3. Products that create sustainable infrastructure

With the twin challenges of climate change and a growing world population, our long-term prosperity will depend on high-quality construction, energy and transport infrastructure that’s sustainable to produce, flexible to use, and endlessly recyclable. This is especially important for the world’s cities, which will house nearly 70% of the population by 2050.

Why is this important to us?

The future demands a vast investment in infrastructure in roads, bridges and railways, hospitals, schools and offices, in clean energy generation, water infrastructure, and coastal defences. Global wind power capacity alone is projected to increase eightfold by 2050. More and more, global commentators look to new approaches to building design and construction to ensure that the resources used have the optimum impact over their lifespan. Steel has an important role to play here.

The commercial imperative

What kind of challenges do we face?

As the demand for more sustainable construction materials rises, steel will have to prove its credentials against other alternatives, such as concrete and timber. This represents both a challenge to our industry, and a significant opportunity. We have a track record in developing and commercialising more sustainable products for infrastructure customers, and want to build on this in the years to come. A large part of the challenge surrounds the legacy that today’s infrastructure creates for the future, such as how useful and how valuable the materials we use now will be at the end of their current life.

What do we need to do?

We are investing in innovation – developing new products and engineering components for the construction and infrastructure sectors, and working alongside our customers to meet their needs and anticipate future trends. But we need to work harder to prove and communicate the contribution steel can make to sustainability. Although steel can be produced with half the energy that was required 40 years ago, we still need to reduce that and cut the carbon emitted, and ensure more steel is re-used or recycled at the end of its useful life. This is a key element of ‘circular economy’ thinking, which we explore in outcome 4.

What is the potential to create value?

The steel industry is meeting much of the world’s need for sustainable construction and infrastructure. It is strong enough to build skyscrapers, versatile enough to meet any construction challenge, and endlessly recyclable at the end of its useful life. Our researchers can calculate where steel will bring added sustainability value compared with other materials, due for example to its lower ‘global warming potential’ score. And our innovations can ensure that modern infrastructure produces fewer carbon emissions and is more energy-efficient – from bridges, to railways, to the turbines used in the renewable energy sector.

Our stakeholders’ expectations

The expectations of the governments, public sector organisations and the commercial customers who commission large-scale buildings and infrastructure projects are changing. We are seeing third-party environmental certification schemes, such as BREEAM in the UK and LEED in the US, as well as labelling schemes like the ECCA Premium® label in Europe and the ABNT Eco label in Brazil. Many major infrastructure projects now demand these certifications, which in turn is driving demand for construction materials which are more sustainable than conventional alternatives. However, in today’s economic climate, the construction industry is under pressure to ensure this is possible at a competitive cost.

The outcome we need

Steel is the first-choice material for the governments and public bodies that commission and approve building and infrastructure projects, and the firms that design and construct them. They know steel is part of the answer, not part of the problem. 

Achieving our new outcome

We want to review the contribution our products make to sustainable development and so we have set up a new research project to examine how the new products in our development pipeline can create sustainable infrastructure and to what extent these are meeting the needs of the industries we serve. Across the company we need to assess how to create further value by collaborating with architects, engineers and direct customers to develop new products.

What's new?

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Our Stories01.04.2016 Collaboration on the Great Lakes
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Our Stories01.01.2015 Engineering low-carbon solutions for buildings
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Our Stories01.01.2015 Measuring impact in South Africa
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SD Update19.01.2017 Gender diversity award for ArcelorMittal Ostrava
SD Update31.10.2016 Moroccan steelmaker heads for 90% wind-powered steel
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