Ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns.
The goal of SDG12 is the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources, including the substantial reduction of waste through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse. It also encourages companies to include sustainability information in their reporting cycle.
Over the next two decades, more people than ever are expected to enjoy increased wealth and improved living standards. Meanwhile, our cities are growing rapidly, with an estimated 1.5 million people added to the global urban population every week, placing a significant burden on infrastructure, services, job creation, and the environment. Along with an increasing global population, these changes will put enormous stress on our environment and resources.
Meeting the challenges of responsible consumption involves uncoupling social and economic development from an ever-increasing rise in material consumption. This requires increasing the net gain achieved from economic activity by reducing resource use and environmental degradation, while still improving quality of life. It will also require systematic cooperation across the value chain, from producer to final consumer, to shift from a linear to circular economy.
Improving the environmental performance of existing industrial facilities is often the most cost-effective measure to help supply-constrained economies meet higher levels of production, without exacerbating their impact on the environment. In this context, the drive for innovation and process optimisation is an important means to develop the necessary solutions to realise cleaner production, efficient resource management, and lower waste and pollution.
Sustainable development also requires significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces. This includes using more sustainable building products and production processes to create more low-carbon, energy-efficient buildings throughout their entire lifecycle.
How the cement and concrete industry is making a positive difference
Concrete is a long-lasting and durable material. This characteristic brings a range of benefits – most notable a lifespan that is often longer than that of buildings constructed from other building materials. But it goes far beyond that.
Concrete structures can be repurposed throughout their life and there is growing interest in designing for disassembly to facilitate the removal of concrete components – such as columns, walls, beams and slabs – for their re-use in other buildings. Concrete is fire resistant and resilient to climate-related and natural disasters, making it less likely to need demolition and reconstruction after such catastrophic events. Concrete also does not require additional internal finishes, with exposed concrete available in a range of colours and textures, while also offering important sustainability values, such as passive cooling.
This wide range of benefits means concrete structures can be more resource efficient than others (SDG12.2), while supporting recycling and re-use (SDG12.5) and the development of sustainable urban spaces.
At an operational level, the cement and concrete industry has been a pioneer of the circular economy (even before circular economy was even a term) through the use of industrial by-products, such as fly ash and slags, as supplementary cementitious materials in blended cements. Construction and demolition waste – one of the largest waste streams globally – can also be recycled into new concrete, while there is research into the use of concrete fines as an alternative raw material in cement manufacture.
Meanwhile, the industry is a well-established consumer of non-recyclable waste-derived alternative fuels from a range of sources – municipal, agricultural, chemical, food production, to name a few. The high temperatures reached in cement kilns ensure these are managed in a safe and environmentally sound way, as required by SDG12.4.
Finally, the use of alternative materials and fuels in cement and concrete production reduces the amount of material the industry needs to extract, again helping to achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources required by SDG12.2.