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The Concrete Initiative: Solutions for Europe’s Future – part one

World Cement,


Concrete. The second most widely used substance in the world after water, deeply rooted in our daily lives, providing the infinitely mouldable ‘liquid stone’ for long-lived, solid foundations and the backbone of mankind’s built environment. And yet, in spite of its many attributes, concrete does not receive the recognition it truly deserves. Some see it as grey, dull and boring. Others perceive concrete as a non-environmentally friendly construction product. The reality is quite different. Concrete has many attributes, and has a key role to play in ensuring sustainable construction. This is why we have set up The Concrete Initiative: to debunk the myths, to highlight what concrete really does have to offer, and to launch a real debate on how to achieve truly sustainable construction.

For us, as representatives of the concrete industry, the primary goal is to engage with key stakeholders at EU level on what is needed to achieve sustainable construction, what we have to offer, and which policy framework is required. However, when talking about sustainability, there is a tendency to forget that it is about more than just the environment. Economic and social considerations must also form part of the mix. Therefore, under the umbrella of The Concrete Initiative, we are working together with different stakeholders at EU level to identify and discuss social, economic and environmental challenges. In turn, we believe that this debate will allow us to identify sustainable construction solutions for the future. So what are the challenges that need to be tackled?

Social challenges

According to the European Commission, 75% of the EU population lives in towns and cities, and this percentage is expected to continue to increase. This will result in additional pressure on housing, transport and energy infrastructure. At the same time, affordable housing needs to be made available to this growing population – without forgetting the fact that buildings must be safe and resilient, capable of withstanding extreme weather events and offer protection in the event of a fire. Thanks to concrete, people already have access to safe, affordable and resilient housing and infrastructure.

  • Concrete is the key to a safe and resilient built environment, as well as solutions to societal challenges such as those induced by increasing urbanisation.
  • Affordability, flexibility and energy efficiency make concrete a material of choice for infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, public buildings and transport infrastructure.
  • Concrete can be cast into virtually any shape or form, which allows for design freedom and an almost infinite variety of applications.

As part of this campaign, The Concrete Initiative is committed to working with key stakeholders to accelerate the development, availability and use of affordable and safe construction solutions across Europe. At the same time, it is important for policymakers to enter into a deep debate with the concrete sector in order to identify an adequate regulatory framework, which will incentivise sufficient financing to boost sustainable construction practices.

Economic challenges

The economic crisis is a major challenge affecting Europe today. As a result, growth and jobs are high up on the political agenda. In this respect, the construction sector (including concrete) is fundamental to stimulating Europe’s recovery. Construction is the largest single economic activity and the greatest industrial employer in Europe, with some 20 million jobs. As highlighted by the European Commission, one job created in construction translates into two additional jobs created elsewhere. But what does the concrete sector itself have to offer? The concrete industry as a whole employs some 550 000 people in the EU, generating approximately e65 000 in added value per employed capita per annum. More importantly, concrete is a local business, employing local people. This means that the money and investment that goes into concrete is pumped back into the local economy. The components used to produce concrete – aggregates, cement, and water – are also sourced locally. As a result, we have a local production value, with concrete construction driving economic growth, innovation and jobs in Europe.

  • As a central pillar of the construction sector, concrete is a driver of economic growth, with a unique multiplier effect on jobs and economic activity.
  • Concrete is a main enabler of modern construction, providing multiple and unique properties, flexibility and value for money.
  • Concrete is a local business across the entire value chain, deeply rooted in local economies. A local product for a local market.

In terms of jobs and skills, The Concrete Initiative is committed to engaging with education institutes to promote skills development. In addition, it will work with policymakers and relevant stakeholders to foster advances in the knowledge and understanding relating to the economics of sustainable construction, to identify barriers and to explore new models. At the same time, it is important that industrial policies and standards at EU level remain material neutral, focusing on the performance of the building or infrastructure itself. In addition, the full economic benefits of all building materials must be harnessed by further developing the Green Public Procurement Guidelines and criteria that include whole-life performance and durability.

This is part one of a two-part article written by Koen Coppenhole for World Cement’s May 2015 issue and abridged for the website. Subscribers can read the full issue by signing in, and can also catch up on-the-go via our new app for Apple and Android. Check back tomorrow for part two of the article on

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