Interview with Elaine Toogood, Director of Architecture and Sustainable Design for The Concrete Centre
In the latest of our interview series, we caught up with Elaine Toogood, Director of Architecture and Sustainable Design for The Concrete Centre and Special Advisor for UK Concrete.
In the latest of our interview series, we caught up with Elaine Toogood, Director of Architecture and Sustainable Design for The Concrete Centre and Special Advisor for UK Concrete. She gave us her take on emerging technologies in the field as well as the case for continuing to specify concrete.
Elaine’s key message today was that in decarbonising concrete, we must continue to innovate responsibly. She described our times as “challenging” saying we’re moving at “pace” and must make informed, responsible decisions.
“Concrete has an important role to play in the built environment and is fundamental to a providing a resilient and dependable infrastructure. Innovative low carbon concretes are therefore being trialled in low-risk applications. Whether it’s a bridge or a hospital that we’re building, we need to be able to trust it. Collaboration is key”.
She added that there was “no silver bullet” in terms of material selection, or new innovation to decarbonise construction, “ We all still have much to learn in terms of long term performance” and drew attention to the need for resilience to climate change saying: “There is no point if what we are building now is low carbon, but floods and rots in years to come because we weren’t making informed decisions”.
There will always be a need to decarbonise further.
When asked about when she expects the industry to significantly lower its overall emissions, Elaine explained that the UK concrete industry has already made significant progress, but there is more to do: “The industry is taking its emissions seriously. Lots of work is taking place to reduce the CO2 of concrete within the remit of what’s possible today like the recent project to expand the range of lower carbon concretes in the BS8500, for example”.
She describes the routes to decarbonising concrete as “sprints”, “marathons” and “endurance runs” saying “some technologies have been around for a long time and only now the time is right,” while others require investment today for longer term development and future impact.
“I suspect there will always be a need to decarbonise further. Technology will keep on evolving as will the environmental challenges that need addressing. There may or may not be one innovation that creates a seismic shift but there will be incremental change. Fully decarbonising Portland cement remains a priority”.
She agreed there was considerable appetite for innovative technologies from clients, architects, users of concrete and manufacturers, and a huge range of solutions in development, but she rightly pointed out that upscaling new technology is the real challenge: “How available is the material? Where is the material located and sourced? What’s the market? Where can it be made? Does it fit into existing manufacturing processes?"
Concrete ticks so many performance boxes.
One reason why concrete is so successful and the most used material after water worldwide is because it’s available everywhere and has amazing performance benefits like flood resilience and fire resistance – “it ticks so many performance boxes”.
Needless to say, Elaine does not advocate to stop using concrete. She does however advise specifying a lower carbon version as well as using it more efficiently. “Challenging the structural frame solution can almost half the CO2 footprint of that structure. It is about taking a lean approach to design.”
The Concrete Centre provides material, design and construction guidance to inspire and enable construction professionals to realise the potential of concrete. It is part of the Mineral Products Association (MPA).
The Concrete Centre will be at Futurebuild in March 2024.