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

World Cement,

Environmental challenges

With buildings accounting for 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption, there is clearly much that can still be done in this arena. There are also other environmental impacts that need to be tackled, including resource efficiency and recycling. Efficiency and low carbon solutions are not new subjects for the concrete industry, with The Concrete Initiative pointing to the fact that, for example, the carbon footprint of concrete has tumbled 44% over the past 60 years as technology has leapt forward. However, one of the major focus points of the environmental pillar is the fact that concrete can have an even greater positive impact during its use phase in buildings and infrastructure. For example, in terms of transport infrastructure, concrete road surfaces have lower rolling resistance and so can reduce the fuel consumption of vehicles, especially trucks. Every kilometre of concrete road can reduce CO2 emissions of vehicles by 1000 – 4000 t over a 30-year period when compared to flexible road surfaces, which could have a huge impact over the tens of thousands of kilometres of roads in Europe. It is also an extremely durable material.

The key point here is that concrete offers the highest level of ‘whole-life performance’, with the industry continually striving to provide a net positive environmental impact throughout the lifetime of its products. As part of its messaging on this subject, The Concrete Initiative aims to highlight the importance of considering all impacts, including those from raw material extraction, manufacturing, construction, use of the building, to end-of-life disposal or reuse, when assessing the impacts of a given construction. Currently, there is a tendency towards focusing on just part of the lifecycle, which can give a misleading idea of the overall impacts of buildings and infrastructure projects. In this respect, concrete offers optimum whole-life performance, as follows:

  • Concrete absorbs temperature variations (by its thermal mass), which reduces energy consumption in buildings.
  • Thanks to use of alternative fuels and byproducts from other industries, and end-of-life recycling, concrete is an integral part of the circular economy.

In terms of commitments, The Concrete Initiative will continue to provide industry input to European standards to further the goals of a low-carbon Europe and maximise the use of recycled products. In addition, it will provide guidance to specifiers, architects and builders on maximising the advantages of the thermal mass of concrete, contributing to greater energy efficiency. At the same time, on a more political level, it is essential that sustainability standards and regulations look at the performance of the whole building rather than its individual components, and take a ‘whole-life’ approach.

What have we done so far?

At the beginning of 2014, The Concrete Initiative prepared the groundwork by identifying and meeting with key stakeholders in order to assess some of the issues that need to be dealt with. The campaign itself was subsequently launched on 27 May in Brussels, bringing together a wide audience at EU level, including architects and other representatives from the construction industry, as well as the European Commission and the Economic and Social Committee. Given the parliamentary elections in May 2014, November provided an ideal opportunity to introduce the newly elected Members of the European Parliament to The Concrete Initiative at an event in Strasbourg.

However, the focus of The Concrete Initiative is not limited to policy makers. In order to ensure the right policy framework, it is up to us to ensure that those holding the pen receive the necessary technical input to assist them in their legislative drafting. With this in mind, a thematic lunch on the issue of recycling concrete construction and demolition waste was held at the end of October 2014. The topic of recycling is high up on the EU’s political agenda, further to the publication in July 2014 of the Communication on resource efficiency opportunities in the building sector.1 The role of these lunches is to launch a real debate between technical experts and policymakers working directly on relevant legislation. By ensuring that the right people were around the table, the debate enabled an open discussion on what works, what does not and what could be the potential solutions. Plenty of food for thought came out of this debate and the discussions will now continue as the issue evolves. Given the very positive feedback on this model, The Concrete Initiative will continue to organise such events. Items on the 2015 agenda include the competitiveness of the concrete sector and its role in the economy, safety, as well as renovation and rebuilding.

The Concrete Initiative also aims to illustrate its messaging through case studies from across Europe, which are regularly posted on the website ( In addition, the initiative provides a platform for stakeholders wishing to express their view on a topic of particular interest and relevance via a blog. Both of these items are open to contributions. For more information please contact the author via the Editor (


  • Concrete: a local product for a local market.
  • Concrete: a motor for jobs and growth.
  • Concrete: a solution to policymakers’ objectives for carbon reduction, for recycling and for energy efficiency.
  • Concrete: the backbone of modern society.


1. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on resource efficiency opportunities in the building sector. COM(2014) 445.

This is part two 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.

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