5 Sep 2023
By launching the Concrete Industry Sustainable Construction Strategy in 2008, the concrete industry demonstrated its leadership position by setting clear targets and ambitions for the delivery of a sustainable, low-carbon-built environment in a socially, environmentally, and economically responsible manner. The first milestone of the new strategy was the framework of performance indicators that have been reported by the industry annually since 2008. The strategy and framework were informed by sector and stakeholder collaboration to agree best practice sustainable outcomes. Some of the notable highlights and achievements of the industry were published in Ten Years, Ten Insights magazine.
This latest iteration of the strategy focuses on the sector’s journey to 2030. This revision of the UK Concrete Industry Sustainable Construction Strategy sets a new vision for the sector aligned with new targets, priorities and sustainability considerations that have emerged and evolved since the development of the original strategy some 15 years ago, including the publication of the UK Concrete and Cement sector roadmap to Beyond Net Zero.
Our new vision is based on a nested and system-based sustainability model. This model rises above the traditional triple bottom-line model which is only looking at some degree of autonomy between sociality, economy, and environment. Our holistic approach to sustainability also appreciates the role of the UK concrete industry in the context of the built environment.
At the heart of our strategy is collaboration across the value chain to tackle the climate change and biodiversity emergency while creating a safe and regenerative built environment.
The carbon pillar of our strategy is connected to our industry roadmap which was published in 2020 and focusses on establishing the foundations required by 2030 to fully decarbonise by 2050.
Throughout the strategy and The Concrete Centre’s Sustainability Series, we will provide an update on the progress made based on our roadmap levers and present our trajectory for concrete industry decarbonisation. We are hoping the carbon emission reduction pathway can help clients and other organisations to set their own targets accordingly.
UK concrete has already decarbonised by 53% from 1990 to 2018 (absolute emissions). In order to continue demonstrating our progress, we encourage and cultivate the culture of measurement and disclosure. As such, we are working on sector EPDs, benchmarking and communicating data as effectively as possible. We are also working closely with standards committees, specifiers and innovative products to facilitate the adoption of lower carbon solutions.
The circular economy commitment is about “economy” and “business models” as well as the circularity of materials within materials. The first iteration of the UK Concrete Sustainable Construction Strategy established the measuring and reporting of concrete manufacturing and resource processes that support a more circular economy. These include the use of recycled content, resource efficiency, and reducing waste to landfill.
The hierarchy, priorities and solutions for achieving more circularity within the built environment have matured since the original strategy was developed. While diverting waste from landfill and recycling remains a core metric to follow, other measures are required to move beyond recycling and look at the entire life cycle of concrete, including its use, end of life and beyond.
The focus for the sector is to identify current and evolving circular economy activities associated with concrete at all stages of its life cycle. The priority is to retain the highest utility and value of materials, products, components, and assets by considering the impact on whole life carbon.
The goal is a regenerative built environment. As we progress our understanding, it is evident that only sustaining the current status is not sufficiently ambitious. We need to move to a regenerative culture which is resilient, adaptable, and can evolve to produce net positive impacts.
We continue work based on the MPA Biodiversity strategy which aims to protect and enhance biodiversity and deliver net gain wherever possible, as well as exploring the role of concrete in a regenerative built environment and provide guidance and best practice to design concrete to be in harmony and integral to the nature and society.
The central aspiration of all sector activities is to “Build positive outcomes to improve lives”. This is a new commitment to this update of the UK Concrete Sustainability Strategy. We have co-developed a social action framework that demonstrates the short- and long-term social outcomes of our sector activities and will guide our actions to raise the bar when it comes to social outcomes for the concrete industry and its supply chain.
Metrics and continuous improvement:
The concrete sector has been publishing Performance Indicators since 2008, when the first Concrete Industry Sustainable Construction Strategy was published. Performance Indicators related to Climate Change and Energy, Natural Resources and Enhancing the Environment, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Creating Sustainable Communities have been published in the annual Concrete Industry Sustainability Report and past reports can be downloaded from www.sustainableconcrete.org.uk.
We acknowledge that sustainability is a dynamic process, not a fixed state to reach. Therefore, it is important that we keep reviewing our strategy, methodologies, targets and keep measuring and reporting data to facilitate decision making in collaboration with the value chain.
We look forward to launching the 2023 Sustainability Series with a preview of the UK Concrete Sustainable Construction Strategy, as well as closing the series with more in-depth discussion and opportunity for engagement on the key principles of the sector commitments.
By Dr Noushin Khosravi, Sustainable Construction manager