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Climate Pioneers

Construction giant CRH’s reuse strategy is winning customers such as Google

40 percent of the company’s revenue comes from climate-resilient infrastructure or concrete and asphalt with reduced emissions.

Eunice Heath, Climate Pioneers

CRH, the international supplier of construction material, estimates $13.9 billion (about 40 percent) of its 2023 revenue came from products with "enhanced sustainability attributes." That includes products made from recycled or reclaimed materials, those produced using renewable energy or rainwater runoff, and its burgeoning line of stormwater management systems.

By the end of 2025, the company expects at least half of its revenue will come from products with these attributes, according to its 2023 sustainability report. CRH reported a 5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 44 million metric tons. Its goal: a 30 percent cut by 2030.

The strategy is driving sales with customers such as Google who want to reduce their own carbon footprints.

CRH, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, is the top North American seller of concrete, asphalt and aggregates such as crushed granite, limestone and sandstone. It is also the largest North American recycler of these materials.

"We’re tackling issues like lower-carbon solutions or circularity that … for many of our customers and value chains is proving to be very valuable," said CRH’s first chief sustainability officer, Eunice Heath, during the June 11 episode of the Climate Pioneer video interview series. "Our investors recognize that."

400 pilot projects

Heath joined CRH in January 2023 after a 30-year career with Dow Chemical. At last count, CRH was running more than 400 pilot projects linked to waste reuse, alternative materials and climate-resilient infrastructure, such as permeable roads or stormwater capture. The company supports a $250 million venture fund focused on commercializing the results.

"That requires us to think from a business perspective," said Heath, who reports to CRH’s chief operating officer. "We have global challenges, every value chain has its challenges. But then there’s also major opportunities, right, for us to drive change. And that takes understanding the key inputs that various functions have to ensure that we’re all aligned, and that we deliver on the ambitions we have as a company."

 

44 million metric tons of reclaimed materials

In addition, CRH used close to 44 million metric tons of recycled asphalt and shingles, construction and demolition debris, fly ash, soil and other industrial byproducts to cut its need for virgin materials by about 9 percent, according to the report.

CRH is also using lower-carbon alternatives for "clinker," the main ingredient in concrete production. Clinker is made by heating limestone to high temperatures, a process that releases CO2. Replacing limestone with recycled material helped one of CRH’s European divisions cut the carbon footprint of its concrete by 7 percent.

Heath also cited a product it’s testing with Cargill on roads in Aurora, Ohio. The product, a replacement for bitumen, includes up to 40 percent recycled asphalt with a soy-derived biobinder that holds the material together. It reduces emissions by 31 percent compared with traditional materials, Heath said.

A new product co-designed with Google

CRH’s reuse strategy inspired the development of a new product for Google, which worked with the company to develop a lightweight enclosure made from recycled plastic to protect underground fiber optic cable, called Duralite. The product is used by the Google Fiber division, but it could be suitable for other internet service providers.

"The Google example is one where they came to us, and we looked across our end-to-end solutions as to what was possible, in order to determine a new technology that we could bring to bear."

Big plans for water management

Another core component of CRH’s corporate sustainability strategy is water management. The company recycled 153 billion liters of water in 2023 by using captured rain, closed-loop systems and water from on-site settlement ponds. This reduced its overall water intake by 58 percent across 964 locations, according to the company’s sustainability report.

CRH is using these strategies in its water solutions business, which sells systems for flood and stormwater management, groundwater recharge and leak detection. "There are revenue opportunities, across the board, as we address our own ambition of net zero by 2050," Heath said.

Watch the whole conversation with CRH’s Eunice Heath. Sign up for the next Climate Pioneers interview at 1 p.m. July 17 Eastern with Nan Ransohoff, who heads climate strategy for Stripe and Frontier, the $1 billion carbon removal fund Stripe co-founded with Alphabet, Meta, McKinsey and Shopify.

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