Cementing the dual goals of development and sustainability

No, there were "no climate change protesters waiting to jeer as the chief executives and other senior figures of one of the world's biggest industries gathered on Wednesday," in Brussels, as David Adam wrote in "The unheralded polluter: cement industry comes clean on its impact" (The Guardian, October 12th).

There was nothing to jeer about.

The nine cement industry CEOs and other senior managers were in Brussels on October 10th to discuss the progress of an industry initiative of which they are part: the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI). Formed in 1999, the CSI is finding new ways for the industry to reduce its ecological footprint, understand how it contributes to the societies where it operates and increase stakeholder engagement. Today, 18 cement producers contribute to this global effort.

Most people, green groups or others, do not see the cement industry as an environmental villain. It is the key ingredient in concrete and a literal "building block" for most countries as economies grow and cement demand soars. But producing cement does have substantial sustainability issues. It is energy-intensive, accounting for some 5% of human-caused global CO2 emissions. Just heating kilns to some 1,500 degrees Celsius creates 40% of its total emissions. CO2 is also produced by the chemical reactions in the kilns. Lafarge, a leading producer, claims its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions equal those of all of Switzerland. The range of its pollution and natural resource depletion issues is also wide.

WBCSD President Bjorn Stigson has said of the CSI: "Industry leaders could have kept their heads down and hoped not to be noticed in the fray over climate change. Instead they took the bold step of trying to make the entire industry more environmentally and socially friendly, not only in the area of greenhouse gas emissions, but other emissions, health and safety, and effects on neighborhoods. I do not know of another example of such a major initiative by an entire industry."

But Mr. Adam, in his article, would have readers believe that the CSI has a lobbying agenda and is ready to pull a CO2 screen over the issue, keeping any government-backed targets inconsequential. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The cement companies are taking voluntary action on the issues now because governments have not set a policy direction and coherent plan for society as a whole, and major emitters in particular. These companies know full well that a global system will not work without strong government action, including target setting and enforcement.

The time will come when governments will cap CO2 and other emissions, create trading schemes or other methods for reducing them to limit climate change. And when that time comes, the cement industry feels that it will be ahead of the curve, using innovation and technology to do today what society and governments will eventually ask of them.

Business input into this process is essential; governments know about frameworks, business knows what makes good business sense. The fact that governments can already base framework conditions on a working, voluntary scheme should not be overlooked or debased.

Until governments come up with the policies needed to move the agenda forward, the cement industry can only create voluntary programs and lobby their own to join up and help combat climate change.

Via::Opening quotation from The Guardian

Tags: Belgium | Concrete