HeidelbergCement targets zero-carbon construction future with science-based targetJennifer Gerholdt, corporate engagement director at the We Mean Business coalition
One of the world’s largest integrated manufacturers of building materials, HeidelbergCement, is demonstrating bold climate leadership within the construction sector by being the first cement maker globally to have an approved science-based target (SBT).
The commitment, which is part of the company’s wider vision to realise CO2-neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest, is a powerful signal that the built environment is transitioning towards a zero-carbon future.
It’s also vital for the decarbonization of entire economies, given concrete is the most widely used man-made substance on earth, one of the hardest to decarbonize and in growing demand due to rising population and urbanization.
Following approval by the Science Based Targets initiative, HeidelbergCement’s target is confirmed as being in line with what science agrees is required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Specifically, the company is committed to reducing scope 1, or direct, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 15% by 2030 per ton of cementitious materials, which go into making concrete, from a 2016 base year. The company is also committed to reduce scope 2 GHG emissions, which includes power consumption, by 65% per ton of cementitious materials within the same timeframe.
To date, HeidelbergCement has already managed to achieve a GHG reduction of 20%, as part of its previous goal for a 30% reduction in its specific net CO2 emissions by 2030, compared with 1990.
HeidelbergCement’s CO2 reduction strategy includes improving energy efficiency, steadily increasing the use of alternative fuels and switching to alternative raw materials. The company is also investing in research across energy-efficient production processes, CO2 capture and use of new clinker technologies, which are a critical part of the production process.
The progress so far on cutting emissions along with the approval of its science-based target are part of HeidelbergCement’s longer-term vision to help deliver zero-carbon concrete before the middle of the century.
“Our goal is to realise the vision of CO2-neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest. In the coming years, we want to make significant progress in this direction, and the SBTi’s approval is a clear proof of our strong commitment,” Dr. Bernd Scheifele, Chairman of the Managing Board of HeidelbergCement, said.
The Germany-headquartered company, which employs some 58,000 people at more than 3,000 locations around the world, is also a member of the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi), led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
While HeidelbergCement is the first cement company to have an approved SBT, three other cement makers have committed to setting an SBT and are also members of the LCPTi – India’s Shree Cement, Dalmia Cement and Ambuja Cement. In total, 14 companies in the cement sector have made bold climate commitments through the We Mean Business coalition’s Take Action campaign.
Dalmia is also committed to smart energy use and switching to 100% renewable electricity through The Climate Group’s EP100 and RE100 initiatives, while India’s UltraTech Cement is a member of the LCPTi and EP100 initiative.
Together, these commitments signal a clear direction of travel for the construction industry and the future of the built environment. They demonstrate that cutting GHG emissions from construction is possible and will ultimately help deliver the zero-carbon built environment of the future.
Other key materials in the construction of buildings are also taking bold climate commitments.
Last year, India’s Mahindra Sanyo Special Steel became the first steel company to have an approved science-based target. Since the approval of that target, Chairman of the Mahindra Group – Anand Mahindra – increased ambition again and committed the entire $20.7 billion conglomerate to go carbon negative by 2040 – including the steel operations.
Meanwhile, four of the world’s ten largest glass manufacturers – Saint-Gobain, Owens Corning, Asahi Group and Nippon Sheet Glass – have either committed to set a science-based target or have one already approved.
Low-carbon demand is building
Construction materials companies, such as HeidelbergCement, increasingly recognise not only the need to act on climate change, but also the growing demand for low-carbon buildings from real-estate developers, city planners and policy makers.
To date, over 40 construction and real estate companies have set ambitious, science-based targets to reduce their emissions, including Japan’s largest homebuilder Daiwa House, the largest developer of industrial real estate in the US Prologis and Singapore’s City Developments Limited.
Meanwhile, leading businesses, cities and subnational governments have committed to owning, operating and developing net-zero carbon buildings by 2030, with the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, led by the World Green Building Council. Many of the business signatories of this commitment have also become members of EP100, the global corporate leadership initiative for energy-smart companies, led by The Climate Group and the Alliance to Save Energy.
Among the first signatories to the commitment are a group of 12 leading companies including major property developer in the Middle East Majid Al Futtaim and UK residential property developer Berkeley Group.
These efforts are being bolstered by organizations such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which connects more than 90 of the world’s greatest cities, representing over 650 million people and one quarter of the global economy.
The C40 Cities are required to have a plan to deliver their contribution towards the goal of constraining global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C. Because of this long-term vision, they are instrumental in helping to shape the zero-carbon built environment of the future and spur demand for low-carbon buildings.
And in London, eleven businesses including Tesco, Sky and Siemens have partnered with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to work towards making London the world’s greenest city.
Other companies in the built environment can use this bold move from HeidelbergCement to re-examine their own climate commitments. Now is a critical moment for companies to step up and help deliver the built environment of the future, in the run up to the United Nations Secretary-General summit in September.
Net-zero emissions is possible
The task of reaching zero-carbon emissions from cement is not to be underestimated. It is one of the most difficult and costly sectors of the economy to decarbonize, according to the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC). But it is possible by mid-century through a mixture of initiatives and decarbonisation pathways, according to the research.
The report lays out a suite of tactics for cutting emissions from construction, including demand management, energy efficiency and decarbonisation technologies.
Emissions from the production of cement come mainly from the energy used for heating kilns and the chemical processes that convert limestone into calcium oxide. The key actions cement companies can take are to:
- Improve energy efficiency: 20 possible technologies (including retrofits) and measures together could deliver 10% energy savings on the typical thermal cement production process (most with a 2- year payback period).
- Change the fuel for heat: The heat needed to produce clinker makes up 35% of emissions from cement production. This can be reduced in the short term by switching from coal to gas. Longer term, cement companies can explore increasing the use of waste or biomass as a fuel (which requires only a modest retrofit to existing kilns); replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen (which requires furnace redesign) and switching to electricity as the heat source.