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Concrete action on sustainable development

Published by , Editor - Hydrocarbon Engineering
World Cement,

The UK concrete industry launched the Concrete Industry Sustainable Construction Strategy back in 2008, and now in 2013 the industry is publishing its sixth annual performance report, presenting performance data across a holistic set of indicators including materials, carbon, waste and material efficiency, biodiversity and water, and wellbeing.

Andy Spencer, Chair of the Sustainable Concrete Forum said, “We feel proud of our progress to date but are certainly not complacent about the challenges ahead, particularly in relation to CO2 reduction. Our 2020 commitments reflect our aspiration for continuous improvement both in our industry performance and the extent of our reporting”.

Industry performance

2012 data shows that the industry has met its performance targets in relation to environmental management, quality management, CO2 emissions, emissions to air and water, waste and waste materials as an alternative source of energy. Progress on health and safety is on track for the 2014 target.

Carbon is the dominant metric for many in evaluating sustainability performance and the industry target is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacture of concrete and constituent materials, such as cement, and meet the targets set in sector Climate Change Agreements. Through investment in innovation and efficient production technologies, the industry has reduced the embodied carbon of concrete. The standardised or baseline mix shows a 23% reduction in CO2 from 1990. In addition, The Concrete Centre continues to provide tools and guidance to designers so that they can utilise the thermal mass properties of concrete to deliver operational energy efficiency and the associated carbon emissions savings in the use and reuse of our built environment.

Of increasing importance is the sourcing and chain of custody of the goods and products we use in our built environment. ‘Ethical consumerism’ may still be more common in our choice of food or clothing; however, the recent policy from the UK Contractors Group to source responsibly sourced materials demonstrates its relevance to our built environment. The concrete industry has taken a leadership position in this area and has adopted the BES 6001 framework for responsible sourcing. In 2012 89% of concrete produced in the UK was accredited to this standard and 99% of this concrete achieved a ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’ rating.

The sustainability spotlight is also now highlighting the significance of resource efficiency, including materials and water. Efficiency is synonymous with cost savings and the manufacturing industries have a culture of innovation in this area. The concrete industry has utilised by-products from other industries, recycled and secondary materials as replacements for virgin materials both in concrete production and as sources of energy. The sixth report shows that the industry has significantly increased its consumption of recovered materials and waste and reduced the amount of waste it land filled. In 2012 the concrete industry consumed 62 times more waste than it sent to landfill.

Targets have not been reached in all areas, and although many show an improvement from the 2008 baseline, the industry has not met all its ambitions within the desired timescale. In these areas, such as additional cementitious materials, employment and skills, biodiversity plans and local community engagement the industry continues to work towards the targets now set for 2020 and beyond.

Commitment to 2020 and beyond

The latest report, published by The Concrete Centre on behalf of the Concrete Industry Sustainable Construction Forum (SCF), also provides the springboard for the new commitments and targets set by and for the industry looking toward 2020 and beyond.

Following consultation with stakeholders from the construction marketplace, relevant UK government departments as well as the concrete industry and supply chain the industry has now updated the strategy. As well as setting new targets for existing indicators the industry has committed to extending the breadth and depth of its aspirations for improved performance including development of initiatives for low carbon freight and the measurement and management of water usage.

During 2013, progress on the resource efficiency initiative is already visible. Alongside the performance report, the concrete industry will launch Resource Efficiency Action Plans (REAP) for UK concrete published by British Precast and BRMCA in partnership with WRAP. These action plans provide recommendations over the lifecycle of a construction product as defined in EN15804.

Data and details

The data is provided by manufacturers and sector associations from the aggregate, cement, GGBS, fly ash, admixtures, ready-mixed and precast concrete sectors committed to the strategy’s vision, strategic objectives and defined commitments.

The latest report has developed the original Government initiative set out in 2008 and has adopted the Green Construction Board’s ‘Act On’ criteria as a guide to how the industry has already addressed these key areas. The SCF has also developed continuous improvement actions in order to maintain its leadership position as a key contributor to a sustainable built environment.

The full report can be downloaded here.

A companion document “Concrete Actions” has also been published as part of the concrete industry sustainability campaign ‘This is Concrete’ and can be downloaded here.

Written by Guy Thompson, Head of Sustainability, Architecture and Housing at MPA The Concrete Centre, UK. Adapted to house style by Rosalie Starling

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