The concrete industry is just one of many companies researching new manufacturing methods to reduce its carbon footprint. These efforts are essential to fulfilling the Paris Agreement, which calls on each of its signatories to achieve a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. However, a new study led by researchers in Japan and Belgium and focusing exclusively on Japan concludes that improving manufacturing technologies will only bring the industry within eighty percent of its target. Using a dynamic material flow analysis model, the study claims that the remaining 20% will have to come from changes in the way concrete is consumed and managed, putting expectations on the buyer as well as on the seller.
Electric cars, fluorescent lights, water-saving showerheads, these are all examples of efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. However, energy savings are on the supply side, with companies developing new technologies that reduce the amount of energy consumed for the same amount of use. In particular, they place few demands on the user, who can use the product in the same way as before.
The same goes for concrete, the most consumed man-made material in the world. Numerous studies have shown the potential to make the concrete industry more energy efficient through esoteric efforts such as “reducing the clinker to cement ratio”, “substituting cement with alternative binders” and “capturing and the use of carbon. The problem, says Dr Takuma Watari, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies and leader of the new study, is that supply-side efforts aren’t enough if nations are serious about achieving net carbon emissions. zero carbon.
“We found that supply-side efforts can at best achieve 80% of the reductions needed. Our research has shown that for net-zero emissions, both supply-side and demand-side strategies are needed,” he said.
This conclusion came after exhausting all options on the supply side. Watari and his colleagues realized, after examining the cement and concrete cycle in Japan from 1950 to the present, that the concrete industry has already implemented effective technologies to reduce its carbon footprint to the point that cannot expect her to take sole responsibility.
“We need to change not just how concrete is made, but also how it’s used,” he said.
Extending the life of buildings and infrastructure through redesign as well as improving their multipurpose use will reduce the demand for concrete. According to the authors, consumers of concrete should consider their consumption with more recycling, reuse and reduction attitude applied to household waste.
The obvious targets, they continued, are not just homes, but infrastructure for medical care, transport, schools and shops. Policies are needed to encourage these consumers to change their behavior. Much like how “energy efficiency” has influenced consumption, companies must embrace “material efficiency”, which is influenced by design and use, when purchasing.
The irony, Watari notes, is that the concrete industry, while incentivized to reduce carbon consumption on the supply side, has little incentive to change habits on the demand side.
“Current profits are directly related to volume sold. This gives industry little incentive to promote efficient use of materials. Change has to come from politics,” he said.
With appropriate changes on the demand side, the study indicates that not only will the concrete and cement cycle become more environmentally friendly and the goal of net zero carbon by 2050 will be achieved, but that there will be benefits for the use of scarce resources such as water as well.
“The most important conclusion of our study is that there is no silver bullet. Everyone must contribute. Currently, there is too much emphasis on supply strategies. To achieve net-zero emissions, architects, planners, and consumers in general must contribute,” said Watari.