Construction is a necessary part of maintaining infrastructure and modernizing our communities. As the global community moves toward sustainable development and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the makeup of our buildings has a massive impact on the overall environmental impact of our society.  Respectively, building operations and construction account for 28% and 11% of all global energy-related CO2 emissions. As a builder, working with sustainable materials can be the key to maintaining an advantage.

A Chatham House report argues that in order to establish sustainable materials, like concrete made with lower cement content or alternative binders, as commonplace in construction, many sets of actors need to buy in. The report states that the most important stakeholders in choosing sustainable materials for construction projects are architects, clients, structural engineers, and contractors. These four groups must develop the priority of building with eco-friendly materials.

In order to foster this change in these four groups, the report points to a focus on “shifting the preferences and incentives of these groups of actors through three entry points: the development of better indicators, alongside stricter regulation; enhanced coordination through digitalization; and endorsement and activism by early-mover consumer groups.” These key steps toward better buildings for the planet can start with concrete.

Concrete, though vital, is an enormous source of CO2 emissions, due largely to the production of its active ingredient, cement. The production of cement alone is responsible for 8% of all CO2 emissions worldwide—0.8 tonnes of CO2 are released for every tonne produced. Despite cement only making up about 13% of concrete by volume, it is responsible for 79% of the material’s total emissions. In fact, the Chatham House report claims that “it will be impossible to even get close to the International Energy Association’s Beyond 2°C Scenario without also achieving radical changes in cement consumption and breakthroughs in the development of novel cements.”

When it comes to “hidden” materials like concrete, the report laments that “end-users do not generally think about their consumption of it or consider the environmental implications of that consumption.” However, the selection of building materials can have a huge impact on the building’s quality and the environment. Reduction in embodied carbon emissions, which are produced during the production and processing of materials before and after construction, is becoming more important in the sector. The attractiveness of a building made with sustainable materials is growing, too— environmentally-conscious consumers are eager to distinguish themselves as trendsetters in the eco-friendly built environment.

With production ramping up on CarbiCrete’s development of a cement-free, carbon-negative line of precast concrete with Quebec-based concrete manufacturer Patio Drummond, the potential for concrete to become the deciding factor in sustainable building is stronger than ever. Using CarbiCrete technology not only reduces embodied carbon emissions, the concrete acts as a carbon sink, permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere. As the demand for sustainability expands into Canada and the global market, worldwide GHG emissions could be reduced by one to two per cent annually with widespread adoption of CarbiCrete technology.

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