Sustainability and how concrete can contribute has been on my mind a lot recently. Maybe it's just that every time I open a magazine or go to an association meeting or trade show, someone is talking about how green their newest little product is. Sometimes it seems that everything has found a way to put on a green spin. Hazardous waste? There must be something sustainable there, after all, a lot of it has a bit of a greenish tinge.
But I don't want to give hazardous waste a hard time—concrete wash water often is considered hazardous due to its high pH. So, as I've often espoused, we need to look at the big picture to decide what's green—and the Portland Cement Association (PCA) is taking the lead on this. At the most recent Greenbuild exposition in Denver last November, where everything that could conceivably be considered green was on display, I had the chance to visit with PCA's director of sustainable development David Shepherd. Shepherd is the brains behind a new Web site, ConcreteThinker.com, and is the concrete industry's most dedicated greenie. Although the prime motivation for ConcreteThinker.com is to convince architects and developers to use concrete for sustainable construction due to “its durability, recycled ingredients, and energy efficiency,” there's also a lot there for contractors and engineers. If you want to know anything about concrete and sustainability, visit www.concretethinker.com, or contact Shepherd personally.
Our industry's efforts don't begin and end with PCA, though; some of the biggest players are making honest attempts to increase their products' environmental profile. For example, Holcim held a press conference during Greenbuild to spotlight their new Envirocore line of blended cements (see www.envirocore.us). The general idea of these cementitious materials is that they incorporate materials that both recycle what could be waste materials while simultaneously reducing portland cement consumption. Blended into these cements are fly ash, ground slag, limestone, silica fume, and various other pozzolans, all of which reduce the “clinker factor”—basically, the amount of energy consumed to make a yard of concrete.
These things are happening all across the concrete business. I know that many contractors will cringe at the thought of being labeled environmentalists, but that is what I hope we all will become. I would like to see the concrete industry lead the construction industry into environmental consciousness. I'm not talking about the obstructionist approach of some of the traditional environmental groups but rather an environmental realism, where we balance the benefits of development against the long-term cost to the environment. I think it has become clear that that is more than possible, that taking the environment into account actually provides us with better, and sometimes even lower cost, buildings.
So, if you're feeling a little green, it may not be a hangover, but rather your environmental side coming through. Don't fight it. A little green is good for everyone. Look what it did for Kermit—he got rich and married the world's most beautiful pig.