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Making the Case for Sustainable Concrete Design

At Solus, we take a very practical approach to sustainability, specifically working on how we can use as little energy and materials as possible while minimizing waste and still doing what we need to do.  For us, the process begins, and ends, with concrete.

Concrete is the second most consumed substance on earth (after water). The production of cement, one of the key constituents of concrete – from the mining of raw materials, to transport to the super heating required to give cement its unique properties – is very energy intensive.

However, concrete is widely used for a reason. It is incredibly versatile, extremely durable, and composed of materials that are often locally available.

So how does Solus reconcile these two faces of concrete, and make sure that we are utilizing it in a way that minimizes its environmental footprint?

The Formula: There is much that can we can do in the manufacturing and handling of concrete to ensure that we are best utilizing our energy and our resources:

Local Materials – All of our main ingredients come from within 100 kilometers of our plant, as well as the bulk of our forming and mold materials. Virtually all of our manufacturing processes are done under our roof by local people.

Recycled Content – Over half of the electricity in North America comes from coal burning. A byproduct of these power plants, fly ash, has cement-like properties and we use it to replace some of the cement in concrete. This has a three-fold benefit: we recycle an industrial waste product, we reduce the amount of cement (the highest energy component) required in concrete, and overall, using fly ash results in better, more durable concrete.

 “Recyclability” – It’s no secret that concrete can last a long time and put up with a lot of environmental abuse. When its service life does eventually ends, concrete can be recycled, usually pulverized and turned into aggregate or fill. All of our waste concrete is recycled in this fashion. (see our Concrete Elephants blog for more information).

Embodied energy – In interior design applications like fireplace mantels, concrete compares favorably with other materials such as wood and particleboard, especially when recurring embodied energy is taken into account, (i.e. energy of maintenance and refinishing), rot-proof, bug-proof, uv-proof concrete.

The Design: Overall, concrete’s sustainability as a decor material is defined by “appropriate design”. Specifically, this means choosing applications that take the greatest advantage of concrete’s natural characteristics.

Durability – By far, concrete’s greatest asset is its durability. Properly maintained concrete structures can last for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In interior design applications concrete products have a virtually unlimited life span.

No off-gassing. As concrete contains no harmful chemicals, it off-gases only water in its lifetime. As concrete looks best “au naturel”, without paints or coatings, and ages beautifully with its environment, the need for maintenance and refinishing is kept to a minimum.

Thermal Mass – Concrete has excellent thermal mass properties which means that it can store heat or cold effectively. This is why concrete basements can be oases of cool in hot summer months and why radiant flooring works best when it is poured into a concrete slab. Likewise, a Solus concrete fireplace surround will store and radiate heat, and Solus concrete tile will enhance the performance of radiant heating applications.

Beauty – Although a subjective measure, beautiful design is more sustainable than the alternative. There is no use in making something that lasts if it needs to be updated or replaced for aesthetic reasons every few years. Timeless, trend-defying design helps to ensure that concrete’s natural durability is thoroughly utilized and that it remains a beautiful and sustainable part of our designed spaces for years to come.

“this article re-purposed from a previous Solus Publication”