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New thinking

The concrete industry has formally launched its latest sustainability performance report and committed itself to a new industry strategy to further increase its sustainability lead over other construction material sectors. Sustainable Concrete Forum chairman Andy Spencer explains more

In 2008, most of the UK concrete industry signed-up and committed to the Concrete Industry Sustainable Construction Strategy. This landmark, pan-industry agreement had as its central premise a common vision that: “The UK concrete industry will be recognised as the leader in sustainable construction, by taking a dynamic role in delivering a sustainable built environment in a manner that is profitable, socially responsible and which functions within environmental limits.”

This vision was to be realised via the achievement of a range of industry commitments resulting in proven reductions in carbon emissions, the industry becoming a net consumer of waste, and the industry being a leader in the use of responsibly and locally sourced material.

The vision also contained a commitment to a strategy of continuous improvement with the industry ultimately supporting a zero carbon built-environment.

The fourth Concrete Sustainability Performance Report demonstrates how far the industry has come in realising its vision. The report found that 88% of concrete production is responsibly sourced to BRE standard BES 6001 -

Higher standard

Framework Standard for the Responsibly Sourcing of Construction Products. This is not only higher than any other construction material sector, it far surpasses the government’s own Sustainable Construction Strategy target for 2012. This requires that at least 25% of construction materials be supplied from suppliers with responsible sourcing certification.

The concrete industry was the first construction materials sector to link its sustainable construction strategy to BES 6001. This is important as this standard represents the most comprehensive scoring of the different schemes in BREEAM sustainability rating scheme. The highest BREAM rating can only be achieved via certification to BES 6001.

Other achievements highlighted by the report include the overall 16.3% reduction in CO2 emissions for a standardised concrete mix compared to the 1990 baseline figure.

The cement sector has invested significantly in delivering environmental improvements and reducing its emissions.

Compared to 1998, the 2010 levels of nitrogen oxide were reduced by over 59%, sulphur dioxide emissions were over 87% lower and dust emissions were reduced by over 83%.

The cement sector and the ground granulated blast furnace slag sector have also committed to government voluntary climate change agreements (CCA). These commit the sectors to major energy reduction programmes.

Improved performance

The cement sector has improved its CCA performance by 44.8% between 1990 and 2010, far exceeding the original target of 30%. The ground granulated blast furnace slag sector has achieved a 16% energy reduction between 1999 and 2010.

Major progress has been made by the concrete industry in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill. The 2010 figures show a 60% reduction compared to the 2008 baseline. This is significantly ahead of the set 15% reduction target.

The concrete industry is a net user of waste and continues to increase its consumption. Currently, it now uses almost 47 times more waste, by-products and secondary materials from other industries than the waste it sends to landfill. To put that figure into context, the amount of waste used by the concrete industry is equivalent to over 40% of the construction, demolition and excavation waste send to England based on 2008 data.

Not wanting to rest on its laurels, the concrete industry is determined to further develop its sustainability achievements. Following extensive stakeholder engagement plus consideration of the direction of government policy and market drivers, the original 2008 Concrete Industry Sustainability Strategy has been updated with new objectives and performance targets looking forward to 2020.

Building on the progress made since 2008, new performance targets have been set including:

  • 90% reduction in waste to landfill by 2020 (from 2008 baseline)
  • 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from concrete production by 2020 (from 1990 baseline)
  • 95% of production certified to responsible sourcing standard BES 6001 by 2020
  • 100% of relevant production sites with action plans for site stewardship and biodiversity.

New key objectives include engaging with the broader supply chain to forward good practice, and informing clientsof the range of concrete construction solutions to enable design and construction of a sustainable built environment. In particular, the updated strategy commits the industry to playing an active role in the delivery of a zero carbon built environment, providing life cycle assessment data, and developing a material and resource efficiency programme that informs best practice across the life cycle of concrete.

In addition, the strategy calls for the development of a low carbon freight initiative to reduce the environmental impact of transportation and of a water strategy to address the issue of water consumption and conservation.

For transport this includes examining possible efficiency improvements of logistic operations and reducing the CO2 emissions associated with delivery transport. This includes looking for opportunities to maximise the use of non-road transport, optimising vehicle loads, alternative vehicle fuels and more efficient delivery scheduling. Unlike other construction materials, concrete already has a UK local supply network, raw materials are local and do not have to be transported from overseas. The development of a low carbon freight initiative can only increase the benefits of a material that is locally-sourced.

The water strategy will forward ways for the concrete industry to reduce its demands for mains water. The industry already uses rainwater harvesting and water recycling. The strategy will forward appropriate measurement methodologies consistent with the developing standards on product water foot-printing and set targets for performance improvement.

The targets of the new strategy are challenging. However, the impressive progress made proves that the concrete sector has the commitment to not only meet the targets but to exceed them. Importantly, the pan-industry sign-up to the Strategy has underlined the concrete industry’s determination to embrace continuous sustainability improvement and development despite the current economic downturn and lack of growth.

The concrete industry believes that it has stolen a march on its competitors, and that this combined with the range of built-in performance benefits, will ensure that concrete plays a central role in the provision of a sustainable built environment.

  • Download the Concrete ­Industry Sustainability ­Performance Reports at: www.­sustainableconcrete.org.uk

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