Rio+20 Business Focus: Mexico’s sweet cement

Politicians make the policy. But it’s often left to business to implement it. For this reason RTCC is featuring submissions from business across the globe in the lead up to Rio+20.

The aim is to demonstrate how Sustainable Development is becoming a reality on every continent, country and city. Our first is a joint project aimed at saving water in Colombia.

By Melissa Castillo Spinoso

In line with the UN Global Compact and the Environmental Principles derived from The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, CEMEX faces the many challenges that responsible water stewardship represents.

In December 2010 CEMEX partnered with IUCN to work jointly on a “Water Framework Project”, in order to define a water management strategy to help guide the company into a sustainable water future.

CEMEX says it has saved money and water by collaborating with a local ice-cream factory.

The initial phase of this partnership was to evaluate the current status of water management within the company. This initial scoping exercise revealed that CEMEX had yet to respond to resource pressures with new management approaches and stakeholder engagement.

For example, in Bogotá, Colombia, a site called Planta Morato produced around 200,000 m3 of ready-mix per year and used approximately 35,000 m3 of water yearly.

In addition to this, 80% of this water was used to produce the final product of concrete, with each ton of ready-mix requiring around 180 litres of clean water. The remaining 20% of water was used mainly for cleaning machinery and dust suppression.

The site operated a closed system which enabled cleaning water and surface run-off to be collected and treated before re-circulation into the processes.

Birth of an idea

In June 2009, CEMEX Colombia held a brainstorming session with the local industrial neighbours to find joint solutions to different issues, among them the fact that 90% of the water from Planta Morato was sourced from the municipal supplier, costing US$2.5 m3, and put unnecessary pressure on the supply system; therefore alternative sources needed to be considered.

Adjacent to the Planta Morato sat Meals de Colombia, an ice cream company whose factory produced approximately 7,000 m3 of wastewater per month. Due to strict hygiene constraints, Meals de Colombia was unable to re-circulate this water within their procedures.

Following on-site treatment all wastewater was discharged into a sewage system and then into a nearby river. As a result of the brainstorming with the local community, an idea was born.

Supply resilience

After discussing the water supply issue with Meals de Colombia, CEMEX was able to source some of the water it needed from the ice cream factory.  Following further water treatment, from December 2011, Planta Morato  was able to use the wastewater for concrete production and cleaning machinery.

Initially using 10m3/day for producing ready-mix, CEMEX is now able to use up to 30% of its daily requirement for water from Meals de Colombia.

This water costs one fifth of that offered by the municipality and reduces the stress on municipal supplies by being captured by the plant’s recycling system and incorporated in the process of ready-mix manufacture, hence also partially avoiding industrial water discharges to the river.

With the first scoping phase of the CEMEX-IUCN Water Framework project concluded, the partnership will now focus on developing a Corporate Water Management Strategy that allows CEMEX to build on responsible stewardship practices.

The partnership will continue to encourage collaboration with stakeholders to find innovative solutions to water-related issues as well as to foster a solid framework for water metering and monitoring.

This article is part of a series commissioned by the Rio Conventions for their RioPlus Business project.

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