Clean Business International Conference 2012

Businesses can no longer ignore sustainability measures

Head of research and development at PPC cement, Alta Walker
research and development at PPC cement, Alta Walker

Climate change is no longer conjecture, but a measureable reality and South Africa, along with other developing countries, is especially vulnerable to its impacts.

At a business level, the current attitude that resources are infinite, needs to be urgently addressed and reversed before irreparable damage is done, both locally and globally. 

This is according to Alta Walker, research and development specialist at PPC Cement, who was speaking at the Clean Business International Conference at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand last week.

She says that current unsustainable resource consumption patterns must be addressed to slow down, stop or even reverse the negative impact on the environment.

Walker refers to nine critical “planetary systems” which were proposed by a group of scientists at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in 2009, as vital for human survival.

Three of the nine system boundaries have already exceeded its safe operating limits, namely climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle.

She adds that the phosphorus cycle, use of fresh water and land, and ocean acidification, are also edging towards the tipping points.

“Businesses and consumers are overstepping the sustainable level of consumption.

The current environmental debate highlights many priority issues, with energy and mobility as focus areas in the climate change discussions.

There are also growing concerns about biodiversity, focusing on the impacts of agricultural practices and urban development.

“The rate at which our global population is growing has resulted in a rapid increase in urbanisation. Population growth, prosperity and increasing urbanisation can account for up to 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of a developing country,” Walker said.

She added that while urbanisation and infrastructure development is positive, we need to be aware of the impact in the built environment on the natural environment.

“Currently, buildings account for 40% of global energy use, 38% of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, 40% of solid waste streams in developed countries, 12% of potable water use and more than 33% of the global material flow, which accounts more than three billion tons annually.

There is however the potential to reduce the energy consumption by up to 50%, GHG emissions by 35%, waste by 70% and reduce water use by nearly half.

“Currently in South Africa, our resource efficiency must be improved. Although the average resource extraction in Africa is six tons per capita in comparison to the global average of 10 tons per capita, South Africa accounts for nearly 15 tons per capita. We also have the largest demand for fossil fuels in Africa,” Walker said.

This was reiterated by Edwin Ritchken, strategy advisor to the minister and director-general of the Department of Public Enterprises, also speaking at the conference, who said it is no secret that South Africa’s industrial economy is built on ‘cheap coal’.

“This fossil fuel dependence has had the net effect of our country now being one of the 30 largest emitters of Green House Gases globally and amongst the highest per capita carbon emitters,” Ritchken.

Walker says that in order to ensure sustainable development, businesses, industries and consumers need to learn to ’do more with less’.

“For urbanisation, this means two things: intelligent design, construction and operation of green buildings, and secondly, using materials more efficiently,” Ritchken said.

She adds that building green economies needs to be defined from a life-cycle and a value-chain perspective.

“The life-cycle assessment of building materials includes the evaluation of the impact of resource extraction, manufacturing processes, global warming potential, air pollution and acidification potential though emissions, water pollution and human toxicology for the life of the product and processes,” he said.

“Concrete, compared to other general building materials has the lowest carbon footprint. It is also the most commonly used construction material in the world as 85% of modern construction materials are concrete, and therefore have a significant impact by volume,” Ritchken said.

“Further efficiencies are possible with the improved performance of the cement used in producing concrete. There has been an effective reduction of 15% in the carbon footprint of concrete, using PPC’s products,” Ritchken said.

The products have been improved to give better strength development, yielding 15% more concrete using the same amount of cement, by adding more stone (aggregate) and sand. Concrete is also durable as a house built with it can last over 100 years.

“The secret to a sustainable building rests in good design, effective use of building materials, efficient construction methods and good management practices. Sustainability depends on balancing the conditions for maintaining an acceptable life standard for all people with the capacity of the environment to fulfil the needs of the present and the future,” concludes Walker. 

www.cleanbusinessinternational.com

 

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