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Earth Day Sustainability and Decarbonization of the Concrete Industry

The image shows 2 modern concrete buildings at an angle from the ground up. They are adorned with innumerous plants and greenery. The blue sky is visible between them. On Earth Day, this image represents the progress done so far towards a greener and more sustainable future in the concrete industry. But the challenges continue. There is much to be done to decarbonize the concrete industry as a whole.

Today marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, a worldwide event that since its creation has changed society. It also marks the redefinition of what we consider industrial progress to be. Thankfully, the emphasis is now on clean energy, decarbonization and practicing methods that have a positive impact on the environment.

Within industries where carbon emission is high, the effort towards a greener future is building momentum. The cement and concrete industries, arguably some of the largest CO2 emitters of the world, have made some audacious promises. The biggest challenge is to achieve a net-zero emission by 2050.

Before diving into the challenges faced by the concrete industry, let us understand Earth Day.

The Origins of Earth Day

In the decades that led to the first Earth Day, Americans used a vast number of unreliable cars. Added to industrial boom of the era, civilians were inhaling large quantities of leaded smoke. At the time, air pollution was mostly regarded as “the smell of prosperity.” Thus, mainstream America was largely ignorant of environmental problems and the danger of air pollution to the public wellbeing.

However, the stage began to drastically change with the publishing of biologist Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. The public interest was now aware of the environment and living species. With more than half a million copies sold, the book opened people’s eyes about the correlation between pollution and public health.

The First Earth Day

The worsening environmental situation in the United States troubled Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. He decided to infuse a non-existing national awareness of air and water pollution with education on university campuses. With this vision in mind, he recruited a fellow conservationist congressman, Pete McCloskey, to perform teach-ins. And to host, they hired a young activist, Denis Hayes.

Together, the three established April 22nd 1970 as the date for the event later known as Earth Day. They supposed that a weekday between Spring Break and final exams would maximize student engagement.

Find below the inspiring inaugural speech of Earth Day.

Thus, an idea that started out as an educational course in universities grew into a robust movement. Several groups combating specific causes like untreated water, hazardous waste, and the disappearance of wildlife, unified behind Earth Day.

The Impact of Earth Day

By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency came into existence together with other environmental regulations. Also, first of a kind environmental legislation passed, such as:

  • National Environmental Education Act,
  • Observatory’s Occupational Safety and Health Act,
  • Clean Air Act,
  • Clean Water Act, and
  • Endangered Species Act.


Earth Day Became a Worldwide Event

In 1990, a coalition of environmental leaders contacted Denis Hayes to organize another movement. This time, the event went worldwide. Earth Day mobilized 200 million people in 141 countries and brought environmental concerns to the world’s attention.

Not only did Earth Day 1990 give an enormous boost to recycling activities worldwide, its helped pave future events. For example, the focus of UN Earth Summit 1992 in Rio de Janeiro was sustainable development.

The Concrete Industry and Its Carbon Emissions

Due to low cost, ease of use, flexibility and local availability, concrete is the world’s most commonly used construction material. Its composition mainly consists of cement, aggregates, water, and air.

In contrast to the majority of other materials, concrete has a low power and carbon footprint. However, the amount of Portland cement required for concrete production renders the cement and concrete industry strong CO2 emitters. The cement industry is one of the largest polluter industries, accounting for about 5% of anthropogenic CO2 worldwide. Therefore, for decarbonization regulating policies, it is an important industrial field.

The Challenges Faced by the Concrete Industry to Reduce its Environmental Impact

Thanks to 51 years of raising awareness, being environmentally conscious is a trend adopted by business in all trades. It is no different with management in construction. With increased awareness, the concrete industry began not only to accept responsibility for where, how, and what materials are used to build, but how it can contribute for a greener future.

In this manner, industry associations work with governmental and non-profit organizations to change the status quo. The International energy Agency has spearheaded a global CO2 mitigation strategy. This roadmap has three key elements:

  • long-term carbon dioxide objectives,
  • an industry solution focusing on the lowest social costs, and
  • technological roadmaps that show the means by which decarbonization can be achieved.


The proposal plans for carbon dioxide emissions in the cement sector is to decarbonize almost completely by 2050. Concurrently, cement demand is expected to rise by 50% in the same time frame. Thus, by extrapolating current technology specialists indicate that only half of these objectives will be met.

In this manner, the industry needs to think creatively to achieve the remaining half of the objectives. The main focus would be on expensive and untested carbon capture and storage technologies. Consequently, organizations and events such as Earth Day greatly encourage the study of ideas that make our planet greener. The optimization of proposed and new technologies is paramount for our society to achieve that last milestone.

The Ways the Concrete Industry is Reducing its Environmental Impact

Since the inception of Earth Day and other events, ideas to tackle environmental issues have been countless. Some approaches are simple and have been implemented, others are ambitions and need further testing. The following list points out the main ideas:

  • Using wasted heat during cement production as an alternate source of energy,
  • Developing new CO2 capture and storage technologies,
  • Reducing the clinker to cement ratio,
  • Using alternative fuels like biomass for cement manufacturing,
  • Working with alternative raw materials for cementitious mixes.


Driving Positive Change through Leadership

The sector is fully aware of its issues and the efforts towards reducing concrete industry’s carbon emissions are countless. A recent example came early this year from the World Cement Association (WCA). One of the newly appointed board directors is Mahendra Shingi, the CEO of India’s Dalmia Cement. Mahendra’s company is notoriously known for the lowest carbon footprint in the world.

The new director aims to direct cementitious companies into a sustainable path. In an interview, Mahendra encapsules how leaders spearhead change. He summarized that “decarbonization is most important now, so we have to recommit and ask what we can do to tackle this issue and turn cement from grey to green.”

With people like Mahendra, the vision and mission of Earth Day lives on. Most importantly, celebrating one day out of 365 is a small, but necessary thought exercise for both people and companies. Collectively, there are abounding obstacles, mindset-shifting and challenges to be overcome. However, let us also celebrate on April 22nd, 2021 the progress achieved. After all, humankind continues to prove there is little our collective willpower cannot accomplish when working creatively.


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Published on 22-APR-2021.

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