Global Warming Disciples: Pound Wise, Ton Foolish?

Concrete and Climate Change is a North American Concrete Alliance session leading into this month’s Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In (May


Concrete and Climate Change is a North American Concrete Alliance session leading into this month’s Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In (May 8-9, Washington, D.C.). TCC officials will rightly sound an alarm regarding adequate funding for a post-SAFETEA federal highway program. In Climate Change, Holcim (US) Inc. Vice President of Environmental Affairs Ruksana Mirza is scheduled to cover a topic politicians and environmental activists have accompanied with sirens of a different pitch.

Carbon dioxide intensity has placed portland cement processing on the radar of those who attribute CO2 emissions to perceived global warming trends. Last month saw two symbolic developments in Europe demonstrating how climate change concerns will have a steadily greater impact on cement users across the globe. The United Nations-linked developments embody some substance and science Û no sure bets in a political arena Û along with oversimplified perspective on building methods and cement production from sources whose names are not followed by P.E.

Oldcastle parent company CRH Plc registered the first project with the UN’s CO2 emissions-tracking Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee. Combining retrofits and new capacity construction, the $275 million project will see the company’s Ukraine cement plant convert from dated wet process to more energy-efficient dry process methods. CRH projects the upgrade will reduce annual CO2 emissions by 3 million tons. This is an important milestone in the abatement of emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and a clear sign of CRH’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions across its operations, said Chief Executive Liam O’Mahoney.

The company has good cause to trade on green capital spawned by plant investment. In Europe, the nerve center of climate change geopolitics, CRH has extensive (> 15 million-tpy) cement operations, plus businesses mirroring North American Oldcastle Materials and Products & Distribution units. Registration of the Ukraine plant with a UN committee also dovetails with CO2 emissions reduction initiatives by other European multinationals, including Lafarge S.A. and Holcim Ltd.

CRH’s announcement coincided with the release of a report suggesting that energy efficiency derived from thermal mass Û a cornerstone of concrete and masonry construction Û can be leveraged to reduce CO2 emissions. Presented during the general session of the UN-aligned Sustainable Construction and Building Initiative (SBCI), Buildings and Climate Change: Status, Challenges and Opportunities argues that significant gains can be made in efforts to combat global warming by reducing buildings’ energy use and improving their energy efficiency. The right mix of regulation, greater use of energy-saving technologies and behavioral change can substantially reduce CO2 emissions from the building sector, which accounts for 30-40 percent of global energy use, the report contends. Authors also figure that in an average building, 80 percent of energy is consumed throughout service life versus 20 percent for construction. (A Buildings and Climate Change pdf can be downloaded from

SBCI was launched last year under the UN Environment Program by Paris-based Lafarge and other leading construction stakeholders. Chairing SBCI is Lafarge Director for Sustainability Olivier Luneau, who observes, To achieve improved energy efficiency in buildings, you often do not need to use advanced and expensive high-tech solutions, but simple solutions such as smart design, flexible energy solutions and provision of appropriate information to the building users.

In a brief profile, Buildings and Climate Change notes how portland cement production accounts for 5 percent of man-made CO2 emissions worldwide. By Luneau’s example, it would be appropriate for report authors to acknowledge cement-based products’ universal role in equipping buildings with greater thermal mass and longer life cycle potential. When assessing the role buildings and construction play in CO2 emissions, global warming disciples would do well to turn to someone with an engineering degree.