Access to sufficient quantities of clean water—a necessity for all life—is becoming an increasingly urgent global concern. In many parts of the world, freshwater resources are under pressure and access to water is already constrained by competing priorities
Water scarcity will lead to various social and business challenges that can affect CEMEX operations, among them:
- Higher water costs,
- Limited availability of clean water,
- Stronger regulations regarding access to land, water withdrawals, and wastewater treatment,
- Competition with other users, including local communities.
Developing a comprehensive approach to water management
Water is of paramount importance within CEMEX everyday operations and a key input in the production process. Additionally, water is a primary component of concrete, representing approximately 25 percent of the mixture. It is also used for cooling and preparing slurry for cement, washing aggregates, and cleaning plants and equipment, including concrete delivery trucks. In our operations, therefore, we seek to increase water efficiency and recycling and to carefully control our water emissions, such as hydrocarbons and suspended solids.
Additionally, some of our quarries are in contact with aquifers and can cause changes in ground water levels. However, quarry rehabilitation can also contribute to the conservation and restoration of wetlands and watersheds and can offer water storage solutions and help mitigate floods.
In 2010, we began a three-year partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to strengthen our approach to water issues. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network. In this partnership, we will develop a strategy to minimize CEMEX’s impacts on water availability and quality and take better advantage of our water-related opportunities by effective water policies and management systems. The partnership will also develop the tools— operating standards and guidelines, measurement protocols and key indicators, best practices, and training materials—we need to implement into the strategy.
In 2011 CEMEX and IUCN completed the basis for a materiality analysis addressing water-related risks and opportunities, in order to help define a roadmap towards strong management of water issues.
As part of our materiality analysis, we sought to better understand the water availability context in which CEMEX operates, and where we stand as a company. We first looked to benchmark the water use of our industry against others. We discovered that while the cement industry is typically perceived as a high water impact sector, in reality we are relatively low consumers of water compared to other industries such as power and chemicals and compared to other building materials such as iron and steel. In fact, our analysis found that water demand of the concrete value chain represents around one percent of the total construction industry demand for water and only 0.2 percent of global water demand. We also discovered that the context of water availability varies widely from location to location across our operations.
Additionally, in 2011 we completed:
- Setting the scene: a research document evaluating global water issues, associated stakeholders, key issues on water use in CEMEX’s productive processes, and methods for assessing water impact.
- A data-gathering template to enable standardized reporting on water usage, metering, watershed conditions, best practices, and local challenge across all of our business segments and operations.
- Geographical mapping of more than 2,000 CEMEX sites- cement, ready-mix and aggregates facilities- for comparison with areas identified as water-stressed zones, where we found that, currently, nine percent of CEMEX operations are located in officially designated water stressed zones, based on data processed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Global Water Tool.
Standardizing and Aligning Water Footprint Calculation
Although cement industry is not a high consumer of water, CEMEX is committed to reducing its impact on water resources, and in 2012 we focused on gaining a better understanding of water flows within our operations. We developed a protocol to standardize our water measurement and management, and we pilot tested this protocol in Spain and the United Kingdom, using a cement, aggregates and ready-mix site in each country for a total of six pilot projects. These pilot projects helped illustrate the water protocol with real examples, as well as define technical requirements and costs for improving existing monitoring techniques and identifying CEMEX’s good practices on water management that were already in place.
Starting in 2013, the methodology was rolled out to our cement operations and then to all of our businesses and countries in which CEMEX operates. Our final aim is to minimize the company’s water footprint and increase its water efficiency. The methodology contains a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) and their definitions, which are in line with those being currently agreed within the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI). It also defines operational boundaries, four levels of accuracy for water measurement, guidance on how to report, the information and recommendations for meter calibration and maintenance.
In summary, in 2013 we have so far:
- Rolled out CEMEX Water Protocol to most of our sites (giving priority to cement operations)
- Better understood our sensitivities to water and gaps in data and measurement
- Worked on mitigating costs for metering through good available practices
- Kept on working on improving the quality of our KPIs
- Created a Corporate Water Approach for CEMEX
We invite you to read our Water Policy