Carbon Neutral Concrete – A Q&A with Holcim

Earlier this year, we worked with Holcim to develop their carbon neutral ready-mix concrete. Last week we caught up with Evan Smith, their Environment Manager and Sustainability Lead, to find out what was behind the initiative and what comes next…

What led you to develop carbon neutral concrete?

A few years ago, the conversations Holcim was having with customers started to change. Where they were previously seeking information on our corporate approach to sustainability, more and more they were seeking specific information on product credentials.

We were already doing a lot to develop lower carbon products, so it felt like we were on the right track. The first step was the development of our ViroDecs Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) with Edge, which were intended to put third-party verified information directly into our customers’ hands. Following that, working towards carbon neutrality with our ViroDecs Zero concrete was the obvious next step.

What has the response been from the market?

In the construction industry, a lot of momentum seems to have come from Green Star and ISCA’s IS rating schemes, and from the increased use of Life Cycle Assessments. They’ve helped customers to understand the size of the embodied carbon issue, and the role that low carbon cement and concrete can play in addressing that issue. ·

We consider Holcim’s role in the industry to be solution providers for our customers. So in that sense, these sustainable construction solutions are no different to any other innovation we’ve put out into the market. But there’s no doubt that ViroDecs and ViroDecs Zero is something that’s been a missing link for the built environment and to date the feedback from customers is very encouraging.
I think this comes down to the simplicity of the message: “Carbon Neutral” really resonates. It’s certainly easier to communicate than a very specific carbon footprint number for a tonne of product.

The timing is also a component. The World Green Building Council said in a recent report that by 2050 all building materials need to be carbon neutral. We can point to our ViroDecs range of solutions as our contribution to that.

What did you learn through the process?

One absolutely vital requirement is having a robust environmental management system (EMS) with accurate data capture. The amount of data that needed to be collected from our operations and supply chain was beyond anything we had needed to do before. It would have been so much harder to pull the data together had we not had an EMS in place for so long that worked so well.

We also saw throughout this process that engaging a consultant that could act as a partner, not just a technical expert, was incredibly valuable. From helping us better understand the very rigid ISO and European standards, to showing us how to run a life cycle assessment, and supporting training within the business, Edge’s support has really made a difference to what we’ve been able to achieve.

And finally, the key lesson for us in terms of how to embed these solutions and make the most gains for sustainability is the need for collaboration and early engagement with customers. It’s so much easier to find the right solution – technically and environmentally – if we can collaborate at the start of a project with the end user. This is especially critical when it comes to the specification of products because it no longer makes sense to require arbitrary Supplementary Cement Material (SCM) percentages. Instead it would be far more effective to see embodied carbon requirements, and to allow suppliers to innovate to meet those.

How does it fit in with Holcim’s wider sustainability/carbon strategy, and what are the next steps?

As part of LafargeHolcim, we have a global target of helping customers reduce their carbon footprint by 10 million tonnes of CO2/year, so providing carbon neutral concrete and cement is an important contribution to that. Holcim has a plan and we are continuously looking for new opportunities to innovate and provide lower carbon solutions.

But we also recognise that carbon is only part of the story. Alongside our commitments on carbon and energy, we also have circular economy, environmental and social commitments, so it’s important to us at Holcim that we keep up momentum in those areas too.

Want to find out how we can help your organisation’s products gain an advantage in the construction sector? Contact us to find out more.

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