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De-growth model for Built Environment esp. Cement / Concrete consumption

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Degrowth model for Cement consumption © 2023 by Consulting Nirmana is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The production and consumption of cement and concrete contribute significantly to climate change and environmental degradation. As such, reducing the use of these materials and promoting sustainable alternatives is crucial for mitigating their impact on the planet. According to the Global Cement and Concrete Association, the cement industry is responsible for around 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Yes, the de-growth model can be applied to urbanisation and can help reduce cement and concrete consumption. The de-growth model is based on the idea of reducing economic activity, consumption, and production to achieve a more sustainable and equitable society. This can be done by shifting away from the current economic growth paradigm that relies on increased resource consumption, and instead promoting a steady state or circular economy.

We need to find ways to use less concrete. Some examples:

  • Use alternative building materials: Consider using alternative materials such as engineered wood, bamboo, and recycled plastic. These materials can be used in place of concrete in certain applications, such as building foundations, walls, and floors.

  • Opt for lightweight concrete: Lightweight concrete is made by replacing some of the heavier components of concrete, such as gravel or sand, with lighter materials like expanded clay or polystyrene beads. This reduces the amount of concrete needed and lowers the overall weight of the building. Sand is one of the main components in concrete, but accounts for more than 85 per cent of global mining activity. To reduce this, a design research duo YYY-MM-DD has developed a prototype for a column, called Another Column, that can be made from crushed construction waste.

  • Incorporate prefabricated building components: Prefabricated building components, such as walls, floors, and roof panels, can be constructed off-site using less concrete and then assembled on-site. Pre-fabrication reduces the amount of concrete needed for construction in a number of ways - precision engineering, material optimisation (incl. substitution), reuse of waste and lastly less or optimised labour. Overall, prefabrication of building components is an efficient and environmentally sustainable construction method that helps to reduce the amount of concrete needed for construction, and thereby reduces its environmental impact.

  • Using concrete alternatives for landscaping: Instead of using concrete for walkways and patios, consider using materials like gravel, pavers, or permeable pavement. These alternatives are often more environmentally friendly and can provide a similar look and functionality to concrete.

  • Implement smart design practices: By incorporating sustainable design practices such as passive solar design, natural ventilation, and shading can reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems in a building. Promoting urban agriculture, green roofs, and other forms of green infrastructure to reduce the urban heat island effect and improve air quality. These practices can help to reduce the overall energy consumption of a building and minimise the need for concrete in structural elements.

Besides above there are other strategies deployed that helps to reduce consumption, production of Cement/ Concrete in Built environments:

  • Living together in a joint family has the potential to reduce the built environment by promoting more efficient use of space and resources, and by reducing the overall housing footprint.

  • Co-living models can also help to reduce the built environment in a number of ways - shared spaces, smaller living spaces, shared resources & adaptive reuse of existing buildings.

  • Promoting growth models in rural areas that provide economic opportunities such as developing rural infrastructure, promoting rural entrepreneurship, supporting rural industries, developing value chains (linking rural producers to urban markets directly), investing in education and training & promoting social services. By promoting rural development, we can reduce the need for migration to urban areas and contribute to more balanced regional development. However, it is important to note that both urban and rural development are essential for sustainable and equitable development, and that a balanced approach is needed to promote both.

By implementing these strategies, we can manage urbanisation and promote more sustainable and equitable forms of urban development.

Authored by Jayesh Pajwani


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