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‘Greening’ the construction sector with a circular economy

Published by , Deputy Editor
World Cement,

Mr. Neeraj Akhoury, CEO India, Holcim Group and Managing Director & CEO, Ambuja Cements Ltd, presents his perspective on the cement industry’s contribution to a circular economy.

“As one of the most widely used building materials, cement contributes an estimated 8% of global CO2 emissions, making it one of the largest contributors to climate change today. While this is just a fifth of the energy sector (~40%), as the single largest contributor to global CO2 emission, it still provides a huge opportunity for us to tackle the challenges posed in global climate change.

Cement manufacturers around the world have understood this challenge and the opportunity and are now investing in making the sector more sustainable in the long run. As one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the Indian cement sector is the second largest in the world, next only to China. Cement manufacturers in the country are therefore becoming an active participant in the race towards a Net Zero future with many large companies committing themselves to this global pledge.

Like other major core sectors in the economy like steel, energy, mining etc., cement manufacturers are also adopting the principles of circular economy to reduce CO2 emissions through a more judicious use of natural resources such as coal, limestone etc. The emission challenge here is tackled on two fronts – recycling of concrete waste to produce green cement and engineering more efficient manufacturing processes which basically helps in producing more with less.

The application of the principles of a circular economy in the cement sector are effectively managed through the 3Rs – reduce, recycle and reuse. Simply put, a circular economy is an enlightened antithesis to a linear economy. What this means is that the life of natural resources is extended to an infinite time period. In practice, this is most evident in the use of energy in the cement sector through Waste Heat Recovery Systems, recycling plastic to produce new energy etc. Further, with cement being an energy intensive sector, there is also immense scope to use cleaner sources such as renewable energy in cement plants and replacing diesel and natural gas with biofuel in logistics. Alternative sources of energy not only help cut CO2 emission, but also divert waste from landfills, thus reducing the dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

Wastes and by-products from other industries are also recycled to replace natural materials leading to significant reduction in CO2 emissions in cement production. Similarly, construction and demolition wastes are also recycled to produce new building products, leading to savings in scarce natural resources. The industry is also working with emerging technologies such as 3D concrete printing to reduce the use of materials for maximum strength, thus lowering the building’s carbon footprint. Not far into the future, entire cities will be built with modular cement blocks that can reused.

The effectiveness of a greener construction sector that is built on the principles of circular economy will ultimately depend on the consumers’ buy-in. We are already seeing this happening in countries like India. Demand for green buildings in India has been picking up a lot of momentum in recent years. What started as a trickle at the turn of the new millennium has today grown to more than 7.5 billion square ft of green built-up space, making India one of the largest and fastest growing markets for green buildings around the world. The Indian Green Building Council expects to meet the 10 billion square ft target by next year, when Independent India will turn 75. When that happens, it will be our finest hour and a crowning glory for the country and millions who have invested their time, money and effort in building a future-ready India.

Building a sustainable green construction sector will be the outcome of an active participation of not only cement and other building materials manufacturers but also end consumers and governments. The level of awareness among all stakeholders is much better than what it used to be even a decade or so ago. We can draw a lot of confidence and optimism about the future of a sustainable construction sector from similar achievements like the growth in clean mobility (electric vehicles) and also the impressive strides made in India’s renewable energy sector. A very green construction sector in not very far behind.”

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