Mexico’s Largest Cement Company Makes Push for Sustainability

Luis Farias has an obsession. The vice president for energy and sustainability at CEMEX, the Mexican cement company worth more than $13 billion, is "obsessed" with reducing his company's carbon footprint.

For the past several years, CEMEX has been increasingly ramping up its use of alternative fuels, created mostly from refining waste, to power its cement kilns. In 2005, the company was replacing just around 5 percent of its fossil fuel use with renewable fuels.

By 2011, behind a $175 million investment, that figure had increased to 25 percent, and the company has set a goal of using 35 percent -- more than one-third -- by 2015.

"We know we can do it because we have the resources, and we have the obsession," said Farias, who holds a PhD in metallurgy from Imperial College and joined CEMEX in 1991.

Farias has helped usher in a new era for CEMEX, a company that has become a sustainability leader in an industry responsible for 4 percent of global particulate emissions and more water pollution incidents than any other industry.

In January, CEMEX announced its "Water Project," a methodology to standardize water measurement and management across all of the company's operations.

"Under existing climate change scenarios, it is predicted that almost half of the world's population will live in areas of high water stress by 2030," said Farias. "Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that efficient water management plays an important role in our business."

CEMEX has instituted a three-year partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to work on the improvement and efficiency of water management in the cement, ready-mix concrete, and aggregates sectors of the building materials industry.

"In partnering with IUCN, CEMEX is working to achieve improved water management across its operations, maintain access to sustainable sources of water, and reduce risks associated with water for the company," said Dr. James Dalton, who coordinates IUCN's water program across the globe.

As one of the world's largest building materials companies, CEMEX is positioned to make a substantial impact with its sustainability efforts. Between 2005 and 2011, the company avoided using the equivalent of 2 million tons of coal and avoided 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

As part of its efforts to monitor carbon emissions, CEMEX introduced in 2010 a carbon footprint tool - the first of its kind in the building materials industry - that measures the greenhouse gas emissions of its cement, ready-mix concrete, and aggregates products. As of May of last year, the "CEMEX CO2 Footprint Tool" has now been adopted by 88% of its total cement, ready-mix concrete, and aggregates facilities.

Crucially, top executives at CEMEX have joined Farias's sustainability crusade, including Lorenzo Zambrano, who serves as CEO and chairman of the board.

"As one of the world's top building materials companies," said Zambrano, "we are looking to be a leader in defining and supporting a truly sustainable construction industry."

Image credit: Jean-Pierre, Flickr