Amid a growing awareness in construction practices to preserve resources, conserve energy, and protect the environment, the construction industry is embracing the concept of sustainable development––the ability to build the facilities and structures we
need today without depleting resources for the future. Sustainability seeks to balance the economic, social and environmental impacts, recognizing that population growth will continue.
Up to 40% of all materials used in human activity is directed into the built environment. This has a direct and visible impact on the world’s resources, energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. However, concrete has an excellent ecological
profile compared to other construction materials such as metal, glass and polymers. Although cement is both resource and energy intensive when produced, compared to other products, concrete production consumes the least amount of materials and energy,
produces the least amount of harmful by-products, and causes the least amount of damage to the environment.
Concrete is a responsible choice for sustainable development, in part due to its durability. Durability is a significant sustainable attribute of concrete because it will not rust, rot, or burn. Moreover, concrete structures require less energy
and resources overtime to repair or replace. Structures built with concrete have optimal energy performance. Additionally, concrete is easy to use, incurs little waste and can be readily recycled.
The Case For Concrete
The focus on energy efficiency, durability, and safety is both a challenge and an opportunity for the concrete industry. Concrete has an impressive CV for the job – its credentials include:
- Comfort – with high-performance thermal mass, insulation capacity and passive solar design
- Safety – fire resistant and stable
- Health – with a great capacity for reducing noise, dust and chemical emissions. In some cases, it can absorb chemicals from other materials and release them from exposed surfaces
- Economics – promising long life with low maintenance
- Uniqueness – with properties that often mean it is the only viable choice for the purpose
Energy Efficiency – the energy requirements for manufacture are low compared to most other building materials
- Durability - concrete has a life expectancy of 100 years when maintained – twice that of any other material
Specifiers are choosing concrete for its durability, recycled ingredients, and energy efficiency not found in other building materials like steel or wood. When compared with other building materials, concrete is a responsible choice for sustainable development.
Sustainable development challenges the design and construction industry to create buildings that acknowledge the life cycle of a building. Recognizing that operating a building over time is far more energy intensive than developing it, demand for
durability and energy performance is growing.
Sustainable Manufacturing Process
Concrete is easy to use and can be readily recycled. Delivered and prepared for each specific project, concrete typically produces very little waste. When a concrete structure has served its purpose,
it can be recycled as aggregate in new concrete paving, backfill, or as road base. Even the reinforcing steel in concrete (which often is made from recycled materials) can be recycled and reused.
Current recycling efforts in the manufacture of concrete include:
- Fillers - the use of fly ash and slag as fillers for blended cements is assisting in the disposal of by-products from the energy generation business while decreasing the energy intensity of cement production.
- Hazardous substances - many common wastes - such as spent solvents, printing inks, paint residues and cleaning fluids - are designated as hazardous because of their high fuel value. In other words, they are flammable. Those and other high-energy wastes
such as motor oil and scrap tyres cannot be disposed of safely on landfills. But they can be safely burned to destruction as fuel in a cement kiln while reducing our reliance on dwindling reserves of fossil fuels. Already, waste motor oil is collected
and burnt in a cement kiln in New Zealand.
- Recycled Demolition Waste - Concrete is extensively recycled, waste concrete from demolition sites can be reused as aggregate for 'new' concrete, or in new roads.
Embodied Energy Coefficients
|Fibre Cement Board
|Kiln dried, average dressed
|Kiln dried, gas fired, dressed
|Kiln dried, waste fired, dressed
|Block-fill, pump mix
|17.5 MPa pump mix