It was nearly a year ago that nine of the leading global majors in the cement and concrete sector, including CEMEX, CNBM, CRH, Dangote, Eurocement, HeidelbergCement, LafargeHolcim, Taiheiyo and Votorantim, launched the Global Cement & Concrete Association (GCCA). INDIAN CEMENT REVIEW recently caught up with Benjamin Sporton, CEO, GCCA in New Delhi to understand how the global body seeks to develop and strengthen the sector's contribution to sustainable construction by promoting the development of durable, resilient and environmentally sensitive buildings and infrastructure as well as its plans for India.
It's been four months since you took charge as Chief Executive at GCCA. What would be your role at the association going forward?
The GCCA essentially has three main objectives. One of them is to ensure that we maintain the work of the Cement Sustainability Initiative; to continue the focus and accelerate the work of the industry's drive on sustainability right across the globe. We are going to keep working on that. Included with this is taking on the Getting the Numbers Right or GNR reporting and the sustainability guidance work. But the other two elements of the programme that are probably even more exciting are to run innovation across the cement and concrete industries, where we can, for example, bring best practices from one country and share them with another. But most importantly, and the reason why the GCCA has been established is to be the global voice of concrete by speaking about its role as the sustainable building material of choice in construction.
As the GCCA head, this is your first visit to the country. What kind of engagement do you seek to build in India, which is both the world's fastest-growing major economy and also urbanising at a rapid clip at this point?
As you rightly said, the country is both growing and urbanising very fast. Your Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs went on record saying that India will be adding a new Chicago to the public space every year until 2030. That's pretty phenomenal! Around 600 million people are going to be living in cities by 2030 in India. These are big changes, presenting enormous challenges and opportunities It's clear that cement and concrete will continue to be incredibly important to India's future because you are talking about building new cities with vital infrastructure requirements. But even in the growing existing cities, providing affordable housing, public sanitation and water supply, these are all things that are critical to India's sustainable development and that cement and concrete will play a very important role in well into the future. Our member companies are committed to a sustainable future and we will continue the work in India of the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) India chapter with a new GCCA India. We are now in the process of setting this up and that will, hopefully, start operating in the first quarter of 2019.
Earlier, as the CEO of the World Coal Association (WCA), you played a pivotal role in changing the narrative around the fuel. What are some of the areas that you would like to initiate a dialogue as far as cement and concrete are concerned?
Well, some of the challenges are similar in terms of sustainability, low carbon economy and climate change, and there are overlaps there. But there are also some differences. With coal there is always a challenge with its existence and therein lies the argument that it may not have a role in the future. That's a very difficult argument to try and make in relation to cement and concrete as they are fundamental to where life happens. What the GCCA can do is work with partners both domestically and internationally, not only to build an understanding about the fundamental role that concrete plays in building the modern world, but also to build new partnerships that help improve the way we think about concrete. Like what we can do in terms of building design or the role concrete plays in building efficiency through thermal mass and the role of recarbonation in absorbing CO2. All of those factors we need to be talking more about.
Since the circular economy is the new buzzword, would GCCA also be promoting recycling of concrete globally?
Absolutely! There are a couple of interesting things about concrete. One of them is that concrete actually absorbs CO2 and that's part of the circular economy as well. If you have a concrete building that absorbs CO2, you can break it down towards the end of its life and recycle to turn it back into concrete. The old concrete can then essentially be treated as a new aggregate. Moreover, you don't only get to reuse the material, but the CO2 also gets embedded into a new building. We will be looking into this at the GCCA, examining the work underway and ensuring that there is both understanding and recognition of how it can help in sustainable construction.
What are some of the most exciting regions as far as cement is concerned?
The thing that I always got very excited about in my old role at WCA was the fact that by 2030 1.1 billion people are going to move into cities, globally. A lot of that will happen in the developing and emerging economies in Asia and some in Africa. That is a really big number and to me probably one of the most significant in terms of both cement and concrete because you are talking about providing affordable homes, infrastructure, schools and hospitals. And all of that needs concrete. How we use concrete in those structures is going to be incredibly important and we need to make sure that we understand the role that it has as the sustainable building material of choice. Recently I read an article about the top 50 cities you've probably never heard of. It looked at global megacities in 2050 and beyond, and a lot of them were in Africa. There is a growth in urban populations in Africa as well as here in India and elsewhere in Asia.
Are you also looking at enhancing industry-level linkages?
One of the important things for our industry is collaboration and that means the industry working together across companies and the sector. We really want to be able to share the best practices across our membership. Anything interesting that is happening in India that isn't happening in the Americas, for example, we should be looking at sharing it. Similarly, if there is something interesting happening in China that isn't happening in India, we can look at sharing it. That is the sort of thing we should be doing across the industry. But globally as well, the industry should be collaborating with other players, institutions, governments, policymakers and financiers to talk about the future of construction with concrete. Say, on how we can work together on innovations around lower carbon cement, alternative binders using waste materials and innovative building products with concrete.
What do you propose to achieve in India?
One of the things that we really want to achieve is the establishment of GCCA India and that would take over the work of CSI in India. It is important that the agenda for GCCA India is set by the industry here. The companies in India know what is important to them and, therefore, they should be setting the local agenda. We continue to work across the industry on innovations in cement to reduce CO2 as well as issues around road transportation. One of the things that I have learned on my trip here is that ready-mix concrete and pre-cast concrete are much less utilised in India than elsewhere in the world. It is something that we can do to talk about the role of concrete being produced in a more centralised way, which will help in improving both quality and meeting other challenges as well.
- MANISH PANT