Higher levels of investment into sustainable construction to boost jobs and growth in Europe, while helping to build the continent’s low carbon economy, are being called for by the Concrete Initiative.

And a study by a business management consultancy is claiming that the multiplier effect of investment in cement and concrete construction is close to three times for jobs in the wider EU economy.

The Concrete Initiative comprises Cembureau (the European Cement Association), BIBM (the European Federation of Precast Concrete), ERMCO (the European Ready-Mixed Concrete Organisation) and UEPG (the European Aggregates Association). Its aim is to engage with stakeholders on the issue of sustainable construction, from a concrete perspective.

The new study by Le Bipe management consultants – a member of Euroconstruct – found that for every job created in cement and concrete within the construction industry, 2.8 were created in the wider economy.

The report’s findings were revealed at a Concrete Initiative conference in Brussels, Belgium, which brought together European and local policymakers, plus other interested stakeholders, to discuss the economic, social and environmental benefits of sustainable construction for Europe’s citizens.

Daniel Gauthier, president of Cembureau, said, “The cement and concrete industries add €56 billion to the European economy and provide jobs for more than a million people.

“Industry calls on the European Commission and the EU Member States to use the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) to promote infrastructure and sustainable construction projects to help create a better built environment for Europe’s citizens in the future, and drive Europe’s economic recovery.”

The Bipe study also highlighted the key sectors where cement and concrete were used, which in turn contributed to Europe’s low carbon economy. These include energy efficiency, transport infrastructure and sustainable construction.

It covered the EU28, plus Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

Sustainable construction

A further study from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, discussed at the conference, highlighted key components that made for sustainable construction, in particular the need to design and assess buildings taking into account all aspects such as cost, safety and environment.

Cembureau chief executive Koen Coppenholle said, “With the European Commission’s proposals on the circular economy expected to be released shortly, and in the context of the international climate change talks in Paris, it is important that cement, concrete and construction’s efforts to contribute to Europe’s low carbon economy are recognised.”

He added, “We are at the centre of the circular economy,” citing energy efficiency and durability of buildings. He said that while cement was CO2 intensive, it was only 10 to 15% of concrete, “and so it is a low-carbon product”.

Ronnie Hall, principal adviser at Directorate General (DG) Regional & Urban Policy at the European Commission, said he felt the 2.8 multiplier had a “credibility problem” for him as it was very high compared to other such multipliers. Werner Buelen, political secretary of the European Federation of Building & Woodworkers (EFBWW), said he agreed with that, but added, “It doesn’t matter as there is still a strong multiplier which affects the whole construction industry – not just cement. The whole construction industry must change.”

Julia Reinaud, director of industrial policy at the European Climate Foundation, posed the question, “How can we de-carbonise but retain a competitive edge? We have looked at innovation throughout the value chain and also looked at the megatrends.

“We need to have a shared vision,” she said, “for example, procurement that favours low carbon.”

Cross-border

For Eliana Garcés Tolón, senior economist and deputy head of unit, economic analysis, at DG Grow, the key was a construction industry that could operate effectively in Europe – for example across borders.

She said there was a need to look at architects and engineers working cross-border, and to “decrease the burden of working across borders”, and to see if the profession is over-regulated.

“We must look at public procurement to increase its efficiency,” she added.

On waste requirements, she said that there was a need to create secondary markets for waste.

“We’re coming on track to do that – thinking has shifted.”

Addressing the conference via a video link, Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella also talked about recycling, saying, “Use-and-lose is no longer the obvious solution it once seemed to be. The answer, of course, is a more circular economy.

“Europe needs new opportunities for growth and prosperity. We can only generate these benefits if businesses like yours play their full role,” he told the conference, adding that that the industry would be affected and had been listened too. He said that major steps would be announced in December.

'Crucial sector'

Christophe Sykes, director general of Construction Products Europe, said that construction was a crucial sector, but wondered how the circular economy covered all the different aspects of the industry – for example, performance, and being affordable and adaptable for renovation.

He queried whether it would cover new products or buildings, or all products. In the case of old buildings, he questioned who would own the waste.

Cedric de Meeûs, project leader of the Concrete Initiative, said that while there was growth in Europe, there was “a massive disconnect” with construction, and that the investment plan of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was “one step for us out of many”.

Newsletter

Delivered directly to your inbox World Construction Week features the pick of the breaking news stories, product launches, show reports and more!

Sign up for free

Newsletter

Delivered directly to your inbox World Construction Week features the pick of the breaking news stories, product launches, show reports and more!

Go to newsletters