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Cement and Concrete Sustainability Strategies for Manufacturing and Building

Cement and concrete manufacturing can be greener with energy and land management solutions.

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Concrete covering square miles of surface area isn't the greenest of solutions in many instances -- and with that said, it is still the most widely used construction material in our urban areas. Impermeable concrete surfaces create unfiltered, rapid runoff of water -- such as stormwater. It reflects heat into the atmosphere, and increases urban heat island effects. But concrete can be a more sustainable materials than some natural materials for building structures. So, how do we green the cement manufacturing industry?

While the product isn't the's here. Customers can take precautions to balance use of these impervious surfaces with semi-permeable pouring techniques, using vegetation and gravel as options, and minimize hardscaping to the bare minimum necessary to achieve sustainable business and community goals.

And the cement and concrete industry members can ALSO limit their impact on natural resources with land management improvements and greener manufacturing that reduces energy and greenhouse gas impact.

Environmental Protection in Cement Manufacturing

Cement is the key ingredient in concrete, though it only constitutes 7 to 15 percent of its total weight. It’s what gives concrete its strength and binds it together.

Among the steps in the creation of cement is heating the raw materials in a kiln at 3,500°F. However, the energy required for this process shrinks year after year, thanks to innovation and commitment by cement manufacturers.

Industry initiatives and individual cement companies are lowering energy consumption, improving emissions, reducing solid waste, and acting as responsible land stewards.

For the fourth year in a row, the U.S. EPA has awarded California Portland Cement Company (CPC) a 2008 ENERGY STAR Sustained Excellence Award in recognition of its continued leadership in protecting the environment through energy efficiency.

In 2007, CPC carried on its energy reduction trend by cutting energy intensity by 2.5% from 2006 levels for a savings of nearly 363 trillion Btu. This savings reduced CO2 emissions by 34,366 metric tons – equivalent of providing electricity to 4,644 American homes.

Study Shows Designers Increasingly Turning to Concrete

According to a market research study conducted by PCA, 77 percent of surveyed architects, designers, engineers and other design professionals said they chose concrete as their sustainable material for recent projects. Respondents ranked concrete favorably for its energy efficiency, durability, and reduced maintenance.

Survey respondents ranked the level of importance of 22 attributes when selecting building materials. Energy efficiency was perceived as the most important attribute when selecting a building material with a mean rating of 4.5 out of five, followed by durability (4.4), and aesthetics (4.2).

When asked which building material they preferred to meet those attributes, concrete was the most common response for energy efficiency and durability.

"Buildings with exterior concrete walls utilize less energy to heat and cool than similarly insulated buildings with wood or steel frame walls," McCarthy said. "The superior insulation, air tightness, and mass of the walls can reduce energy for heating and cooling by up to 40%. Plus, smaller, more efficient heating and cooling equipment can be installed."

Concrete’s role went beyond energy efficiency however. After measuring the mean ratings of the attributes and evaluating how concrete, wood and steel were ranked against those same attributes, an index was developed to score how each material ranked, overall, as a green material. Concrete’s green factor was 4.20, wood was 4.03, followed by steel with a green factor of 3.85.

"Not only are architects and designer choosing concrete, they are spreading the word on its effectiveness. Sixty-three percent were very likely or likely to recommend using concrete for a sustainable building design, compared to 54 percent that would recommend wood and 53 percent for steel," McCarthy said.

The questionnaire, conducted in early 2008, was sent to architects, designers, engineers, and environmental planners and managers. More than 500 respondents answered a blind survey, presented in an internet survey form from a third-party Web host. Respondents were asked to answer the questions based on projects they had worked on the most during the last year. SOURCE: Portland Cement Association

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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