One's mindset needs to be changed to achieve sustainability
Edward Schwarz, General Manager, Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, talks to ICR about the core values that Holcim Foundation aims to promote and the challenges that the company faces.
What are the core values that Holcim Foundation aims to promote?
Holcim Foundation stands for sustainable construction and this is financed and sponsored completely by Holcim, which is one of the big international producers of cement. The goal of the foundation is to promote sustainable construction and now of course, if you think of sustainable construction, especially from the cement industry, you think of durable concrete or things like that or less energy in production. That's true, of course, but that is not the full picture. So the full picture of sustainability is much boarder. It touches every element of our life. So it has to do with energy saving, using fewer resources, recycling. It has to do with economics because somebody has to pay for it all and it has to pay for itself. And it has to do with people because whatever we do with nature or with products it is always impacting people.
These are the main elements and then if you call something sustainable it has to be something that you can repeat and multiply, and in the case of construction, it has to be about good architecture as well. Our Foundation tries to promote all ideas that have to do with sustainability in construction and does different things. Every three years, there is an international conference called the Holcim Forum that brings together 100-300 specialists from all over the world under one roof to discuss one main topic. The other thing the Foundation does is regional, and global competitions for projects in sustainable construction. This competition is held every three years, a lot of money is involved and there is two million dollar prize money.
What makes a cement company do all this?
Most of the companies sell more or less the same gray powder and it is all made to turn into concrete. The differences you can make are at what step along the value chain of construction you step in and take an interest. Are you just interested in producing or can you impact people along the way, architects, engineers, planners, financers, builders, contractors, all the people along the value chain until you have got an end-user who then uses the school, the hospital, the house or whatever has got built. So for Holcim, this is a way of getting in touch with all these people, like inviting them to a forum or inviting them to participate in a competition, to make them consider that concrete is not just concrete. Nowadays, there are different kinds of cement for different applications and one of the things that the whole industry is striving for is to use fewer raw materials and less energy, which anslates to clean environment, happy people, and good economics. Thus our aim is to put more emphasis within Holcim and our companies on sustainability.
How does Holcim manufacture cement in a sustainable way?
Sustainability for us starts from the quarry to and ends with the delivery, without creating disturbance to the environment and by making the working conditions conducive for people as well as extracting maximum revenue in a year. The most important factor here is balance. It includes using as little energy as possible and using alternative fuels.
Way back in 1995, I was in Switzerland and Portland cement 42.5 was common for all types of construction. It was such a waste since this fantastic product was made with so much embedded energy and such a lot of raw material; it meant an immense of wastage. Now of course, you have 30 or 35 different products that are tailor- made for some applications and that is actually living up to sustainability because you do not waste material. Now, you use exactly what you need, where you need, and how you need it.
What are the challenges that a company faces when it comes to sustainability in India and in the world?
The challenges of sustainability are the same all over the world. It might vary a bit, though, from place to place. However, the basic challenge for sustainability is the mindset one has. You know, the things that we throwaway now, our elders would not have thrown away, they would have reused it. The production of cement in the US and India is exactly the same. Of course, 20 years ago, one started to install filters and before that, nobody had filters; then you started to improve the system, then you started to reuse heat. There was and are two triggers. The trigger on the one hand, is the environment and on the other hand, it is economics. With the filter you lose less material, so you can sell more. If you use less energy, you pay less for the energy. If you have less dust, you do not have to clean it and you can use it as a product. Sustainability is something we all have to live up to, for ourselves and for the generations after us. If the world were to continue living and consuming as we did in the 80s, in few years there would not be anything left for anyone anymore. So, we have to make resources last for more people, for a longer time. That is a challenge and I think it is one of the basics of sustainable thinking, remembering that we are not the last on this planet.
From the point of view of the Indian industry, the challenge is the same but maybe on different levels. Again taking an example of Switzerland, they have filters that you cannot imagine, and it is done legally. On the stack of our cement plants in Switzerland, you could put a sanatorium for people with lung problems, the air is so good. It is cleaner than what went in, but you invest millions and millions and millions of dollars to get that status of air. Now with a fraction of that money, we could within the same group, I bring down the emissions by 50 per cent in Poland or Czechoslovakia. It is our air and we all have to use it. I think there is a discrepancy between developed Western economies and developing countries all over the world. It calls for a lot of effort and an enormous amount to money invested in developed countries to make things different. But, taking into consideration that we have only one planet, it is worth it.
One of the big advantages of being a global player is that you can direct your financial means to the right ends, thus making a big impact with the smallest investments, wherever it is needed across the globe.
Sustainability for us starts from the quarry to and ends with the delivery, without creating disturbance to the environment