How can an industry that emits large quantities of CO2 and uses non-renewable resources claim to be interested in sustainable development?

Sustainable development is fundamental to the cement industry. Cement is a key material for any country's economic and social development, but the cement industry has an ecological footprint which it needs to be managed over the long term. Indeed it is precisely because of this footprint that the cement industry has been working hard for a number of years to put into place mechanisms to mitigate its environmental impact.

The very existence of the CSI is a demonstration of the cement sector's commitment to sustainable development. The CSI was set up to examine issues surrounding sustainable development in the cement sector and to develop and promote best practice across the industry in a number of areas. It was created in 1999 and was the first sector-wide, voluntary initiative of its kind.

Sustainable development also means sustainable construction and here, we believe that our sector has a key role to play. We know that 80% of a building’s CO2 emissions are generated not by the production of the materials that are used in its construction but in heating, lighting, air conditioning, etc. over the building’s life cycle. It is vitally important to develop products and systems that can be used to construct more durable, energy-efficient buildings and concrete can be used to do just this.

How can you balance the world's requirements for cement and the need to reduce CO2 emissions? Are the two not fundamentally incompatible?

It is a balancing act - the benefits to society from cement and concrete are considerable and often overlooked – the cement industry produces approximately 2.8 billion tons of cement every year, for use in a wide range of construction projects around the world, including building roads, houses and dams, as well as schools, hospitals and water treatment plants. More people are living in an urban as opposed to a rural environment. It is vitally important that the infrastructure that is put in place to support this is as sustainable as possible – buildings which can last a hundred years and which are highly energy-efficient. Most of this infrastructure could not be built without concrete, and there is currently no other material that can realistically replace concrete in terms of its effectiveness, price and performance for most purposes.

But we recognize that making cement (the glue that holds concrete together) has environmental impacts. That is one of the reasons why we are so committed to this initiative – to look for ways of reducing these impacts on the environment and on society and to develop best practices that can be adopted across our industry, to make it more sustainable. CSI members have already made significant progress to date in reducing their CO2 emissions. Companies reduced their average net CO2 emissions by 12% between 1990 and 2006.

80% of cement is produced and consumed in emerging economies, mainly China. Why are there so few representatives from emerging economies involved in the CSI?

The CSI currently has 25 members, headquartered in both developed and emerging countries and with operations in more than 100 countries. Among the CSI members, we have groups based in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Thailand. Five Chinese cement companies with a total production capacity equivalent to the EU joined the CSI in 2009 and 2010. This brings the reach of the CSI to approx. 40% of the global cement production, representing a majority of production in the EU and North America, Latin America and India, as well as approx. 20% in China.

In China, there is increasing environmental awareness, and the government undertakes decisive actions in this area: China’s current Five-Year Plan calls for an aggressive 20% reduction in energy use per unit of GDP, with a special focus on energy intensive industries such as cement. And at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, China announced that it will lower its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-50% by 2020, compared to 2005-levels. China is gradually closing down older, more polluting cement plants, replacing them by more modern plants with improved environmental performance. To date, new dry kilns represent 70% of the total cement production capacity in China and the number will only increase in the coming years.

Cement producers in emerging economies are increasing their use of alternative fuels and raw materials (as is widely practiced in Europe), providing both climate and waste management benefits.