From a New York Times science section article by Henry Fountain:
Concrete may seem an unlikely material for scientific advances. At its most basic, a block of concrete is something like a fruitcake, but even more leaden and often just as unloved. The fruit in the mix is coarse aggregate, usually crushed rock. Fine aggregate, usually sand, is a major component as well. Add water and something to help bind it all together — eggs in a fruitcake, Portland cement in concrete — mix well, pour into a form and let sit for decades.
It's the Portland cement that's at the heart of one of the environmental problems caused by concrete:
And to design for "less bad" concrete:
But a much more inspired approach is one that turns the whole process on its head and asks whether, instead of trying to do less harm, concrete manufacture can do more good:
At a site adjacent to a gas-fired electricity generation plant in Moss Landing, Calif., the Calera Corporation is developing a process to bubble power plant flue gases through seawater or other brackish water, using the CO2 in the gases to precipitate carbonate minerals for use as cement or aggregates in concrete. The process mimics, to some extent, what corals and other calcifying marine organisms do.
Calera calculates that producing a ton of these minerals consumes half a ton of CO2, so the resulting concrete could potentially be carbon negative — sequestering carbon dioxide permanently.
This is the thinking of green 2.0, which rejects the do less harm paradigm and replaces it with do more good. It's the way to go.
Think manufacturing processes that improve the location from which the resources are taken. Waste processes that leaves the disposal sites better off. Not less resource negative or resource neutral but resource positive.
Besides, from a commercial perspective, less bad is not a positive selling point. It's just a reason for people to feel less guilty about a product until they finally find a way to avoid it. Figure out how to honestly make them feel good about the product--so it does more good instead of less harm--and they won't need to avoid it.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.