A recent report by the United Nations estimated that the global population will rise to over 9 billion by 2050, from 7.4 billon today with 70 per cent of humans living in urban areas across the globe. The rise in the global population and the drift of people to live in dense urban centres everywhere in the world is exerting pressure on housing and the physical infrastructure required to support social and economic lives, which have to be expanded on a continual basis and at a rapid pace. This means an ever-increasing demand for concrete and other building solutions. Meeting this demand has implications for nature and the environment.

LafargeHolcim, the world leader in building materials, including cement, aggregates and concrete devotes considerable resources to ensuring that its quest to satisfy rising global need for houses and infrastructure leaves minimal imprint on the environment. In 2001, Lafarge set itself a target of reducing its CO2 emission per tonne of cement by 20 per cent by 2010, a target that was achieved on schedule. The company then decided to set another target- a reduction to 33 per cent by 2020.

Following audits at the 20 Lafarge offices across 15 countries, approximately 85 per cent of the group’s total office floor space, Lafarge implemented energy saving measures that enabled a 12 per cent reduction in energy consumption across those offices in one year as part of its programme: “My Low Energy Office”. Convinced of the necessity for collective effort, Lafarge is leading initiatives like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development EEB (Energy Efficiency in Buildings) projects with the ambition to cut energy consumption in the building sector by 80 per cent by 2050.

LafargeHolcim employs over 1,100 scientists at its global Research and Development facility in Lyons France and at six other regional construction materials research laboratories. This R&D infrastructure is restructured to reflect the priorities of the market and facilitate the transfer of technological capabilities to provide innovative solutions to local construction challenges in the various countries where LafargeHolcim operates. It has produced a host of innovative products and services. Some of LafargeHolcim’s environment-friendly solutions are based on financial or social rather than technological innovations.

LafargeHolcim has various products which reduce the carbon footprints of houses by lowering their use of energy-consuming devices. One such is Thermedia, a concrete solution which is designed to both retain and distribute heat in cold climates and keep interiors cool in warm climates thus reducing heating and air-conditioning costs while retaining the properties of traditional concrete (mechanical, acoustic, earthquake resistance, durability, shrinkage and fire resistance). One of the environment-friendly products is the DuraBric, a solution that replaces traditional brick with an innovation made up of a combination of 5-8 per cent cement and soil. Durabric is more durable, water resistant and esthetic than traditional clay bricks and also affordable and designed to be consonant with traditional building methods. Unlike clay bricks, they do not require burning, a practice that has harmed the environment through deforestation and soil degradation. Durabric is available in Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Cameroon and Zambia. Individual homebuilders and masons are trained on how to use the machines used to make Durabrics.

A recent statement by the management of global building solutions leader states: “In LafargeHolcim we do not regard concrete simply as concrete. We have 180 years of experience behind us, which guides our operations- we provide the best concrete solution for every construction need. So we really don’t sell concrete, we provide solutions with concrete. The benefit to our buyers and end users in all our market is in the high quality, the safety and durability of their projects. We save them time and money by studying their projects, what it needs and providing solutions that fit 100 per cent.”

The above was corroborated by an example given by a senior official of Lafarge Africa Plc, who spoke about how the company supplied a special kind of concrete that is resistant to salt water for construction of buildings and infrastructure at Eko Atlantic, an ultra-highbrow, new district in Lagos. “We didn’t have to go back to the laboratory to develop this solution. We looked for and provided it from elsewhere in the 90 countries where we operate. We didn’t have to start doing trial and error. This solution reflects our commitment to be the company that provides the best construction material for every construction task in every market where we operate” he declared.

Another concrete innovation that Lafarge Africa is pushing in Nigeria is the Readymix offer, introduced to the market in 2013. Lafarge Readymix Nigeria Limited supplies pre-mixed concrete (in its trucks) in exactly the form and density which builders want them for their projects, thus saving 20 per cent in construction time, an essential component of project cost. The company currently operates 10 batch plants in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja with on-going expansion plans across Nigeria.

In India, LafargeHolcim has enabled slum dwellers benefit from the lower cost and high quality of its Readymix solution by developing a 15-litre slow-setting concrete bag which is delivered by rickshaws where Readymix trucks cannot reach. India now has three Readymix plants dedicated to supplying 500 of these bags per day to build proper homes in slums at lower costs.

In Ogun State, Lafarge Africa Plc is forging ahead with its determination to minimise its carbon footprint by embarking on vast agro forestry projects, which will enable it to replace the use of fossil fuels in its factories with biomass residues. This has spillover benefits to the people in the state; green trees are springing up in degraded forests and the project is also aiding the production of food crops.

Furthermore, Lafarge Africa is carrying out its mission to improve the environment with a mix of financial and technological innovations by aiding lower income Nigerians to acquire modern, affordable homes. Also, in Ogun State, over 3,000 Nigerians have so far benefited from the Ile-Irorun low-cost housing scheme initiated by Lafarge Africa Plc in partnership with Nigeria’s biggest microfinance bank, Lapo Microfinance in 2013, to assist beneficiaries with finance to access the scheme. This is being replicated in Gombe with the Alhairi Project, which is another significant contribution to supporting a sustainable environment as unplanned low-income housing is a major cause of poor waste management and flooding, which destroys property and infrastructure.

Lafarge Africa’s low-cost housing scheme is being extended to residents of Cross Rivers and Abuja with the recent onboarding of another microfinance lender, Fortis MFB. According to CEO Cement, Lafarge Africa, Adepeju Adebajo, the company is well placed to support the changing construction needs of Nigeria as the economy continues to grow and the tastes and requirements for infrastructure and housing of various socio-economic groups change. She emphasised that Lafarge Africa’s innovations will continue to be guided by its experience in over 60 emerging markets and ethical stipulations and respect for the environment that underpin LafargeHolcim’s operations in the 90 countries where it is present.

By Kunle Aderinokun

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