Do Rubble Piles Help Sustainable Consumption Goals?

Bad concrete will yield a never-ending supply of recycled material

Sustainable consumption in rubble piles without a working concrete supply systemWe often speak of sustainability goals, yet we allow poor nations to abuse their limited building resources. We talk of how to change our impact on the climate, but we look the other way when bad concrete construction practices remain unchanged in developing nations.

The only reason that I can think of for our inaction is that we need more rubble to recycle. Does this type of recycling program meet any sustainable consumption goal?

It is the beginning of a new year –  the season of Top Ten Lists. Many are suggesting that one of the top 10 things that should be done is to make the world more sustainable. We have been told that this is the year of “Sustainable Consumption” and a time when “New Technology” will start to change everything.

When discussing consumption and waste within industrialized economies, Aron Cramer the author of Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World, suggested: “Sustainable consumption will move from abstract idea to practical solution:  Sustainable consumption becomes much more relevant in a weak economy. In 2012, companies should declare war on waste, working internally and with consumers to reduce the massive amounts of energy and food that is wasted in the “developed” economies”.

But what about the waste demonstrated by the rubble piles in Haiti? Shouldn’t we declare “war” on wasted concrete?  Maybe we should explore the wasted energy used to rebuild over and over again. The results of unsustainable building practices are visible after every disaster in these developing countries. The poor quality of concrete runs counter to any sustainable consumption goals so we should be discussing these wastes at our next sustainability conference.

This year we will see some of the best minds in international development mull over sustainability ideas for things like city infrastructure and resource consumption as they meet in the Rio+20 conference. In 2012 the next installment of Sustainatopia will come to Florida, with its break-out sessions on Building a Sustainable Haiti.  BSR’s long running conference on business sustainability will bring about 1000 leaders together this year to engage in conversation and ideas to build a better world. One would presume that establishing correct consumption practices and reducing waste would be hot topics at these events. Will they talk about how poor concrete practices contribute to waste in developing nations?

We would hope that all of these sustainable consumption discussions will finally stop the waste from rubble piles, but my guess is that stronger concrete supply chains will not make the agenda at any of these events.

Why isn’t concrete a part of sustainable consumption discussions and included in the goals? It is the second most consumed product on earth, after all.

The definition of sustainable consumption provided by the 1994 Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption is “the use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations.”

Poorly produced concrete needlessly consumes the earths resources, adds to energy waste and creates a very short life cycle in a product that delivers a basic human  need – shelter. When the bad concrete is used in an earthquake region the results are usually rubble piles. This collapsed infrastructure requires consuming the resources all over again – this is wasteful. Raising the quality of concrete will therefore benefit sustainable consumption goals.

We reach out to the leaders of the sustainability movement who say that they want to “build” a better planet.  Let’s work together to stop the wasteful rubble piles. The technology is well-developed and well proven – it isn’t rocket science, just smart consumption…

Bruce Christensen is the author at CementTrust


About cementtrust

I am a director with Cement Trust and passionate about improving cement-based production in the poorest nations of the world.
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