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Concrete is made up of very carbon-intensive materials. The cement used in concrete is kiln dried, the kilns are often coal-fired. It is estimated that cement production alone contributes 10% of global emissions.
Concrete is essential to the infrastructure that supports modern civilization. As a result, an enormous amount of research has gone into how to make concrete more sustainable.
Within the NZ context, the primary approach to increasing the sustainability of concrete has been to substitute recycled materials in concrete production.
Using a small amount of crushed recycled concrete (<20%) and using fly ash to substitute cement are two of the most common approaches to concrete sustainability. Both these approaches are contained in the Environmental Choice NZ standard for green concrete.
Product stewardship offers a different approach – we argue the only truly sustainable approach.
We recognize that there is no easy fix to concrete sustainability, it is both essential and unsustainable. Our approach in this case is to eliminate waste, so we are maximizing resource use. We then use a design-led approach to creating products that can be reused over and over again. Product stewardship allows the embedded carbon footprint to be stretched over a longer life and more structures.