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Blog May 2022

Transporting building materials: reaching sustainability goals

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The construction ecosystem consists of design, materials manufacturing, construction, usage, and demolition. Concerning CO₂ emissions, the focus across the EMEA region is centred on two areas: (1) designing buildings to be more energy efficient and (2) developing more sustainable materials that emit fewer pollutants to manufacture.

But what about the environmental cost of transporting materials to the construction site?

Transporting building materials: reaching sustainability goals

The construction ecosystem consists of design, materials manufacturing, construction, usage, and demolition. Concerning CO₂ emissions, the focus across the EMEA region is centred on two areas: (1) designing buildings to be more energy efficient and (2) developing more sustainable materials that emit fewer pollutants to manufacture.

But what about the environmental cost of transporting materials to the construction site?

Determining exact greenhouse gas emissions within the construction ecosystem is difficult. However on the whole, construction contributes almost 40% of CO₂ emissions globally, directly or indirectly, from fuel combustion and 25% of greenhouse gas emissions overall. Within those numbers, construction accounts for 1% of transport emissions, which in turn accounts for 0.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO₂).

Drilling deeper into the construction ecosystem, construction and transportation are responsible for 2% of emissions. According to the UN, in 2020 the extraction, transport and manufacturing of building materials accounted for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Europe is looking for answers

Transport within the concrete supply chain isn’t always easy to measure. There can be different modes of delivery with sub-contracted trucks, for instance, and this is true anywhere. Then there’s the added problem that not every country, or even company, measures their CO2 emissions. It’s often left to industry bodies. Even then, there’s no consistency in how it’s done. 

In Nordic countries, emissions are based on cradle-to-gate LCA (lifecycle assessment) data. This takes into account all emission factors, which include processes and adhering environmental impacts in each stage of a product’s life. That data starts from raw material extraction and includes materials processing, manufacture, transportation of those materials, and so on.

We do know the average aggregate consumption per capita in Europe, which is nearly 6 tonnes per year. In the UK alone, the aggregates market produces around 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Around 40% of CO2 emissions produced by the industry can be attributed to transporting aggregates.

Of course, much of the problem is in the materials themselves. The EU’s Waste Framework Directive demands that 70% of construction waste be reused. How do you ensure that? One idea being discussed is a material passport. Typically, when a building is demolished, the concrete is either thrown away, smashed up, or sold as low-grade material for backfilling roads. The concrete’s passport would track the material throughout its life cycle, giving it new life for appropriate reuses.

Producers of building materials in the Middle East are coming under pressure to decarbonise their operations. Greener products are becoming a customer requirement. With this in mind some African cement makers have set targets to attain net zero by 2050. One company in particular aims to cut emissions by 10% in 2025 and 27% by 2030. These targets are necessary with the growth of urbanisation, and with it, the need for more cement and concrete.

The role of digitalisation

Back in 2015, McKinsey reported that construction was among the least digitised sectors, resulting in average delays in completion of 20% and running over budget by 80%. Part of the problem was – and still is – fragmentation in the value chain. Stakeholders interact as little as possible. To give an example, using more blended cements requires research and development from cement plants. But if concrete companies don’t buy these cements, and if construction companies don’t use them, then what’s the point of the initial R&D?

Innovation needs to happen if companies are going to lower their CO2 emissions. The industry must evolve through technologies. This can be improving old ones and adopting new ones.

Digital technologies can significantly reduce emissions by up to 15% by 2030. By harnessing data, digitalisation enables better-informed decisions and more creative paths to forming environmental policies. The value in digitalisation is multi-layered. It makes adopters resilient, as seen during the pandemic. It also speeds up the flow of information and significantly cuts operating costs by reducing fuel, labour and supply expenses. And with those cost reductions comes the holy grail: a reduction in CO2 emissions.

In several African countries, the digital economy is driving growth, accounting for more than 5% of GDP. Digital applications are already creating socio-economic transformation, but how does this translate to net zero? Countries in sub-Saharan Africa will need to invest more than developed regions as a share of GDP today to support economic development and build low-carbon infrastructure that would allow the shift to net zero. As Africa is not a big polluter to begin with, this is hardly fair. They’ll need investment from other economies to help in their transition to net zero. Digital infrastructure will need to become more widespread.

Another reason Europe needs to embrace digitalisation is to ensure eligibility for public contracts. In 2021, the UK government became the first country to require bidders for public contracts to commit to net zero. Working digitally will help in the procurement process and foster innovation. Look for more EU countries to follow the UK’s lead.

What does digitalisation do for transporting building materials?

Digitalisation connects every area of the business to enable full transparency into operations in real time. This is impossible to achieve with manual processes. The ready-mix concrete industry is a good example. Because demand fluctuations are part of every working day, an end-to-end digital solution is necessary to work efficiently and effectively. Planning algorithms with digital technology can take into account all regions and depots to come up with the best scenario for that day.

Digitalisation breaks down silos by collecting data and sharing that information. With a deep view into operations, adopters gain insights that inform strategies. This is how transport costs are reduced. Vehicles no longer have to run empty miles.

Adopters can have an accurate forecast of stock needed. By optimising demand forecasting and inventory management, adopters eliminate waste not only in materials, but time. Digitalisation lets adopters set order cycles and quantities, while automating stock replenishment.

For example, constant changes in order volumes create a stressful situation. With digital tools, the adopter can track progress off site and communicate the information to the back end. This, in turn, allows the planning team to calculate the rest of the day. Digitalisation factors in order volumes against available resources, lead times, transport costs and optimises routes.

The importance of real-time optimisation can’t be stressed enough. It gives you complete flexibility while enabling you to significantly reduce empty miles and with that, emissions. Digital technologies prevent trucks from being tied to a specific location, so that your driver can go to any gravel pit a specified area and deliver to any customer. Real-time optimisation looks at the order bank and calculates the most optimal gravel pit for fulfilling those orders at any given moment – while also optimising routes. This is how you reduce the number of miles driven, fuel consumption and idling time. The same concept also applies to cement and ready-mix concrete distribution. Every process is optimised.

Adopters have the insight to avoid empty miles by using equipment to carry out additional tasks. So a container that transports waste from sites can also be used for aggregate distribution. You can avoid putting extra vehicles on the road, not only reducing non-revenue miles but your CO2 emissions. Deliveries are scheduled so that trucks and drivers minimise idling time, reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

With digitalisation, adopters can reduce their transport emissions by up to 25%. Reduce mileage, also by up to 25%, and the hours driven by the same figure. The number of vehicles put on the road can be cut by up to 10%. It’s worth also noting the digitalisation can reduce planning time by up to 75%.

What you need to know

These results aren’t wishful thinking. They are real, as reported to AMCS by users of their best-in-class SaaS digital solutions, AMCS Concrete Planner, AMCS Aggregate Planner, and AMCS Cement Planner and modules. To learn more about reducing your CO2 emissions with AMCS digital solutions, we urge you to get in touch today.

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