Poor concrete—so misunderstood. Sometimes I think we like to wallow in our righteous indignation over the world's misunderstanding of how wonderful concrete is. For the last 35 years I’ve been hearing that the concrete industry needs to do something to get our message across, to improve our image, and then another article like the one published a couple of weeks ago in CNN Style comes out and we get huffy all over again.
This article attacking concrete stirred up so much protest from the building industry that the editors of the online media outlet changed the title and added some positive comments to the original negativity. The result is an odd conglomeration of statements implying first that concrete structures will soon be falling down, to then touting its resilience.
The original title was “Concrete is a disaster for our planet: can the building industry break its addiction?” The amended title dropped the first seven words, which made it a bit less inflammatory. The portions of this article that made me chuckle were the author’s contention that concrete can be replaced with rammed earth and unreinforced brick and that the U.S. concrete industry is controlled by the mafia.
I would hazard a guess that the author of this article lives in a building with a concrete foundation, drives regularly on concrete streets, and drinks water that was stored in concrete tanks. He needs concrete as much as everybody else but it sounds romantic to say that “The reprisal of old -- sometimes ancient -- building materials and techniques could be crucial for sustainability.” Why don’t we shut down the power grid and outlaw gasoline at the same time? That would do the trick.
Certainly we who know concrete and construction in general aren’t swayed by such nonsense, but articles like this really do damage concrete’s image, creating a seed of doubt among those with little knowledge of concrete’s attributes—which is practically everyone. So it is our duty to inform people of the truth when the opportunity arises and responding to ill-informed journalism is a good place to start. One well-thought-out response to this article came from Andrew Fahim and Aali Alizadeh at Giatec who point out that “Concrete is generally a sustainable material compared to any other reasonable option.”
The building industry is indeed addicted to concrete, but it’s a healthy addiction.