When the first skyscrapers were built in Chicago during the late 19th century, few people would have predicted that the steel used to construct them would become one of the most important building materials on earth.
However, steel’s popularity has one crucial drawback: pollution. Steel production accounts for the largest percentage of carbon emissions across industrial sectors, contributing more than 7% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. And with that figure forecast to hit 10% by 2050, the construction industry must act swiftly if we are to achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement.
At Lendlease, we have spent the last five years reducing our energy-associated emissions by 20% and are looking to go much further. In the case of steel, this presents an opportunity to push for more sustainable practices in its production, which is why we have become the first construction company to join ResponsibleSteel, an international framework that aims to drive a transition to sustainable production for steelmaking and processing sites.
A key challenge for our industry is to create a strong incentive for steel producers to innovate. If businesses that purchase steel fail to demand a transition to more sustainable practices, progress will be slow. Meanwhile, the steel producers face a significant financial challenge to invest in the infrastructure at the scale necessary to decarbonise.
The ResponsibleSteel framework helps solve this by enabling steel producers to demonstrate to investors and customers that their activities are certifiably aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The framework also addresses challenges such as the implementation of sustainable mining practices, the protection of labour rights, water quality, biodiversity and human rights.
As an active member of ResponsibleSteel, Lendlease will help to shape and promote these new standards and encourage a responsible sourcing and production of steel throughout the entire supply chain. The move towards a more sustainable steel industry requires structural change as much as it requires technical innovation, and – just as with those pioneering skyscrapers in Chicago – construction companies have a pivotal role to play in driving that change.
Simon Gorski is managing director, Lendlease Construction, Europe