Holcim: Water, Waste & Resource Efficiency Initiative of the Year

Holcim won edie’s 2024 Award for leadership in the fields of water stewardship, resource efficiency and/or waste management. The business touts numerous breakthroughs that could unlock a circular economy for building materials and construction, and has proven that commercial success and environmental sustainability can go hand in hand.

Holcim: Water, Waste & Resource Efficiency Initiative of the Year

At a glance: 
Who: Holcim
What: Circular economy solutions for building material manufacturing and use
Where: Multinational with HQ in Zug, Switzerland
When: Award presented March 2024
Why: Reducing the emissions, water and waste footprint of concrete and cement  

The Challenge:   

Concrete and cement production generates up to 9% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Traditional production methods are hard-to-abate and reliant on fossil fuel processes and high-carbon raw materials including clinker, usually a coal byproduct.  

The sector will need to decarbonise to align with the Paris Agreement, even as demand for building materials grows in line with megatrends like urbanisation.   

The built environment also has significant challenges relating to resource use and waste management. Construction and demolition-related waste (CDW), by some estimates, accounts for 30% of all waste produced globally each year by weight. The proportion is significantly higher in some European markets including the UK (62%).  

The Solution:   

Holcim has delivered what it claims is a series of world-first innovation breakthroughs in building materials. These include:   

  • The world’s first clinker made entirely from recycled minerals.  
  • The first 100% recycled cement for use in custom concrete.  
  • The first building in the world built with only this concrete called Recygénie and located near Paris.  

These milestones contribute to the business’s ambition to recycle 10 million tonnes of CDW into high-value products by 2025. Holcim also has 2030 commitments to include 30% recycled content in its cement portfolio, up from around 20% in 2023, and to redirect 70 million tonnes of waste and byproducts from landfills through recycling and energy-from-waste production.  

How it works:   

Holcim developed 100% recycled clinker at its innovation centre in Lyon, France, innovating away from traditional virgin raw materials (limestone and clay). Teams worked tirelessly to identify the appropriate recycled mineral streams to maintain performance, assessing wastes and new feedstocks. To scale the solution, quality control strategies and production processes had to be changed.   

This project took months of intensive work to develop, including pilots at three cement plants producing 12,000 tonnes of clinker. The first recycled clinker was produced in June 2022 and, by the end of 2024, the world’s first building using only recycled concrete will be completed in France.   

Holcim told edie that it has embedded the re-framing of waste as resources across its business, leading to broader strategic changes and cutting-edge innovations.  

For example, in April 2023, the business launched a technology platform intended to enhance CDW recycling into new building materials and solutions, paving the way for greater recycled content use in the future.  

The business has also updated its water stewardship approach in recent times and set site-specific targets to lower water intensity and improve water discharge quality at all main business lines. This strategy also covers replenishing freshwater used in sites located within areas of high water stress.  

The results:   

Although exact figures have not been disclosed, Holcim has stated that its water stewardship and circular economy projects have yielded positive returns on investment, with future successes expected in the coming years. Cost savings have resulted from reduced waste disposal expenses, while financial inflows have been boosted through increased competitiveness.  

This competitiveness and innovative spirit, the company told edie, has strengthened brand reputation and increased employee engagement.   

Moreover, the projects have enabled the fostering of new and enhanced relationships with suppliers, clients and third-party innovators.  

Holcim hopes its project will open the doors to 100% recycled constructions and help to shift the industry from a linear to a circular economy, cutting emissions and waste at scale.  

The Judges said:

“This is an extremely exciting innovation, not least due to the ability to replicate and scale. Holcim has introduced some ambitious targets to replace legacy manufacturers’ approaches and these solutions could well be transformational in reaching their goals and delivering wider impact.” 

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