HeidelbergCement released their sustainability report for 2019 this week. Every large cement producer publishes one but this one is worth checking out because of the company’s ambition to become CO2 neutral. Other companies are heading the same way but few of them have such developed and public plans.
Sustainability reports are often a hodgepodge of non-financial reporting bringing together environment, health and safety, community and other topics. Multinational companies cover a wide range of jurisdictions and combining reporting in these kinds of fields can be beneficial. Typically they are members of various bodies like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or the Global Cement & Concrete Association (GCCA) that give various levels of conformity between reports. Yet, the wider focus of sustainability reports gives companies a chance to promote what they are doing well, away from balance sheets.
One highlight of HeidelbergCement’s report is its progress towards reducing its specific CO2 emissions per tonne of cement and its recognition by the Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative towards this goal. So far it has achieved a reduction of around 22% from 1990 levels to 599kg CO2/t (net) with a target of a 30% reduction or 520kg CO2/t by 2030. There is a lot more going on in the report but it’s led by the vision, ‘to offer CO2-neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest.’ It plans to achieve this by increasing the proportion of alternative CO2-neutral raw materials and fuels, developing lower clinker cement types and capturing and utilising CO2 emissions. A focus on concrete is worth noting given the pivot by building materials manufactures towards concrete in recent years.
Back in the present, HeidelbergCement is roughly in the middle of the pack of major European multinational cement producers with its specific CO2 emissions for cement in 2019. LafargeHolcim reported 561kg CO2/t and Cemex reported 622kg CO2/t. This is a bit of a moving target since corporate acquisitions and divestments can change both the starting point and the apparent current progress. HeidelbergCement’s acquisition of Italcementi in 2017 or CRH’s purchase of Ash Grove did exactly that. The other thing to consider is that these companies manufacture a lot of cement. The actual gross CO2 emissions from a multinational cement producer are immense. LafargeHolcim, one of the world’s largest multinational producers, emitted 113Mt of CO2 in 2019 from process and fuel sources whilst making cement. To put that into context, estimates for total global CO2 emissions range from 33 – 36Gt for 2019. The cement industry’s entire share was estimated by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to be 4.1Gt in 2018.
Where this sustainability report starts to become really interesting is where it talks about CO2 capture and utilisation. Its plans in this department are more mature than many of its competitors with various initiatives at different levels of development, mostly in Europe. Norcem, its Norwegian subsidiary, recently signed an agreement with Aker Solutions to order a CO2 capture, liquification and intermediate storage plant at its integrated Brevik cement plant. The deal is dependent on government support but it’s a serious proposal. As reported previously from the Innovation in Industrial Carbon Capture Conference 2020, HeidelbergCement is actively preparing to hook up with CO2 transport and storage infrastructure. The driver is CO2 pricing from initiatives like the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). With the EU preparing for the next phase of the ETS and talk of the European Green Deal gathering pace, before the coronavirus outbreak at least, CO2 prices in Europe look set to rise. HeidelbergCement is positioning itself to benefit from being the first major cement producer to head into CO2 capture and storage/utilisation with a variety of methods intended for different CO2 prices and regional requirements.
HeidelbergCement doesn’t mention the coronavirus pandemic in its latest sustainability report. The report covers 2019 after all, before all of this happened. These reports do include health and safety information of employees, so this may be something to look out for next year. However, Cemex did mention the coronavirus in relation to its climate action plans this week. Essentially it wants to maintain its plans as a ‘fundamental component’ of its efforts to recover from the health crisis. This chimes with media talk around so-called ‘green-led’ government-backed relief programmes. Governments are the ones who are likely to be handing out the money, probably in the form of infrastructure projects. So it’s the perfect opportunity for them to encourage change from the companies bidding for this funding. Sustainability reports and the information behind them will be a useful tool in accessing this cash.