“Carbon neutrality is not a matter of greenwashing; it is of fundamental importance for us”

World Standards Day 2022: Series of interviews on climate protection and standardization

Dr.-Ing. Reiner Härdtl is head of the Standards, Patents, Information & Documentation team in the Global R&D Department at Heidelberg Materials.
© Heidelberg Materials

The topic of this year's World Standards Day is “SHARED VISION FOR A BETTER WORLD” - a world that is threatened more than ever by climate change. Comprehensive transformation is essential for many companies in order to achieve climate neutrality - especially for the resource-intensive construction industry with its associated high CO2 emissions. In this interview, Dr. Reiner Härdtl, head of the Standards, Patents, Information & Documentation team in the Global R&D Department at Heidelberg Materials, talks about the challenges and the importance of standards for climate protection.

In light of the climate crisis, Germany is at the beginning of a comprehensive transformation process toward a climate-neutral and sustainable economy and society. This will affect nearly every industry. What does this mean as regards transformation in the construction industry, particularly in the cement and concrete industry?

A key challenge for us as a building materials manufacturer is direct carbon dioxide emissions from the production of cement - the “glue” in concrete - generated during clinker production in the cement kiln. Most of all, this concerns the two thirds of raw-material-related process emissions that have been unavoidable in terms of technology up to now. At a strategic level, we at Heidelberg Materials are therefore focusing on reducing the proportion of clinker in cement, introducing progressively lower carbon dioxide cements and concretes, rapidly increasing the use of recycled materials, and on new technologies such as 3D concrete printing. What's more, carbon capture and utilisation or storage is also a crucial element of our climate strategy and essential to achieve carbon neutrality for our sector. 

The construction industry is a key industry and is, at the same time, a very resource-intensive industry. The circular economy approach decouples economic growth from resource consumption and focuses on keeping materials in circulation and recycling them for as long as possible. What role does the circular economy play in the construction sector and specifically in the cement and concrete industry?

It plays a very important role. Circularity is a core element of our sustainability strategy. Back in May of this year, we set ourselves ambitious new targets and intend to be able to offer circular alternatives for half of our concrete products by 2030. The opportunities for our industry through innovation in this area are huge. New recycling techniques allow us to close the material cycle of sand, aggregates and hardened cement paste in demolition concrete. In addition, hardened cement paste can absorb and permanently capture carbon dioxide, and thus act as a carbon sink.

Numerous companies have set themselves the goal of becoming climate-neutral. Heidelberg Materials would like to be carbon-neutral by 2050. The climate-neutral production of cement is a challenge, but the leverage for CO2 savings is huge. What does this mean for you as a manufacturer of construction materials and solutions, and for your customers and suppliers? How can you measure your progress?

We are convinced that sustainable products will be a game changer in terms of profitable growth. The entire value chain in the construction industry will have to think and act in a new way. “Green lead markets” play an important role. We have developed customized CO2 roadmaps with concrete measures at plant and product level for all our sites worldwide. We are constantly monitoring our progress in terms of achieving our goals, and document this in a transparent manner in our sustainability reporting, which is constantly undergoing further development. In addition, we are committed to the validation of our climate targets and sustainability performance by independent, external partners such as the Science Based Targets Initiative and various ESG rating agencies.

You hinted that in order to make a significant contribution to achieving climate targets, the construction industry must become more sustainable, innovative and digitized. How, in your opinion, can standards and specifications help here?

We are already in the process of transformation. The marketing of sustainable, climate-friendly products, and the dialogue with customers and the entire value chain is in full swing. Standards and specifications form an important basis for the introduction of innovative construction products with improved carbon balance. This is why we also advocate a rapid solution to the backlog of harmonized standards in the European Union, among other things, as regards the revision of the Construction Products Regulation.

New technologies and business models are being developed and new markets are emerging as part of the green transformation. How can standards and specifications guide and support this development?

Standards reflect the acknowledged state of the art within the construction sector. What's more, many standards are closely linked to formal requirements for ensuring structural safety and its associated legal framework. It is for this reason that standards are mandatory to a high degree for all those involved in construction. The incorporation of innovations into our standards is therefore a very important step for the application and establishment of new technologies. Because markets are established through standardization and they are a strategic factor in terms of global competition, Germany would be well advised to invest in tackling the new topics.

In which area do you see the greatest benefit from standards and specifications? Do you have a specific example where it works well exactly?

In addition to traditional Portland cements with more than 95 % clinker, the European cement standard EN 197-1 defines a wide range of cements with reduced clinker content. The current version describes 26 different types of cement, which define different options for clinker substitution using alternative materials such as granulated blast furnace slag or fly ash. This standard is a globally established standard and serves as a blueprint for numerous national cement standards on every continent.

Which specific standards are applied at Heidelberg Materials that, in your opinion, have a direct impact in terms of climate protection?

Special attention is being given to standards for cements that enable further reduction of clinker content. In addition to the existing cement standard, EN 197-5 published in 2021 defines further types of cement that offer greater flexibility in terms of clinker substitution. Another cement standard is currently in preparation, which will define the use of recycled concrete fines as the main component for cement. It is expected to be published (as EN 197-6) during 2023.

The topic of this year's World Standards Day is “SHARED VISION FOR A BETTER WORLD”. What is your personal vision for the future of the cement and concrete industry?

We at Heidelberg Materials firmly believe that the construction industry of the future will be carbon-neutral. This is why the question of how quickly we can become carbon-neutral with our products is not a matter of greenwashing, but is rather fundamentally important - everywhere, at every location, and in every market.

Personal Information

The civil engineer Dr.-Ing. Reiner Härdtl is head of the Standards, Patents, Information & Documentation team in the Global R&D Department at Heidelberg Materials. His role is the internal coordination of the standardization activities in the field of construction materials technology.

He has many years of experience in standardization work and has, among others, been a member of numerous DIN and CEN standards bodies in the fields of cement, concrete, sand & gravel since 1993.

World Standards Day 2022: Interviews on climate protection and standardization

The international standards organizations and their national members will be celebrating World Standards Day on the 14th of October - highlighting the importance of standards and specifications. The topic for World Standards Day 2022 is “SHARED VISION FOR A BETTER WORLD” and will focus on the importance of standardization to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, with particular emphasis on climate protection. In a series of interviews with interesting personalities from industry, science and politics, the three standards organizations DIN, DKE and VDI would like to jointly highlight the tasks ahead for business and society in the fight against climate change on World Standards Day. In each interview, we talk about the challenges facing their respective industry, the opportunities offered by green transformation and discuss solutions such as standards and specifications.