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Solid Foundations: How Concrete Can Help Deliver a Net Zero Future

New net zero pledges promise to make the concrete sector greener than ever before | Credit: Alamy

Mineral Products Association

4 min read Partner content

Over 90 million tonnes of concrete are used each year in the UK alone, shaping the built environment in which we all live, work, and play. As the nation heads towards a net-zero future, the UK concrete industry is transforming itself to play its part, building on decades of investment in decarbonisation.

Concrete is one of the most widely used and important materials in construction. Whether it is building a patio in your garden, or constructing a new hospital or power-station, concrete is at the heart of almost all building projects.

Quite simply, concrete is an essential, inescapable, and irreplaceable element of modern life. As we move towards a zero-carbon future, the UK’s concrete sector has been developing new, innovative methods of producing and using concrete which will ensure that the industry can help the nation deliver on its wider net-zero goals.

The industry already has a lot to be proud of. Quietly, and without fanfare, the UK’s world-leading concrete sector has been embracing the need to radically cut carbon emissions since long before the need to do so was frontpage news. Since 1990, the industry has delivered a 53% reduction on CO2 emissions, a rate that easily outstrips the UK economy as a whole.

However, as the focus increasingly shifts to zero carbon technologies, the concrete industry is ambitious to deliver even more, setting itself a set of bold and ambitious targets for the decades ahead.

The Mineral Products Association (MPA), which represents the UK’s concrete industry, has recently produced its own ‘UK Concrete and Cement Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero’ setting out just how it intends to achieve this. Their plan is unapologetic in its scale of ambition. It is targeting, not just achieving net-zero for the concrete industry, but going even further and creating a sector which actually removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it creates, helping the nation deliver on its wider goals. 

Chris Leese, Director of UK Concrete for MPA, told The House, “As the nation Builds Back Better, responsible and sustainable concrete production can provide a solid foundation for the nation’s net zero future. The homes, schools, hospitals and infrastructure that we need, all depend on concrete. Our new Roadmap sets out clearly how we intend to deliver this in a way that balances growth and sustainability”.

In particular, the industry is increasingly focused on developing new approaches that exploit the thermal mass of concrete. This could help slash future heating and cooling bills for homeowners and businesses alike.

Whilst we want a future with zero carbon, it is impossible to envisage a nation which is concrete free.

In simple terms, what this means is that heavyweight materials such as concrete are able to absorb, store, and release heat. This reduces the energy needed to heat and cool buildings. MPA modelling suggests that with increased awareness and improved design, better utilising thermal mass of concrete could lead to a staggering 14% saving on UK electricity consumption by 2050. This saving alone would offset almost half of the total emissions currently associated with the production and use of concrete and cement.

Conservative MP Mark Pawsey is a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and also has one of the country’s largest concrete producers located in his Rugby constituency. Pawsey agrees that developing a UK based sustainable concrete industry will be essential for both future growth, and the nation achieving net-zero.

“I am keenly aware of the vital role the sector plays in the UK in meeting its infrastructure and housing needs,” he tells The House. “I’m delighted that the sector has set out its roadmap to Net Zero. It’s important as we need their products for a more sustainable built environment, including helping to prevent overheating in houses and other buildings.”

It is likely that the role concrete can play in delivering on our sustainability goals will remain in the political spotlight as we move forward, with the influential Environmental Audit Committee due to embark on an inquiry into Sustainability of the Built Environment later this year. This will provide yet more focus on the way in which a strong and responsible UK concrete industry is essential to achieving the nation’s future economic and environmental goals.

Whilst we want a future with zero carbon, it is impossible to envisage a nation which is concrete free. The good news for the UK construction sector is that thanks to the ambition of the industry, and innovations in design and manufacture, this is not a choice the nation will be forced to make.

Instead, the UK concrete industry stands ready to continue to play its part, as a sustainable and responsible partner in the nation’s plans to build back better.

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