LafargeHolcim became Holcim this week with the launch of its new group identity. It also released a manifesto. Corporate names and logos come and go in the swirl of capital but straight up declarations of intent are rarer. Companies in the normally conservative building materials sector don’t tend to do this. This is more the terrain of political movements. So what’s going on?
Figure 1: From a merger of equals to building progress for people and the planet, the LafargeHolcim and Holcim logos.
Looking at the new logo gives us a few clues. The light grey-brown Tetris-style ‘L’ and ‘H’ letters symbolising the ‘merger of equals’ have gone. In its place come two circular symbols that look like they might connect. Together they give the impression of a slanted figure of eight or a lemniscate (infinity symbol). All of this is set to a few shades of blue and green. Could these two symbols be suggesting recycling or the circular economy? Who knows, but hopefully the advertising agency that came up with it was well remunerated. Luckily for us Holcim’s chief executive officer, Jan Jenisch, explained it, “Today marks a milestone for our company in our transformation to become the global leader in innovative and sustainable solutions.”
The manifesto is clearer. Entitled ‘Building progress for people and the planet’ it lays out some of the problems facing the world, such as population growth, urbanisation and climate change mitigation. It then addresses how Holcim is already tackling these issues and how it wants to go further in becoming part of the answer. This is the big vision so it doesn’t trouble itself with the detail on how, for example, the company is going to eliminate process emissions from clinker production on its journey to net zero. This is after all the big pitch to hearts and minds. It also doesn’t stain its fingers with anything suggesting who is going to pay for this grand noble ambition. We’ll have to wait for the next investor’s event to discover how much of this dream washes over into the private equity and pension fund crowd.
In Holcim’s defence, as one of the world’s largest building materials producers, it needs to carve itself a grand vision to occupy within a future preoccupied with climate change. Pretty much everyone in the developed world uses products manufactured by Holcim and its competitors even if they don’t realise it. Yet they are increasingly becoming more aware of the negative issues raised by environmental campaigners. Over in the developing world, adequate housing and infrastructure provision are live political issues for many as economies grow. Threading the needle to tie these trends together is quite the challenge for Holcim and the others. As a public company it serves its shareholders, but, as a multinational wedged in the middle of the climate change debate cascading into global politics, it ultimately answers to everyone. Hence a mission statement or a manifesto makes sense.
Meanwhile, for a glimpse on the Chinese approach to these kinds of problems, China National Building Materials (CNBM) subsidiary China Building Materials Academy (CBMA) signed a knowledge sharing agreement this week with the Canada-based International CCS Knowledge Centre to collaborate on carbon capture technology. The project plans to start with a 155kg CO2/day pilot on an active cement plant kiln. If successful, the study could lead to CNBM rolling it out across its entire cement operations. This would be hugely significant globally and given the scale of the Chinese industrial sector there’s also a reasonable chance it could happen at speed. If this occurred CNBM could leave the politics to its owner, the Chinese government.