- Construction materials can achieve gigaton scale by 2020 for an investment of $445 billion, creating 328 thousand direct new jobs, and enhancing energy security by reducing energy use.
- Multiple gigaton-scale pathways exist in the construction materials sector; the biggest single opportunity for CO2e reduction is low-carbon cement.
- No single country's building sector can achieve gigaton scale alone, with the possible exception of China if that country shifted to low-carbon cement production.
- Jobs and investment numbers based on transformation of the cement industry.
- Green building materials are the fastest-growing sector in the building materials category.
The manufacture of building materials and components accounts for between 40% and 50% of the total global flow of raw materials. Given emissions proportional to raw materials processed, this implies 4 to 4.5 gigatons of CO2e directly from the construction industry in 2005, increasing at roughly 2.5% per year.
The construction materials sector is baroque, in need of modernization. Concrete is a perfect example. This most commonly used material got its last update in the late 1800s. The industry - which has been the subject of media attention and alone emits more than 2 gigatons of CO2e per annum - is under pressure to change. Other areas of the trade have equal (if not as large) potential for improvement.
There are a number of pathways to substantial CO2e reductions in the construction materials sector. Below are five that have the potential to reach gigaton scale. The first three focus on commonly used construction materials, and the last two target construction industry practices:
- Wood products
- Ceramics and glass
- Whole-building design
Product innovation (development of low-carbon materials) and conservation-minded design are essential in the new age of building materials. New materials under development include bio-composites, such as polymers grown by microorganisms, and products fashioned out of waste streams (recycled materials). Conservation-minded designs use products with recycled content such as cellulose (recycled newsprint) or cotton (recycled blue jean) insulation as well as salvage materials.