Until a few years ago cement production in water-scarce areas was a huge challenge. But Dalmia Cement turned the challenge into an opportunity by initiating water neutrality and sustainability programme that has benefited both the company and the communities living around the firm's cement plants.Excerpts of the interview with Ashwani Pahuja, Chief Sustainability Officer, Dalmia Cement (Bharat).
What initiatives has Dalmia Cement taken to ensure water neutrality?
The focus on water neutrality began six years ago, around 2014. Some of our plants are located in water-scarce areas where there is little or no rainfall. At times, cement production even faced the challenge of shutdown because of water scarcity. This triggered the initiative towards water neutrality. Initially, the focus was on energy conservation, water conservation which eventually turned towards reducing water consumption footprint.
The process included adaptation of various measures, including recycling of process water, replacing of water-cold condenser with air-cold condenser, installing of automated port valves to control water overflow for captive power plants, etc. On the one hand, the focus was to reduce water footprint, on the other, the focus was laid on efforts to increase water resources. This has resulted in the company achieving five-time water positive, which means the water debt is around 2.85 million m¦ and our water clarity is around 14.22 billion m¦. Rainwater harvesting did play a major role as 32 per cent of the total water requirement is met through this method.
Were the initiatives limited to the boundaries of the factory/mining area. Or did it go beyond?
The efforts were spread across both inside the factory area and beyond the factory limits. While within the plant limits the concentration was on recycling of water, the local communities benefited from water storage system.
What about the mine pits? Were they converted into water storage facilities?
The abandoned mining pits were converted as water collection/storage pits with rain water drainages leading to these pits. Various intervention programmes such as drip irrigation, village ponds, sprinklers, check-dams, among others, were also carried out to enhance the capacity. With check dams at various locations, water wastage was controlled and this was mainly for the communities in and around.
How much of geographical area in and around the factory/mining area is covered by the company?
We have remitted overall water conservation harvesting by nearly about 11.11 million m³, which includes the premises of the factory and community around the area.
How do you plan to sustain water positivity levels that you have achieved? The target is to become at least 20 times water positive by 2025, which means the company aims to achieve four times in the next five years. This still requires the additional implementation of water prudent potential of 31 million m¦. It also means increasing rainwater harvesting, increasing the water sources, recycling of water and much more.
What were the major challenges, if any, that you faced while implementing such a vast initiative?
Initially, there was resistance from the locals until they were made aware of the benefits. Now the participation from local communities is much higher than when the programme was initiated. For water recycling, the challenge was the availability of technologies. Gradually, we overcame the challenge after the arrival of these technologies in the country, particularly air-cooled condensers, etc.
How would you compare the conditions in the villages in pre- and post-implementation stages of the water sustainability programme?
The cropping pattern has been changed. Earlier it all depended on the rainy season. Now with the new adopted systems the method of irrigation has improved. Now it is multi-crops than single crop farming because they have enough water throughout the year.
- RENJINI LIZA VARGHESE