Friday, 17 May 2019

LafargeHolcim has a way with numbers – CO2 emission numbers

If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of CO2 in the world. LafargeHolcim – the parent company of Aggregate Industries – is the largest cement producer in the world. In 2018, it produced 205 million tonnes of cement – 7 million tonnes more than the previous year.

The company tells us that "LafargeHolcim is at the forefront of efforts to mitigate climate change". It has published its 2018 Sustainability Report.


Throughout the report you’ll find various claims, for example:
In the Environmental dimension, the most significant externality is our CO2 emissions. These account for 75 percent of our total cost to society, and represent the largest negative impact of our operations. In 2018, our net CO2 emissions per tonne of cementitious material decreased to 576 kg CO2/tonne, a 1 percent reduction from 2017 and equal to a 25 percent reduction compared with 1990 emissions. This exceeds our year-on-year reduction objective and positions us well to deliver our new carbon reduction target of 520 kg CO2/tonne by 2030.
Clearly there’s no urgency from LafargeHolcim to tackle our climate emergency, when "a 1 percent reduction… exceeds our year-on-year reduction objective". LafargeHolcim says:
Our 2018 performance of 576 kg of net CO2 per tonne of cementitious material has positioned us as the most carbon-efficient cement and concrete company in our peer group…. With our revised target of 520 kg CO2/tonne by 2030, we remain the most ambitious company in our sector.
Heidelberg Cement – with their plans to realise 'CO2-neutral' concrete by 2050 – might say otherwise:


But as our climate crisis unfolds, and millions of people are displaced from their homes, the world will watch to see whether these cement giants – LafargeHolcim, Heidelberg and others, all driven to sell increasing amounts of cement in this economic-growth-is-everything world we live in – make any serious reductions to their enormous carbon footprints. Cement production, by its very nature, is energy and emissions-intensive due to the the extreme heat required to produce it; around half of the CO2 emissions arise from the thermal decomposition of limestone, which cannot be eliminated by alternative fuels or increasing efficiency.

LafargeHolcim "source 18 percent of [its] energy from alternative fuels, low carbon fuels and biomass". LafargeHolcim’s press release talks about alternative fuels, claiming:
In 2018 LafargeHolcim treated 52 million tonnes of waste which equals more than ten times the total yearly household waste generation of Switzerland. This increase of 6 percent versus 2017 makes the company one of the largest waste processors. More than 11 million tonnes – an increase of 10 percent over 2017 – were used by Geocycle, the company’s global waste management business, as a fuel for kilns or as alternative raw materials using co-processing technology. This process leads to the conservation of natural resources and contributes to the overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
It all sounds very laudable, including the "overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions." But that’s not the end of the story.

LafargeHolcim makes year to year comparisons of CO2 difficult. Take the net CO2 emissions in 2016. These are recorded in three reports, as three different numbers – see below. In the 2016 Sustainability Report, 2016 was recorded as 140 million tonnes, in 2017 Sustainability Report, 2016 was recorded as 126 million tonnes, in the 2018 Sustainability Report, 2016 was recorded as 115 million tonnes. Similarly for 2015. The reason?
We use the WBCSDCSI Cement CO2 and Energy Protocol version 3.1 to calculate CO2 emissions between the 1990 baseline and the reporting year. For CO2, all historical data have been recalculated according to the Protocol, to enable comparison of data over time. Historical data are also restated to reflect changes in consolidation of companies and acquisitions/divestments.
Let’s stick to the 2018 report. Here, LafargeHolcim focuses on a kg of CO2 per tonne number – in fact, 576 kg CO2/t appears eight times in the report, written in varying sizes of text, plainly because of that virtuous 1% reduction from the 2017 figure. But the "total cost to society" is not on a per/tonne basis, it is on a total CO2 emissions basis.

You’ll find that number only once in the report. It’s easy to miss, being buried on page 65 in very small text. Lets compare total net emissions from 2018 – "restated to reflect changes in consolidation of companies and acquisitions/divestments" – with previous years. Readers might be surprised to learn that rather than an "overall reduction of greenhouse gas emissions" and rather than the claim that "LafargeHolcim further reduces CO2 emissions" in that tweet above, that LafargeHolcim’s net CO2 emissions have in fact increased in 2018 – by 2.5%.

2016 – 115,000,000 tonnes CO2

2017 – 118,000,000 tonnes CO2

2018 – 121,000,000 tonnes CO2

It’s hardly surprising. All that enthusing about a 1% reduction in kgCO2/t has been swamped by LafargeHolcim selling 3.5% more cement.

To put that 121 million tonnes of CO2 into context, it is equivalent to the emissions from 31 coal-fired power stations. To sequester this amount of CO2 would require 142 million acres of forest – an area more than twice the size of the UK.

It’s not just us that's picked this up. Global Cement reports:
LafargeHolcim reduced its net CO2 emissions per tonne… However, data from its Sustainability Report 2018 shows that both its overall gross and net emissions grew. Its net CO2 emissions from cementitious material increased by 2.5% to 121Mt.
Remember, this company is apparently "the most ambitious company in our sector" and "at the forefront of efforts to mitigate climate change".

If LafargeHolcim won’t cut its emissions in the face of this climate crisis, what might make a difference? Demand. If construction companies moved away from specifying so much concrete, and towards specifying greener materials, for instance. As the boss of construction group Skanska UK says:
Concrete is one of the big carbon emitters, largely due to the cement products that are within it. If our supply chain could, let’s say they are constructing a 200mm thick concrete slab, if they could make it just 180mm thick, then it would automatically save 10% of their emissions. It can be as simple as that in some cases.
I think we’re seeing a growing number of investors and funders to construction projects that are starting to require the way that buildings are being made to be a lot greener. There are a number of green funds that look very carefully at what they are funding and the way it is constructed.
For the sake of ours and a million other species, let’s hope this movement towards greener building practices starts to reduce emissions. Because we can’t rely on LafargeHolcim, who keeps merrily pumping out more and more CO2 – whilst the ecological and climate catastrophe, day-by-day, year-by-year, becomes more and more serious.