Bernard Mathieu, LafargeHolcim
Challenging and interesting times lie ahead for all players in the construction sector. The global international commitment of the Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C is a tall order. Under the Paris plan, each country put forward a proposal to curtail its greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030. Today, the magnitude of industry change required to adapt to a 2°C scenario is just starting to emerge. And not only the magnitude. The required pace of change needed within the next few decades is often overlooked and is critical in a sector that is both resource and carbon intensive. This is the case despite recent remarkable efforts by forward-looking players to deploy transformational innovations.
LafargeHolcim, as a leading global building materials company, is focusing efforts to reach its 2030 ambition to reduce CO2 emissions per tonne of cement by 40% vs 1990 levels. The efforts needed to achieve this goal are considerable and require a holistic and far-reaching approach.
2°C business models
Global warming is already damaging the environment and the health of millions – and yet reluctance to change remains high. “After the last No, there will be a Yes,” as strongly expressed by Al Gore at COP21, “and it is on this Yes that we will build the future”. In other words: the sector will have no other choice than to align efforts to deliver on the objective of carbon neutrality by the mid-century. The early movers – those who are able to develop meaningful “2°C business models” – will be the winners of the race. It also makes business sense.
This year’s COP23 in Bonn, Germany, highlighted the remaining gap between individual countries’ commitments and the 2°C objective. Businesses could help bridge the gap, if robust business models are enabled by targeted regulations. For those willing to drive the change, these are exciting times. Construction is a field of action that can deliver a massive greenhouse gas emission reduction and create real low-carbon business opportunities, while fulfilling – with pride! – the infrastructure and housing needs of the increasingly urbanised world population.
A science-based approach: the new paradigm?
A rational strategy to address climate change in a business sector is today increasingly reliant on a so-called science-based approach, meaning a strategy that aims at reaching mitigation targets in line with the level of decarbonisation required to stay below the 2°C global temperature increase.
The application of this concept to the very fragmented construction sector appears to be rather complex and raises fundamental questions on how to measure and deliver actual greenhouse gas emission mitigation over the entire lifecycle of buildings and infrastructure – at the best economical cost. Complex or not, political and civil society stakeholders will be increasingly assessing companies on their ability to align to this science-based approach.
Forward-looking companies – including LafargeHolcim – are exploring these questions. This thinking process, however, remains mostly within the boundaries of each of the segments of the value chain.
For a building materials company, the achievement of CO2 targets is meant to be delivered through action plans on energy-efficiency improvement or through the substitution of high-carbon raw materials, fuels, or electricity supply by low-carbon alternatives. The substitution of clinker – the carbon intensive component of cements – remains the main lever for upcoming years. Let’s be clear: these actions must collectively be taken by these industries. But this will not be sufficient.
Transformational innovations in the product portfolio, which often require adaptation of downstream techniques and/or a more holistic monitoring (and accounting) of carbon mitigation impacts, are today insufficiently (and much too slowly) deployed and rewarded.
Innovation at all levels!
Practice shows that building materials or components with a higher initial footprint per reference unit (in our sector: per tonne of cement) can deliver large emissions savings over their entire lifecycle. Thinner structures from stronger materials – high-performance concrete is the best example – can also make a real difference in total embodied emissions. Smarter designs of structures, enabled by the most innovative and high-performance materials, can unlock a CO2 mitigation potential that can only be addressed by collaboration between every player of the construction chain. In some cases, carbon sink effects can be created and/or enhanced through appropriate practices during the life or end-of-life of materials, which is, for example, the case through the huge potential of concrete to re-carbonate and to chemically bind CO2 from the air.
And let’s not forget the urgent need to advance the sector in emerging countries, where the majority of construction activities will continue to take place over the next few decades. The entire sector has a clear and direct responsibility to rapidly increase the quality of construction and to help train and educate the workforce so that materials are used in the most efficient way, so that wastage of materials and resources are drastically reduced, and so that buildings and infrastructure are designed and constructed in a way that ensures long lifetimes, resilience to climate events, and cost-effective future refurbishments, as well as affordable deconstruction and recycling solutions.
The next steps on the path towards carbon neutrality
Beyond continuous improvement of our own emissions, building material companies are essential drivers for innovation. LafargeHolcim is making ground: from low CO2 clinkers, cements, and concrete types (such as Solidia, gaining strength through chemical reaction with CO2) to energy-efficiency solutions for buildings (such as the newly launched insulating cement-based foam, Airium). The portfolio of sustainable solutions – our so-called 2030 Solutions – for the construction sector is expanding year on year.
The construction sector should be at the centre of regulatory efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions. Collaborative thinking across the construction industry on common metrics and consistent targets, plus a shared vision and action plan to achieve carbon neutrality and resilience to climate disasters in the built environment, is no longer just a nice-to-have. The Cement Sustainability Initiative (WBCSD-CSI) and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GABC) took interesting steps to initiate that dialogue. With the extent of the challenge we are facing, it is indeed a must for all those who want to construct a safe and resilient built environment for generations to come
About the author
Bernard Mathieu is Senior Vice President Sustainable Development at LafargeHolcim. He has 22 years of experience in cement, concrete, and aggregates businesses in various positions – technical marketing, environmental coordination, mergers and acquisitions, and sustainable development – within HeidelbergCement, Holcim, and LafargeHolcim.
Mathieu has also been Chair of the Belgian Business Climate Group (FEB-VBO), President of the European Waste Co-Processing Association (EUCOPRO), a Green Business Expert for a Belgian Foreign Investment Agency (AWEX), and is a lecturer for universities in Brussels and Liege, Belgium.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/special-reports/07122017/towards-a-2c-strategy-for-the-construction-sector/