When manufacturers, trade unions and industry associations signed their agreement to found the initiative for sustainability in the German cement industry in 2002, they were really breaking new ground. This agreement on sustainable development was the first industry agreement of this kind in Germany.
Until the mid-20th century, sustainability and efficiency of resources and energy merely played a subordinate role. All industrial indicators focused on growth; protection of nature and criticism of globalisation were still in their infancy. It was only with the oil crisis and the publication of the study "The Limits to Growth" that society began to think about the topic of sustainability at the start of the 1970s. Germany's cement works reacted quickly: measures to increase energy efficiency were soon taken. Use of alternative fuels in the works' furnaces was intensively researched by the Research Institute of the Cement Industry, and driven forward in great leaps. Together with nature conservationists, measures to protect endangered species in the works' quarries were also developed.
However, sustainability remained a niche topic, until the United Nations World Summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002 opened up the issue to a wider audience. It was in the same year that the cement industry lived up to its responsibility: on an international level, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development founded the Cement Sustainability Initiative, which many major international cement manufacturers entered into. In SME-dominated Germany, however, even smaller cement manufacturers placed value on sustainable development of their industry, also looking to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the trade unions. Together the social partners founded the initiative, with which they committed, and still commit, to ensuring an ecological, economic and social balance.
Sustainability remains a continual learning process
The social partners based their initiative on understanding sustainability as a continual process of investigation and learning, which covers the entire value creation chain of cement-bound building materials and is driven forward step-by-step through investments and innovations, in order to better integrate ecological, economic and social needs. The central aims of the initiative are:
- To further anchor the guiding principle of sustainable development within companies and organisations in the industry,
- To carry out projects that provide important impetus for sustainable development in the form of example solutions,
- To promote dialogue between the social partners within the industry, as well as with key contacts outside of the industry,
- To provide information on sustainable development to employees, companies and organisations in the German cement industry.
After more than ten years, the initiative can look back over a number of successful projects of the social partners and successes of the industry:
- Through increased use of alternative fuels, Germany's cement works now save fossil fuels with a coal equivalent of around 1.96 million tonnes every year.
- With efficiency of more than 70 per cent, the cement works' furnaces are currently almost at the theoretical maximum.
- At 20 years, the average length of service is almost double the national average. 96% of employees are currently on a permanent employment contract.
In addition to implementing measures aiming to protect the environment or reduce emissions, the initiative has created awareness of sustainability in the industry through studies on employment and logistics. Nature protection measures, environmental projects and sustainability assessments may have been the exception at the start, but today projects are underway in all German cement works. At the same time, all those involved are aware that sustainable development is never finished. Together the social partners will identify new areas for action and continue to work on improving the ecological, social and economic aspects of their industry.