Italcementi’s effort towards a sustainable cement industry

Written by Valeria Procoli

If you thought that for high polluting industries sustainability is not “economically sustainable”  you will be surprised to hear about Italcementi’s green policies. I did when, during my course of “Sustainable Operations Management”, I had the opportunity to visit the company’s Research & Development department.

The cement and concrete industry is well known for being one of the most impactful on the environment, due to the massive amount of raw materials needed. Right for this reason being sustainable could represent a big competitive advantage. That is, however, truly challenging for such a company: it isn't just about recycling, it's about designing. It takes precise ex-ante choices in terms of products and processes to be able to reuse, remanufacture, recycle and minimize the inputs needed. To do so innovation is key and the company takes it seriously. 

Italcementi’s innovation hub is a fully sustainable (and amazing) building placed at the end of the so called “Kilometro rosso”, a scientific and technological park in Stezzano (BG). The building, named “i.lab”, has been designed by the famous architect Richard Meier (yes, the mind behind the Moma of New York!) to meet the highest sustainability standards and it is dedicated the R&D activities of the company. Photovoltaic and solar thermal panels satisfy 65% of the building’s energy needs while a complex geothermal system contributes to winter heating and summer cooling. Alternative, recycled, locally produced and FSC certified materials have been used to build the edifice.  For all these reasons it has achieved the Platinum LEED certification, the highest level of resource efficiency recognised by the  U.S. Green Building Council.

Despite its strong focus on sustainability, the company is realistic about the results achievable: as a cement company, it still needs extensive amounts of raw materials, energy and water. This means that it's hard to think about a totally green Italcementi, but a number of tools and initiatives can be undertaken to make it greener. Since 2007 the company can count on a team dedicated to it. As Mr. Stefano Gardi (Director of Sustainable Development Department) explains, the company’s commitment on sustainability has never been questioned by the recent merger with Heidelberg Cement as the two share the same values. For example, they are both members to the Sustainable Cement Initiative and produce annual Sustainability Reports to clarify the results achieved and set goals for the future, which are tracked by using a precise measurement system to understand the value generated and destroyed throughout the years. 

Also Italcementi’s product innovation is focused on sustainability. The R&D department has developed several solutions aimed at minimizing the impact on the environment. A great example of this is “ BIODYNAMIC”, the cement used for Palazzo Italia at Expo 2015 and i.lab itself, which is able to capture certain pollutants present in the air and convert them into inert salts, contributing to purify the air. 

This doesn’t mean that the company is totally green or has zero impact on the environment but it’s good to know that such a big manufacturing company carries on so many initiatives to get more sustainable.   

[Photos Credit: Daniele Domenicali Photographer]