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Have Taken A Commitment Of 10 Million Tonnes Of CO2 Sequestration Per Year: Neeraj Akhoury, MD & CEO, ACC Limited

"Sustainability is at the heart of our strategy and every action and investment decision is guided by it," Neeraj Akhoury, MD & CEO, ACC Limited

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The construction sector in India emits about 22% of the total annual emission of CO2 resulting from the Indian economy and thus has a high ecological footprint. Of the emissions from the construction sector, 80% are resulting mainly from the products/ industrial processes of four energy-intensive building materials: Steel, Cement, Bricks, and Lime. It is imperative that the construction sector moves towards sustainable methods of operation, to reduce its ecological footprint. In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Neeraj Akhoury, MD and CEO of ACC Limited discusses the work done in sustainable construction by ACC, its work towards negating climate change, its carbon sequestration efforts and other efforts in reducing ecological footprint, to offset some of the environmental impacts of construction. Edited excerpts:   

Given that the ecological footprint of construction companies is generally very high, how does ACC integrate sustainability and environmental consciousness in its operations and functioning?

ACC has a distinct identity as a nation builder. From the start of our 81-year-old journey, we have helped build some of India's biggest projects - from the prestigious Bhakra Nangal dam to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. So we're incredibly proud of our contribution to the country as well as to home builders across the country. We also recognise that the process of cement making can be extractive and energy intensive. Hence, we put tremendous effort into reducing and mitigating our impact on the environment. Sustainability is at the heart of our strategy and every action and investment decision is guided by it. Through our parent LafargeHolcim, we have the advantage of learning and adopting global best practices and standards in sustainability across the entire business chain.

As a leader in the production of blended cements, we have developed many low carbon cements with CO2 emissions as low as 290 Kgs of CO2/Ton of cement which is almost half of India’s average specific CO2 emission for cement. We are the leaders in promoting the use of industrial by-products such as fly-ash and slag in our cement products, giving them superior quality and also conserving natural limestone resources. We also use de-carbonated alternative raw materials in place of limestone.

We also progressed climate change initiatives such as the reduced use of thermal and electrical energy, and the use of alternative fuels rather than fossil fuels. We are also taking one of society's other problems and using it to solve another! A key challenge posed to our environment today is the enormous volume of waste being generated in our cities and towns - industrial waste, untreated sewage and burning of agri residue and more. Thus, through our Geocycle programme, we work with companies and municipalities to efficiently convert municipal waste, hazardous and non-hazardous industrial waste into fuel for our cement kilns. Through this, we are making huge strides in reducing waste landfill, conserving fossil fuels and reducing the national carbon footprint. 

ACC has set up 33 Green Building Centers (GBCs), with 18 more underway, to provide durable building products with low carbon and environmental footprint for green homes and toilets for millions of people in semi-urban and rural India. Through this, we support local micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses to make and distribute affordable cement-based home building components and pre-fabricated materials such as concrete blocks, sanitation and toilet units, tiles, pavers, roofing, walling, and frames. ACC is also educating the local populace around the GBCs sustainable on construction practices as well as providing skills and livelihoods to local communities. 

How does ACC aim to address the four goals of climate change, circular economy, water & nature and people & communities, as enlisted by the 2030 SDG agenda, and work towards them?

At ACC, we believe that business cannot succeed unless people and communities succeed. To this end, we support several livelihood-enhancing programmes across the country. ACC supports seven government-run Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Scheme with the Ministry of Labour and Employment.  We also conduct and support skill development training programmes for around 15,000 unemployed youth every year. We serve over half a million lives every year in 12 States of India.

ACC along with its parent company LafargeHolcim, has aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and fulfilled 13 goals out of the 17 goals listed.

In line with the Group’s Sustainable Development target, ACC plans to reduce its net specific CO2 emissions per tonne of cement by 40% as compared to the base year of 1990.  ACC's carbon footprint continues to be among the industry’s best-in-class where its specific Scope-1 CO2 emissions is around 2/3rd of that of 1990 level.

Circular Economy: In the long term, the cost of fuel and material resources can be expected to rise. Parallelly, growing populations and urbanization - combined with resource scarcity- is forcing communities to prioritize access to natural resources. This creates opportunities for productively utilizing waste and industrial by-products. ACC is reducing its dependency on natural resources and fossil fuels by transforming waste into resources for all our production processes. We use almost 8-9 million tonnes of waste either as raw material or fuel. This also provides employment and other income opportunities through the community-based waste collection.

We have been working with State Governments and waste management agencies in Goa, Hyderabad, Gulbarga, Bangalore, Coimbatore on MSW Landfill Remediation Projects, and are co-processing municipal waste in our cement kilns.

For decades, we have been improving energy efficiency and our carbon footprint through the use of industrial by-products like fly ash, slag, chemical gypsum etc., from other industries besides enriching of low-grade limestone.

We are proud of our history of water conservation, particularly through the creation of new water bodies and efforts to rehabilitate and replenish existing sources. Some of our plants are already self-reliant in terms of our water requirements. We aim to turn “Water Positive” in the near future.

We have taken several initiatives to achieve zero discharge from our Captive power plants as well as from cement plant operations and by reusing the treated water in the cement manufacturing process, captive power plants, and township. Our water harvesting structures provide water to the community for drinking, domestic use and agriculture.

All our plants and mines follow comprehensive plans and undertake rehabilitation of mined out quarries in a well-organized and safe manner in order to protect the biodiversity and nature around. We have set some best practices in the rehabilitation of mined out quarries which helped us to achieve 4-star and 5-star status for the mines by the Government of India. Some of the rehabilitated mines have become case studies in green MBA curriculum at leading management institutes. In 2016, we rolled out the Biodiversity Indicator Reporting System (BIRS) - an effective tool to assess Biodiversity conditions and monitoring relative changes in biodiversity and have completed a robust assessment of all our mines.

In the recent air pollution crisis in Delhi, construction dust and emissions from construction were cited as a major issue for the problems. What does ACC do to negate construction dust and practice environmentally friendly ways of construction?

We encourage the use of Construction and Demolition waste (CDW) in place of virgin raw materials required for the production of ready mixed concrete and prefabricated building products. Our Green Building Centres create prefabricated building products that require only installation on site.

ACC is also continuously expanding its concrete footprint to encourage customers to use ready mix concrete for better quality construction, reduced occurrence of cement dust as well as for limiting water usage.

What are some of the practices of ACC towards carbon sequestration, given that CO2 emissions are quite high in the construction sector?

Natural Carbon sequestration is being achieved through our continuous efforts in afforestation in our mines, plants, residential campus and communities. We have developed innovative insulating concrete products such as Thermocrete which help reduce the carbon footprint of the building by reducing the air conditioning load by 30 – 50% and helping the CO2 footprint of the buildings during the entire life of the building.

The group has taken a commitment of 10 million tonnes of CO2 sequestration per year through our innovative building solutions. We are currently researching and developing concretes that will absorb CO2.

Does ACC have methods of reducing its water footprint? (Along with its ecological and carbon footprint, as asked before) Are you finding ways to reduce the usage of pet coke in construction, as it is an environmentally unsustainable material?

ACC has made tremendous progress in reducing water usage by adopting dry process technology to reduce the water intensity of cement manufacturing from 1400 litre/ tonnes of cement to as low as 100 litre/ tonnes of cement. Most of the wet and semi-wet plants have been converted into dry process technology resulting in 50% savings on energy and 80-90% savings on water usage. Several effective measures were taken to reduce the intake of fresh water such as restricting demand for water from the process and non-process needs, usage of recycled waste water, installation of water metering and monitoring systems at our plants to help to identify potential scope for water conservation. We make conscious efforts to conserve water through Rain Water Harvesting in plants, mines, colonies and community areas. We are also in the process of adopting air cooled condensers instead of water-cooled condensers to reduce the water intensity in power generation.

Use of petcoke from petroleum refineries as fuel in cement kilns is the most sustainable way of using petcoke without contributing to additional emissions. It also defuses the presence of sulfur which gets neutralized in cement kilns. While using petcoke in the kilns, there is no absolutely increase in emissions from the plant unlike in many other industries.

What has been ACC’s progress in the construction of certified green buildings?

ACC leads the cause of sustainable construction in India. Cement House, the company’s 78 years old stately headquarters, was the first renovated building in India to win the Green building LEED Gold certification and 5-Star label from the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in 2009. Later, two other Green buildings - the Central Control Room of our Chanda Plant and our residential facility in Thane were certified as LEED Platinum. Today the company’s 33 Green Building Centres promote cost-effective and affordable construction in semi-urban and rural India.

Our sustainable concrete products are used extensively in the green buildings across the country which is helping the buildings to reduce the carbon footprint, conserve water and improve the indoor air quality. These products support in reducing the thermal load of the building, less water requirement in construction, percolation of water into the aquifer etc., to name a few.

How is the procurement of raw material and fuels required for construction sustainable in ACC’s operations?

Our main raw material is limestone and is obtained mainly from captive mines. In order to conserve natural resource, we use even lower grade limestone through flotation enrichment process in our plants in Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. In order to conserve natural resources, we utilize various alternate raw materials generated as waste from other industries - fly ash from power plants, slag from steel industries, marble slurry from the marble industry and lime sludge from the fertilizer and paper industry.  


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