch Emissions Authority (NEa) improves efficiency, compliance, and innovation in environmental regulation with Mendix and CLEVR.

Environmental consciousness is an urgent priority for organizations worldwide. The Paris Climate Agreement and Green Deal set targets for a 55% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and for Europe to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, respectively.

To support these goals the Dutch Emissions Authority (NEa) oversees permit applications, allocation of CO2 allowances, renewable energy unit trade, and emissions registration in the Netherlands. NEa saw digital transformation as the key for revolutionizing data management and compliance to meet stringent sustainability standards.

Nearly a decade ago, NEa adopted the Mendix low-code platform to navigate the complexities of a constantly evolving environmental landscape burdened by outdated systems. Today, NEa has developed three business-critical low-code applications that eliminate legacy inefficiencies. These solutions have resulted in significant efficiency gains for both NEa and the more than 600 companies using them.

Going Green with Mendix

Organizations such as chemical, steel, and electrical power plants are incentivized to shift towards sustainable production as the price for emitting CO2 rises. Being compliant with the complex and changing legislation of EU ETS requires vast domain expertise and leads to a significant administrative burden.

Mark Bressers, CIO at NEa, shared that initially NEa relied on conventional communication tools, EU-mandated standardized Excel formats for reporting, and a limited number of document workflow applications. Yet, these systems posed challenges in effectively communicating with private businesses.

Bressers’ plan to streamline these processes and reduce the administrative effort for their customers was simple: “We do it with the help of IT and digital services.”

“We wanted to create our own applications easily because we are in a niche industry. Emissions Authorities in other countries operate completely differently so we can’t rely on general applications or commercial off-the-shelf solutions,” Bressers said.

NEa saw rapid software delivery as the key to their change-readiness. They conducted a successful proof-of-concept with Mendix in 2014, noting its efficiency compared to traditional development methods.

In 2015 NEa formally adopted Mendix, as it aligned with their goals to:

  • Manage complex data: NEa aspired to be more data-driven, and Mendix facilitates this by easily integrating with various business information tools or systems, making it an ideal platform from an architectural standpoint.
  • Standardize and modernize development: “We saw that it was very easy to develop with Mendix, and the availability of standard building blocks from Marketplace was critical for us,” shared Dinesh Ramsaransing, Coordinator of Information Security, Privacy & Integrity and deputy CIO.
  • Ensure privacy and security by design: NEa needed a solution that adhered to GDPR, made version control easy, and minimized common IT risks such as system disruptions or breaches. “We also need to store data or archive to be compliant with our laws and regulations,” Ramsaransing added.

REVolutionizing Energy Registration

Joachim Driessen, business analyst at NEa, works within a department focused on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the transport sector. Until 2014, participants were required to fill out Excel sheets with more than 35 tabs of information concerning detailed stock volumes.

In 2014, NEa developed the Energy for Transport Registry (REV) with Mendix. REV streamlined the process to abide by the most current legislation at the time and reduce the amount of information an end-user needed to provide. This resulted in a lean process for registering fossil and renewable fuels. Since 2015, Nea implemented another 3 major versions of the application that corresponded to major changes in legislation.

With REV companies can register deliveries of fossil and renewable fuels into their account. This enables NEa to report on the achieved progress in the fossil fuels transition and ensure compliance with legislation.

This legislation has continued to evolve over the last decade, and developing REV with low-code provided NEa an opportunity to more easily re-architect the solution if needed.

“We concluded that the new requirements mandated by the upcoming legislation in 2026, and the need for three more registries from 2026 onwards, required creating a new solution,” Driessen said.

“From this base application we can deploy the different registries we need by providing a specific configuration setup for each registry that implements the required functionality,” he explained.

Driessen tapped expert Mendix implementation partner, CLEVR, and spearheaded the development of this new generic registry application, designed to streamline the registration of fossil and renewable fuels.

The inner workings of the generic application provide robust handling on technical specifications like versioning and workflow. As the complexity of new legislation increases over time, NEa retains the ability to improve their UX to make the procedures more manageable and comprehensible for their users.

Some of its current and future benefits include:

  • Intuitive registration of fossil and renewable fuels
  • Clear presentation of compliancy status to account holders
  • A strong foundation for NEa’s reporting capabilities with improved data accuracy and reliability
  • An easy functionality for NEa to implement corrections in cases of incompliancy

“Mendix brought flexibility and elegance to building and iterating on the REV application,” Driessen said.

Emissions Trading Made Efficient

Participants under EU ETS need to draft and continuously update their individual monitoring plans, depicting systems, and measures to accurately monitor their CO2 emissions.

“Previously, this process involved over 35 manual steps, from receiving new plans to archiving related documents,” explained Bas Kroon, product owner at NEa. “Our information was scattered, and we needed better insights. We wanted to streamline this process by centralizing information.”

In 2018, NEa realized that upcoming legislative changes would lead to increasing complexity and a surge in the volume of updates on an organization’s monitoring procedures.

In response, NEa developed the Emission Trade Portal (EHP) to improve process efficiency and provide better IT support.

“Digitizing to alleviate some of the burden on the employees was critical,” Bressers explained. “That way, we could help the participants while also promoting our digital transformation agenda.”

“Authorizing decisions and acquiring signatures are now simplified and automated through the EHP,” Kroon elaborated. “With just one click, EHP generates a draft. Employees fill in a brief section, then with another click, it continues the process. Once the decision is signed, EHP automatically sends an email notification to the company’s contact person. This has significantly improved efficiency and traceability.”

NEa inspectors previously spent considerable time gathering data from various applications and spreadsheets for analysis. Now, they can generate specific reports instantly in EHP.

“All these manual processes have been replaced by the new Mendix application with workflow management, storage, and archiving functionalities. This means we’ve created one single source of truth for NEa’s data, a crucial architectural principle,” said Michel van den Bempt, a developer from CLEVR. “The Mendix platform is well suited for sharing that confidential information securely.”

“Now, we can perform analyses much faster, and our data quality overall is significantly higher thanks to the new application,” said Hemmo Koornneef, business analyst at NEa.

One of the biggest enhancements to EHP includes a connection with the Chamber of Commerce’s database, which automatically checks for changes in business registrations.

“Participants are legally required to notify NEa of changes in their business registration, but in our experience, they often forget to do so,” Koornneef said. “Usually, they notify the Chamber of Commerce, since it’s the national central registry for businesses.”

“Through this new connection NEa always has up-to-date information and businesses no longer need to notify us as well,” he added. “At the same time, we implemented eHerkenning, the national electronic identification (eID) for businesses within the eIDAS framework. Before eHerkenning we had to manually create accounts, do ID-checks with copies of passports, and get signatures from legal business representatives.”

Van den Bempt highlighted their pioneering use of eHerkenning in NEa’s Mendix applications: “The integration is based upon the SAML module from Marketplace, which was not yet compatible with eHerkenning. We had to make some adjustments to the module, with a layer on top of the standard.”

Now, this integration can be reused in future solutions, and will be supported and maintained by Mendix.

Kroon expressed immense pride in user feedback for the EHP in 2023. “About a year after the application’s launch, we conducted a survey among our external users and got excellent results. Contact persons rated us at 7.5 out of 10, and annual report verifiers gave us an 8.1 out of 10,” he said.

In that same survey, NEa requested suggestions for enhancements, which are presently under development. “These new functionalities, such as verifiers accessing monitoring plans and emissions calculations, will be operational by January 2024,” Kroon added. “It’s perfect timing because in March participants need to submit their annual reports. Achieving 100% compliance with the EHP in March 2023 was remarkable—we’re still amazed by that accomplishment and expect the same in 2024.”

Rapid Carbon Compliance

In 2021, the Dutch government implemented a carbon levy, further incentivizing businesses to invest in sustainable technologies. NEa swiftly responded by creating a digital solution to meet the newly established requirements. The CO2 Tax Register (CHeR) was built in just four months with a team of two developers.

“What often happens is that there’s new legislation, but working out the policy details takes time. This leaves us with less time to develop IT support,” Koornneef explained. “Once an agreement is made, you need to have a solution ready fast. We wouldn’t have gotten CHeR to market in such a short time without Mendix.”

One of CHeR’s standout features is its integration with the EHP. “The EHP receives new information from the Chamber of Commerce daily and seamlessly transmits this information to CHeR,” Kroon said.

Collaboration in Action

NEa’s successful software delivery with Mendix was contingent on choosing the right implementation partner. The CLEVR team attributes the seamless partnership with NEa to strong communication. “A good product owner is essential for these projects,” Van den Bempt stressed.

“For example, a product owner is responsible for business communication for the EHP application, consolidating and transforming that into epics, themes, and user stories for us to build upon. We close the loop with the business in sprint reviews and extensive user acceptance tests, which include the interface and textual aspects of the applications.”

Transitioning to a new working method engaged colleagues and end users who provided valuable feedback, further enhancing the iterative software development. “Working agile also yields fast results in combination with low-code,” Kroon said. “If there’s any bugs or problems, it can be fixed in two sprints or less.”

“We use SCRUM and agile because it gives us more flexibility and control,” Driessen added. “It works well with Mendix, and we can constantly adjust and reflect on what can be improved.”

From the partner perspective, CLEVR recognizes the significance of their work with NEa and its environmental implications. As a testament to their four-year partnership, CLEVR was invited to join NEa during an annual event where Dutch companies emitting pollutants were updated on legislation and provided essential information regarding compliance processes.

Becoming deeply involved in understanding customer processes makes for a truly effective Mendix developer. “It’s important to want to make a true difference for them,” van den Bempt emphasized.

“For us, we work as a unified team regardless of whether someone is working on a project from the CLEVR or NEa side,” he said.

Sustainable Horizons

NEa’s use of Mendix exemplifies how low-code can redefine operational norms in alignment with global environmental initiatives. A low-code approach both addresses current challenges and enables a forward-thinking strategy to achieve long-term sustainability goals.

“Using Mendix and collaborating with CLEVR has made our development much easier,” Bressers said. “We have fun working together and sharing our knowledge and creativity. Mendix provides us the platform to speed up our process, but it also makes everything scalable and pragmatic.”

“At the end of the day, we are structuring these projects and solutions in a way that can be maintained far into the future,” Van den Bempt shared. “With Mendix, we can tackle these complex challenges by keeping it as simple as possible.”

NEa sets a noteworthy precedent for other government entities, demonstrating the achievable success of IT projects. Acknowledging the inherent challenges within government IT initiatives, Kroon shared, “It can be difficult. But our projects have stayed within budget and we’re proud of that.”

Now poised for future growth and innovation, NEa is gearing up for diverse projects catering to pollution control, ERP systems, sea ferries, and CRM systems.

“Dealing with climate change is becoming even more of a top priority. We need to be flexible and prepare to meet this demand.