Friday, December 10, 2010

Lafarge and WWF Cement a New Partnership

“See that skyline?” asks WWF coordinator Dylan Melgazo as he gestures at Ortigas Centre’s ordered rows of skyscrapers. “What do you think binds everything you see?”

I pause awhile, thinking it could be a rhetorical question. Human imagination? The spirit of capitalism? Sub-atomic particles?

“Everything is made out of cement. Roads, bridges, dams, schools, skyscrapers, malls and offices – all held together by one medium. We often overlook it, but cement is literally the foundation of human societies.” That night, I realized he was right. Development was unavoidable, and so was the use of cement.

Concrete is the finished product that forms virtually every inch of our built environment. Concrete is a mixture of water, aggregates such as sand and gravel, plus cement. The cement acts as a binder to hold all these ingredients together, which strengthens into the forms we seek and employ.

Thus it is no surprise to know that cement is the world’s most heavily-used substance. Globally, about eight cubic kilometres of concrete is used per year to produce a myriad of structures and foundations, 10% to 15% of which is composed of cement. The cement production industry constitutes a full 5% of the planet’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, inexorably fuelling global warming. And it is growing fast.

Realizing that development is inevitable, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) immediately sought to partner with industry leaders to minimize the cement industry’s growing ecological footprint.

WWF-International partnered with the Lafarge Group in 2000, and since then has worked with the multinational to both increase its operational efficiency and reduce emissions. By 2009, Lafarge reduced its emissions by 20.7% per ton of cement, mostly by shifting to renewable energy sources and by developing a new range of products which use additives and debris from other industries – such as Pozzolan or blended cement.

Cement is something Melgazo is clearly passionate about. “There are numerous types of cement. Each type of cement caters to different requirements within the construction industry, which range from general use, high early strength, differing levels of sulfate resistances and other specific uses. In the most general sense there is Portland cement and Blended cement, both of which are hydraulic cements which are mixed with water. Portland cement is very resource and energy intensive and its production, though quite necessary, takes a heavy toll on the environment. Hence, we are searching for alternatives to Portland cement.”

“Blended cement like Pozzolan cement on the other hand, is usually mixed from materials discarded by other industries, like fly ash (a typical residue of combustion processes and a regular by-product of coal-fired power plants) and pumicite. Pozzolans are mixed with regular Portland cement for a more cost-effective product with a milder environmental impact. Aside from the environmental benefits of recycling fly ash and other substances which were supposed to be waste products, few people are aware that Pozzolan cement can also have higher compressive strength over time than most types of Portland cement. We hope to prove that it is a greener alternative,” explains Melgazo.

Under a newly-forged partnership, WWF and Lafarge will conduct in-depth research to analyze the environmental impacts of blended Pozzolan cement over Portland cement, which is the current industry standard. With hard data on hand, WWF and Lafarge hope to slowly drive a shift from Portland to Pozzolan cement.

"Sustainable Construction is one our priorities,” says Lafarge Philippines Communications Vice President Cirilo Pestaño. "Research and partnerships, such as the one we have with our conservation partner WWF, enables us to continue developing innovative and sustainable construction solutions to efficiently reduce our impacts on the environment."

The two multinationals are also working to expand the Pinakamagandang Bahay sa Balat ng Lupa (PMBBL) Program, a contest launched in 2009 with the UP College of Architecture. The programme awarded sustainable Bahay Kubo-inspired houses designed by architecture professionals and students. As part of the partnership, WWF will share the experience obtained during the selection of the winners and construction process through the conduct of road shows, symposia and talks.
“Yes, development is a by-product of economic progress. However, carbon-intensive development may have severe repercussions. We no longer face a climate-defined future. We face a climate-defined present. We must be smart and shut the box before we go over the cliff,” adds WWF Vice-Chairman and CEO Lory Tan.

“If we want to avoid another Typhoon Ondoy or Pepeng, low-carbon alternatives are not just our best options – they are our only options. Together with industry leaders like Lafarge, we hope to convince our friends in the construction industry that solutions exist – and that WWF is always here to help improve their operations.”

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