When Did Concrete Become Controversial?

“Can the building industry break its addiction to concrete?” When a CNN Money post in May posed that question, it probably led to a lot of head-scratching. After all, concrete is literally infrastructure’s most vital building block, a strong, noncombustible, near-permanent construction material that, according to the article, “has defined construction in recent centuries and with it, in part, modernity.”

No new news there. The controversial part begins with its assertion that production of concrete’s main ingredient, cement, is responsible for 5% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, a statistic it attributes to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. It goes on to question concrete’s strength, resilience and sustainability, and even its supposed connections to the New York mob, then calls it “disastrous for our biosphere.”

A few weeks later, CNN dug a little deeper into the industry’s own ongoing efforts to become more environmentally friendly. In July, the new report, titled, “This concrete (yes, concrete) is going high-tech,” focused on CarbonCure, a new mixing technique system that traps CO2 (the offending emission) permanently within the concrete, which requires less cement and actually creates a stronger product at virtually the same cost. “Once the concrete hardens, that carbon is sequestered forever. Even if the building is torn down,” it explains, “the carbon stays put. That's because it reacts with the concrete and becomes a mineral.”

So far, CarbonCure and a couple of other startups are the main developers of sustainable concrete solutions, and just 90 North American plants are currently using the technology. But a greener technique that also makes business sense could rock our industry. Who could disagree with that?

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