Chief executives from over 30 companies attended the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) inaugural event last week in London. Its first president Albert Manifold, the chief executive officer (CEO) of CRH, laid out the line by saying that, “For the first time we have a global advocacy body.” He followed this up by emphasising that ‘our product’ is the most used man-made product in the world. Just like the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), the body the GCCA is partly-replacing, it is a CEO-led organisation. The target is very much about giving a global voice to the cement and concrete industries and the vertically integrated companies that produce these products.
Along with the head of CRH, the leaders of LafargeHolcim, HeidelbergCement, CNBM, Votorantim, Buzzi Unicem and Eurocement, amongst others, were all on the attendance list too. That kind of representation gave the event a charged air and a real sense of intent. At present the association says it represents 35% of global cement production and its aim is to reach 50%. That compares to the 30% base that the CSI had.
Representatives from some major cement associations were also present, including Europe’s Cembureau, the Federación Interamericana del Cemento (FICEM), the Canadian Cement Association and the VDZ. The only thing stopping the US Portland Cement Association being there was reportedly the Thanksgiving holiday. Although not comprehensive, that kind of representation suggests serious interest from the regional cement associations. The word from the GCCA CEO Benjamin Sporton was that the GCCA is here to provide a global level of coordination to the advocacy and sustainability side of the industry dealing with global organisations like the United Nations (UN), development banks, other associations and non-government organisations (NGOs).
How this will work in practice has yet to be seen, but at the very least, the GCCA can take over the work of the CSI and run with it. The word from the attendees we spoke to was uniformly positive for the association. It was seen as a long-overdue move to finally give the industry some sort of uniform voice at a global scale. In this sense it is catching up with similar bodies in industries like wood and steel. One benefit from moving from the CSI to a full advocacy organisation is that the industry can actually talk about the good things it does rather than being limited to sustainability and environmental data reporting. It seems like a small change in focus but it’s a big shift in mind-set.
A cynic might suggest that the exercise is one of a dirty industry trying to wrest the Overton window, or window of public discourse, back from legislators facing mounting environmental pressure. The latest UN Emissions Gap Report for 2018, for example, reported this week that CO2 emissions rose in 2017 after four consecutive years of decline. This is the latest environmental report in a long line pointing out bad news. Yet, the GCCA’s unwritten mantra, that concrete improves lives, is sound. Somebody or something needs to link it all up. That somebody might just be the GCCA.
A review of the inaugural annual general meeting and symposium of the GCCA will be published in a forthcoming issue of Global Cement Magazine.