Aggregate Industries – Building Back Greener
We learn how Aggregate Industries, one of the world’s leading building materials suppliers uses its market position to promote sustainability in the construction industry.
With the summer that has just passed, the urgency of the fight against climate change has never been clearer. When we speak to Kirstin McCarthy, the Director of Sustainability at Aggregate Industries, she makes it clear what a priority this is for the construction materials firm.
“As the world faces the climate change challenge, we feel incredibly passionate about playing our part,” she insists. “This is seen in our progressive sustainability strategy, as we seek to not only rapidly advance the decarbonisation of our own operations but play a leading role in supporting the wider UK construction industry on its own path to net zero.”
Aggregate Industries’ passion for sustainability is underscored by the company’s vast capabilities. The company boasts over 200 sites and employs around 3,700 people. From these sites, Aggregate Industries produces and supplies a wide range of construction materials including aggregates, asphalt, ready-mixed concrete, cement, and precast concrete products.
Aggregate Industries is also known for producing, importing, and supplying construction materials and carrying out national road surfacing and contracting solutions.
“From the Shard to HS2 and everything in between, we have a vast experience of supporting some of the most prestigious builds in UK history,” McCarthy points out. “We’re also a proud member of Holcim, the world’s leading global building materials and solutions company, meaning we can provide global capabilities at a localised, UK level.”
The firm is an industry world leader, with a brand recognised widely even outside the construction industry. McCarthy plans to use that recognition to help transform the sector with an incredibly progressive and bold approach to sustainability.
“Amid a growing sense of urgency around the climate change challenge, the reality is that there is still a huge job to do for the construction industry in terms of advancing environmental priorities and building greener,” she says, frankly. “The sector accounts for nearly 40% of global energy and process-related emissions and will play a crucial role in delivering the Government’s net zero ambitions by 2050.”
A Passion for Sustainability
Aggregate Industries is deeply committed to enabling this industry-defining transition. Earlier this year, the company launched a sustainability strategy which set out its vision to become the UK leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions. This strategy includes increasing the volume of material it reclaims or recycles from 1.5 million tonnes to 3 million tonnes by 2025, reducing the company’s waste to landfill zero.
“I passionately believe that the reuse of recycled materials in products is the opportunity of our time,” McCarthy says. “This builds on major sustainable progress already made to date.”
Over the last 12 months alone, Aggregate Industries has delivered the UK’s first carbon-neutral road scheme, invested over £13 million in an alternative fuels recycling plant to reduce annual CO2 emissions by 30,000 tonnes, and sold enough ECOPact low carbon concrete to save over 142,000 tonnes of CO2.
All of this is part of a two-fold approach to sustainability- driving solutions within Aggregate Industries’ own operations while providing green solutions to the industry.
The Business Case
Keeping sustainability at the top of the agenda has been even more of a challenge lately, as the last few years have proven an unprecedented time not just for Aggregate Industries and the construction industry, but the entire world.
“Through the tenacity of our people and sheer hard work, we have been able to continue to lead with confidence and reinforce our position as a market leader even amid a shifting playing field,” McCarthy says.
Of course, finding the right people has been a problem not just for the construction industry, but practically every industry, post-Covid. Skilled drivers, in particular, are now hard to find in the UK. Rather than changing Aggregate Industries’ priorities, however, this has offered more sustainable solutions.
“We recently called for the industry to follow our lead by pivoting to Non-Tipping Trucks (NTT) – which can deliver up to 40% more materials compared to standard hauls –to help counter the problem,” McCarthy says. “Better still – NTTs offer a much lower carbon footprint – by moving just 10% more products via NTTs we can save in excess of 100,000 kg CO2 every year. It’s a real win-win.”
Ultimately, McCarthy believes that building the business case for sustainability itself is her most constant challenge.
“Even though it may be everywhere, the reality is there is still a lack of awareness amongst the construction industry about the latest green solutions available and, more importantly, how they could benefit business,” McCarthy tells us. “For some, we find there is often a false narrative around the lower performance of low-carbon options. Others may struggle to see how profitability could go hand in hand with sustainability. We hope to address this by breaking the mould in everything we do to inspire, educate, and excite the industry about what really can be possible in sustainability.”
The solutions include the switch to “warm mix” asphalt across all of the Aggregate Industries’ asphalt production, as opposed to the more traditional, but highly energy-intensive, “hot mix” asphalt. This enables significant carbon reductions, reduced project costs and enhanced life expectancy – all while ensuring the same high quality and performance of hot mix.
“This is one of a handful of examples of how new ways of thinking and a bit of ingenuity can help make sustainability happen,” McCarthy insists.
Once again, McCarthy is quick to hand the credit for this success to Aggregate Industries’ talented staff.
“With a strong team spirit and a supportive, inclusive company culture centred on making a difference, we are incredibly proud of our team who can be counted on to add value and truly care about what they do,” McCarthy says. “Alongside this sits our progressive, reliable and collaborative approach.”
It is an approach that allows McCarthy to continue to push the boundaries in sustainable solutions and practices, all while delivering at pace and scale, through the framework of close-knit, collaborative partnerships built on a mutual understanding and a shared commitment to sustainability.
“Our immediate priority is delivering on our bold sustainability goals as we continue to develop progressive products and processes that can help construction businesses to drastically improve their green credentials and efficiencies, as well as to become a more sustainable business,” McCarthy says. “To achieve this, we will focus on innovation and working with our customers to make our low carbon products mainstream.”
These efforts take place alongside a big focus on establishing digital companies such as Simply Paving, and services such as the LOOP order tracking service.
But that, McCarthy insists, is just the start.
She tells us, “This is just part of the story, and we have many more initiatives and innovations in the pipeline to come as we continue in our commitment to being a sustainable frontrunner as the race to net zero gains speed.”