CEMEX Vertua Low Carbon Concrete seems to be a great solution for the big construction investments in which concrete is irreplaceable. Although the adjustments introduced to the company’s technology and business strategy, such as the carbon offsetting programme, are promising, the product line still lacks transparency with the most crucial environmental information not being presented on the website. Overall, it seems that the company has undertaken a “regenerate over mitigate” strategy, based on trying to improve their sustainability image through participation in many environmental and community projects, rather than striving to alter their whole production and operations to have less negative impact. While their actions seem quite valuable at first sight, after longer analysis it all comes down to sweeping important matters under the rug, which sells well.
CEMEX UK Vertua Concrete is a line of three sustainable concrete products that are claimed to reduce 30 to 70% of emissions when compared with regular class cement (CEM I). So where does the energy-saving happen? The proposed alternative to traditional concrete is a geopolymer clinker-free solution that does not require the energy-intensive calcinating process, which is the main factor contributing to concrete’s bad environmental reputation. Instead of burned calcium, the mix contains materials rich in aluminium such as fly ash or slag, which are usually by-products of cast iron production. This technology allows for the replacement of high energy materials (burned calcium) with already processed substances (fly ash, slag), requiring significantly less energy input in the production process. This also creates a clever circular economy system, providing a use for waste materials to become another high standard product. This sounds great, however this information applies only to one product from the line—Vertua Ultra—which is said to achieve up to 70% CO2 reduction. Then what is the secret for the low environmental impact of the remaining two products, Vertua Plus and Vertua Classic? Well, unfortunately, the company does not provide any information about it. With such a failed level of confidentiality, these two products earn a zero sustainability rating right away, as there is nothing to base the evaluation on.
The manufacturing technology information is not presented on the website of the Vertua range, which makes the environmental gains less reliable for the consumer. This, however, might be subject to the company’s know-how protection for their concrete production recipe, which in a way justifies keeping this information confidential. What is worth mentioning is the energy strategy for the whole CEMEX production. Instead of fossil fuels, the company stands for alternative sources, including Climafuel (consists of paper, cardboard, wood, carpet, textiles and plastics capsules), tyres, and Secondary Liquid Fuel (SLF). This way, not only is the carbon footprint of energy production reduced thanks to the prevention of fossil fuel excavation, but it also provides a wise further use of waste that would normally end up directly polluting the environment in a landfill.
In addition to the technological adjustments, Vertua products are certified to be a part of a carbon offsetting programme. CEMEX claims that every tonne of CO2 emitted in the production process of the Vertua line is one tonne less of GHG’s in the atmosphere. They do this by investing in Natural Capital Partners’ (a provider of innovative solutions for positive environmental impact) projects’, which physically remove CO2 from the air through methods such as planting more trees. To prove their reliability, the company presents a Carbon Neutral Protocol certification. All this would seem fine if only the certificate was not a service of the same company that provides the solution. Another question that could be asked is why the company won’t extend this program to all of their products, which would allow them to make a far greater impact?
CEMEX UK holds a great reputation in their sustainable business strategy. For a long time, they have been actively working on wildlife conservation and restoration projects in the areas within their direct industrial impact and beyond. To support this claim with some numbers, every year they invest over £1.2m in these projects. Along with converting many of their old extraction sites into wildlife sanctuaries, they have also launched a special biodiversity protection strategy in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Apart from their actions taken to make up for “inevitable” negative environmental impacts, the company also does not forget about their workers. The firm has a target of zero injuries at work and invests a lot of money into local communities, such as CEMEX’s Coldharbour Lane - a new country park and multi-use community/sports field with changing/toilet facilities. It also includes a public car park alongside around 40 new homes at a former company’s gravel extraction site. All in all, with these greatly planned social and environmental sustainability programs, it seems like the company is trying to make it up for the lack of transparency in the production sector. Although well planned and effective, it can be only seen as a temporary solution.