In English | Issue 2/2022

Preface: The ugly duckling

Preface: The ugly duckling

Concrete has in the political sense been for the past twenty years or so a “material non grata” – an undesirable material, at least to some extent. Concrete construction and development efforts related to it have hardly at all been recorded in the programmes of political parties or the government, or integrated in social projects.

Despite its political status, concrete has been used in construction in ever increasing volumes. For example, 95 percent of apartment buildings are built from concrete. Every year, tens of thousands of people get to move into a new home built using a reasonably priced technology proven to be reliable, safe and long-lived.

In practice, all the most important infrastructure items are implemented with concrete. Rail transport that offers a fast mode of transport with low emissions is largely based on the utilisation of concrete structures. In practice, all low-emission energy production relies completely on concrete construction. Without it, we would not have wind power, hydropower or nuclear power.

The key political reason for the aversion to concrete construction has been the environment, or the mitigation of climate change. Wood has been suggested as a replacement to concrete, with unsubstantiated claims of it being beneficial to the climate.

These claims have now been disproven. The Finnish Climate Change Panel recently published the report it had been preparing for a long time on the climate benefits of using wood. According to the report, the climate emissions that can be avoided by using wood are so small that the reduction in emissions owing to the use of wood and the carbon stores of wood products will not be able to compensate for the loss of carbon sinks caused by logging over a time period of 150 years at least. In other words, wood construction does not slow down climate change, at least in its current form, but on the contrary accelerates it.

Now that the report has been published, it will be interesting to see how the conclusions of the report affect the development of the regulation of construction.

If the facts presented by the Climate Change Panel are taken into consideration in lawmaking, concrete will experience the transformation of the ugly duckling. It will once again be recognised as an also politically acceptable material that is seen to bring significant social, technical, economic and environmental added value to our society. The extensive efforts planned by the concrete industry for the reduction of emissions in the upcoming years also support this.

Jussi Mattila, Managing Director, Association of Concrete Industry in Finland