Interview with John Ortiz & Shirin Fataei, MBCC Group
We talk with John Ortiz, Head of Sustainability for MBCC Group and Shirin Fataei, Global Sustainability Manager for MBCC Group about the values behind MBCC Group, the importance of concrete for climate adaptation and the benefits of admixtures and how it helps solve today’s climate-related challenges.
For further information about MBCC Group’s latest reference project, EDGE Tower, click here.
00;00;03;19 – 00;00;19;06
Simran: Today I’m joined by John and Shirin from the MBCC Group to talk about concrete and how companies can reduce CO2 emissions by using admixtures within concrete.
00;00;19;15 – 00;00;23;19
John Ortiz: Hi, I am John Ortiz, I’m the Head of Sustainability for MBCC Group.
00;00;24;04 – 00;00;29;14
Shirin Fataei: I’m Shirin Fataei, I am Global Sustainability Manager for MBCC Group.
00;00;30;04 – 00;00;31;14
Simran: What does the MBCC Group do?
00;00;31;23 – 00;00;56;10
John Ortiz: So we’re a global supplier of construction chemicals. Our products and services provide solutions to many of the challenges associated with construction and the built environment. We have over 130 sites in 70 countries and employ nearly 7800 employees around the world.
00;00;56;18 – 00;00;58;28
Simran: What are the core values behind MBCC group?
00;00;59;12 – 00;01;30;15
John Ortiz: Yeah, I’d say, I’d say, you know, we’re solutions-oriented, very, very customer-focused. Innovation is at the heart of our, heart of our business. And with that comes advancements and improvements in sustainable, sustainable benefits that our products provide to the construction industry. Concrete in particular amongst other things.
00;01;30;15 – 00;02;03;02
Simran: What are some of the innovative and sustainable products and solutions you provide for various industries?
00;01;36;07 – 00;02;32;06
Shirin Fataei: So basically we try to have an answer for anything you might ask with regards to construction industry. We have a really huge portfolio but if I want to, if I want to divide it, I can say there are two categories. We have construction solutions and they are things that you can find around yourself like you know the shiny floor in a parking lot? They are construction solutions. If you want to build, I don’t know, a wind farm, a wind turbine farm, then we provide grout for the foundation so we can find our construction solutions products everywhere, you can use it like to glue your tiles in the kitchen and then we have concrete admixtures so this is another category of our product and these are basically chemicals that go inside concrete and gives you specific properties.
00;02;32;07 ñ 00;02;36;25
Simran: From your 2021 sustainability report, what needs to be done in order to reduce CO2 emissions?
00;02;37;07 – 00;04;55;043
John Ortiz: Yeah, so so I’d say we you know, we look at, we look at climate and the environment in two ways and one is the, you know, the impact of our operations and, and manufacturing operations and presence, you know, of our businesses. That’s, that’s kind of one piece of it. And then the other piece of it is what our products do in the hands of customers so the, you know, the positive benefits that our, that our products bring. And, you know, so we have, we’ve set a number of fairly short term goals to, you know, to make sure we’re on track and they’re not, you know, 2050 type goals. They’re actually 2025. We plan to have, you know, 60% of our energy sourced from renewable sources. We’ll have a reduction on a, you know, product intensity basis of 15%, in terms of energy consumption, water reduction and waste reduction and you know, so that’s our own internal operations, our own footprint reduction so we’re taking steps there and then, you know, the way our products interact with customers and we’re going to get into a little more, more detail on that but our products bring some pretty significant benefits to, you know, the construction business by reducing the carbon intensity of key building materials.
00;04;08;07 – 00;04;12;19
Simran: From your 2021 sustainability report, what does your sustainability strategy outline?
00;04;13;02 – 00;04;55;04
John Ortiz: Our sustainability strategy has four pillars, and the first one I mentioned is sustainable products. Again, what our products do in customers hands in the built environment, in the construction, in the construction industry. Our climate and the environment, which, which includes both our internal operations as well as what our products are doing and innovation in those respects. Employees, that’s our employees, how we treat our employees, their safety, their health and safety, their employee engagement and then business integrity, which, which is a pretty holistic view of sustainability in general, as you know, covering those four, those four areas.
00;04;55;06 – 00;04;58;03
Simran: What does your sustainability approach consist of?
00;04;58;03 ñ 00;05;45;00ñ
Shirin Fataei: John talked about sustainable products, so we are first of all, we’re promoting so we know which part of our portfolio has higher impact on environment, like which part can bring more sustainable solutions to the table. So we are deliberately pushing these products and we are advertising these products and we are, these series of products, and we’re educating the public about these products. So this is something we do. We take a look at our supply chain, at our production facility, how we can improve our portfolio, because what we do is chemistry and chemistry can always be optimized. So there is no end to that. And this is what we do as well in our R&D. We have a really strong R&D, I have to say, in comparison to our competitors.
00;05;45;09 – 00;07;32;07
John Ortiz: Looking at it in two ways, like Shirin just mentioned our own operations and you know, for there, we actually have a fairly ambitious renewable energy program and we’re weighing different options of onsite solar generation, renewable energy purchases and energy efficiency which kind of builds into any program, you know, you start with efficiency, you know, use less and then convert that less consumed energy into a renewable source. So that’s kind of one aspect of it. And then, you know, then, then Shirin has said and I think the, you know, the industry doesn’t have a full awareness of what you can do and shouldn’t say maybe the industry it’s more of customers of the industry don’t know that they can, they can ask for concrete that has, has a lower impact and therefore they don’t. So so, you know, part of what we’re trying to do today and we want to do is make people more aware of you actually have the ability to, you know, specify a lower impact concrete and you know, we’ll talk a little bit about how much impact or how much benefit you can gain later and the numbers are pretty startling. So, you know, we want that, these are, these are solutions that can, that we can do now. So already everybody is talking about, you know, Net Zero and, you know, 1.5 and 2.0. We have solutions to help companies get there today. You don’t have to wait until 2050 to reduce your carbon footprint. You can actually start doing that and start marching down that, down that trajectory now.
00;07;32;20 – 00;07;35;06
Simran: Why is concrete important for climate adaptation?
00;07;35;15 – 00;09;18;16
John Ortiz: Adaptation is one aspect of it. So it’s, so concrete’s the most used man made material on the planet. And you see it everywhere. You could, you’re probably in at least a concrete foundation. You drove past concrete, you know, bridges and and barriers on your way to work. It’s everywhere and it’s ubiquitous. It’s critical in many applications in terms of, you know, adaptation, you know, we think about, you know, adaptation is how do we react to a changing climate? And, you know, amongst those solutions, things like seawalls, better storm drainage, you know, and Shirin mentioned, you know, wind, wind turbine grouts and wind turbine installations. You know, those are all things that we’re doing to to adapt to a warmer planet. Concrete is going to be, is going to be part of that. What we’re really excited about is, you know, concrete also has some pretty significant, you know, carbon intensity values. And, you know, our solutions can actually help reduce that again today. So before those, before those buildings and those structures are made, you can start with a lower impact concrete. And then again, we’ll talk a little more about that. Like I said, one, it’s everywhere, two, it’s got a pretty high carbon content or embodied carbon content and that’s why, you know, it’s important from a, you need to have it. It’s not going to go away. But you also need to be more responsible with how you, how you use it.
00;09;19;02 – 00;11;52;21
Shirin Fataei: Concrete is the thing you see in the house. It’s the stone that made the walls and everything, the foundation and as John said it’s everywhere so concrete, people see. The problem is cement part. Cement most people don’t see, cement is like a powder, and then you mix it with water and then it gives you something like a toothpaste, like feeling-wise in your finger, it’s like toothpaste. Then you put sand and aggregate on top, you mix everything, you let it stay and then it makes a rock so the biggest embodied carbon in this concrete comes from the cement which is something like, it’s like a flour that you make cake with, so it’s a powder. And the problem is when you are producing cement, you emit CO2 for two reasons. One reason is because you need to heat the limestone. This is part of the process and that heating will generate some CO2. Will emit some CO2, depending on the source. Another part is the decomposition of limestone. When you break the limestone to take the most essential ingredient of cement, at the same time, you release the same amount of CO2 and that CO2, unfortunately, goes to the atmosphere and emit everything. And that’s the problem. And this is something we cannot avoid by, I don’t know, moving to a green energy. This is coming out of the core of the material. To solve that problem, of course, people try to look for solutions, and one of the solutions is, for instance, carbon capture, use and storage, And everyone talks about it. But the problem is, and many researchers are trying now to, to point this out to the public, the problem is that such solutions are expensive. They are, you should, you should do it for sure. I’m not neglecting that. I’m not, I’m not disregarding this point, but they are expensive, you need to modify one plant at a time, which means you cannot snap your finger and say everyone now green and everyone is now sustainable and you’re all pretty. That’s not going to happen. You need to, you need time. It’ll take us few decades until we reach that point. And what we would like to communicate to public and what we are trying to educate people on is that if you use admixture, if you try to optimize your current mix design, now you can already reduce 25% of your CO2 emissions. You can start making this decision and doing it today. And this is where admixture can play a really significant role.
00;11;52;21 – 00;12;03;06
Simran: What are admixtures and what are the benefits of it’s application?
00;12;03;12 – 00;13;22;02
John Ortiz: Yeah, I like, I like to think of admixtures as, as little sprinkles of magic for concrete. So we use admixtures, admixtures have been around for, for quite some time and they’re there to make cement more workable. So the different applications of cement, flooring, buildings, you know, you pump it to the 30th floor of a building, you know those kinds of things require workability, require fluidity, and so admixtures enable that. But at the same time, admixtures also allow the use of other materials and less what we call clinker. And that’s the cement that Shirin was describing before. So that, that cement highly carbon intensive, also, also the most expensive element of concrete. But we actually enable to use less, use less and use alternative materials that have a lower impact on the environment and still perform without tradeoffs. So I’d say that’s the, you know, kind of the big picture for admixtures and again, I call them sprinkles of magic, you know, Shirin will get into the chemistry and application with quite a bit more detail.
00;13;22;02 – 00;15;50;16
Shirin Fataei: I call it baking powder of the cake because you put a little bit and then your cake becomes so delicious. So each of us have our own, how to say, our own interpretation of admixtures. Mostly people know admixture for improving workability. I can tell you what workability is in short. So when you mix the cement and I told you will have a glue that glues everything together, you have a specific open time that you can work with this glue, this concrete, fresh concrete. And afterward it becomes so stiff that you cannot change it anymore. So what, I say admixture because it’s only one category of admixture, but people usually associate the whole admixture only with this one category, because it’s the most famous and important one. This water-reducing or superplasticizers type of admixture, this small, this like, this sub-branch what they do is they increase or decrease this working time. So you can pump the concrete for 2 hours if you are pumping for a skyscraper or you can pump it longer in a tunnel, then sometimes you have to pump one kilometer because I don’t know, they start it from the beginning of the tunnel and now they are one kilometer in so you have to deliver that. Sometimes you are using digital fabrication. So this is in direction of industry 4. Now they have digital fabrication and a lot of people now heard about 3D printing, it’s a trend. And for instance, with 3D printing, you print one layer of concrete at a time and then you go up and then you form a ball. The point is when you print it, when it’s coming out, you want it to be deformable. You want it to be like a clay in your hand and take a shape. But as soon as you want to put the next layer, you want it to be stiff enough to carry the next layer. So it needs to be everything at the same time, flowable and then harden quicker so these things are, I mean, you can do a bit of mix optimization, but at the end of the day, you need admixture you need this water-reducing, this superplasticizer, an accelerator to be able to manipulate the chemistry that traditional chemistry to manipulate it to the modern wishes. And this is something admixtures do.
00;15;51;13 – 00;16;47;08
John Ortiz: And you need expertize like Shirin and you know, our huge sales force out there that actually helps customers design these solutions and meet all those needs that they have. So it isn’t just about chemicals, we, you know, you throw in there, it’s about the expertise to apply them, it’s the expertise to find the right balance, to adapt to your own, you know, your own material set that you’re bringing perhaps locally like all these kind of factor into, you know, getting the right mix, getting the mix right and of course, you know, we use concrete to build things that are important to us, like houses and buildings and parking lots and, you know, structures that we want to be safe and not have to worry about, you know, 25, 30, 50, 75 years from now, you know, all that has to be factored into that mix design. And again, this is where, you know, our chemistry and expertise brings that to play.
00;16;47;23 – 00;16;50;19
Simran: How do admixtures solve today’s climate-related challenges?
00;16;50;24 ñ 00;19;54;27
John Ortiz: I’ll try to break it into four things and the four things we’ve talked pretty well about CO2 reduction. So again, and that comes from using less cement, using less what we call clinker. And that reduction is pretty huge, and you know, Shirin will give you a few more statistics on projects that we’ve actually done, but it’s, you know, today, conservatively, it’s 25%. It has the possibility of reducing the CO2 embedded CO2 recovery by as much as 50% with, you know, with the right environment, the right applications. So that’s, that’s one. The second one is water reduction. So primary use of admixtures is to use less water and still continue to make it flowable, like Shirin described. So that’s another, that’s really important in water stressed areas It’s really, water is a precious resource that, you know, we can’t, we can’t afford to squander. Waste reduction is the, is the third one I’d say and you know, that comes from a couple of things. So typical process of building things is, you know, you estimate how much concrete you need, it’s delivered and maybe you guessed wrong you’d guessed too much or too little and you have, the truck has to come back and then you waste at the end of the day, that can’t be, it doesn’t get, it doesn’t get saved. We have admixtures that actually help you use that material the next day without any, without any trade offs. The other is, you know, being able to use recycled building materials that have been torn down. So those materials without help, without help from the chemistry solution really are not attractive to a building. They want to use fresh aggregate, fresh sand etc. So we have, we have the tools to do that. And then the fourth one, I call it a bit of a, bit of a trifecta. There’s a class of concrete that we call precast. As you know, there’s a, there’s an industry or, you know, there’s at least a, you know, a series of companies that are out there that create precast. You drove in past, you know, barriers on your way to work today. Those are all precast concrete, So they’re built in a factory that’s essentially a mould, concrete is poured in the mould, it’s cured. Well, in that process, you typically use heat to cure it faster so that they can get more productivity. So we have, we have admixtures that, you know, again, do all the things that we’ve said before, reduce water, reduce the carbon intensity of the concrete itself, and not have performance tradeoffs and then reduce the amount of heat you have to add to cure it. So you get this trifecta of environmental benefit. That last one, we’re still, we’re still working on quantifying but we have, we have some customers that are actually going to measure that impact for us. They know it to be true. They buy our materials because it helps. It also helps save the money. But now we want to, we want to quantify that. So that’s, that’s a project we’re embarking on here pretty shortly.
00;19;55;21 – 00;19;58;27
Simran: What about your company and sustainable concrete, do you want people to know?
00;19;59;25 – 00;20;16;15
John Ortiz: So I’m going to use one word and the word is now and then, and then I want Shirin to talk a little bit. But it’s, this is about making choices now. Choosing a concrete mixture that, you know, that reduces your impact on the environment and doing it now.
00;20;16;15 – 00;22;00;21
Shirin Fataei: As John said earlier we have for instance recently a project in Berlin and there are some posts about it that you can find out our website as well that we could or the, the designer could at the end of the day reduce 50% CO2 emission by optimizing the design, the construction design, the mix recipe and then they brought so many things together and they could save, they could reduce by 50%. And we did some studies and actually there are some research on this, And let’s say we cannot do all this 50% reduction because that means a lot of work. Maybe you need to talk with the construction designer, you need to talk with many people. But simply coming only from concrete plant, you can easily reduce 25% CO2 emission, like you use admixture, it allows you to have the same workable concrete with the same properties with the same end properties, but with 25% less cement and clinker which means 25% less CO2 emission. And this can be done with the snap of a finger. You just need to ask, you just need to go to the concrete plant and ask for it. You need to say “I want low carbon concrete”. And then if, let me give you something to visualize it better. If all the concretes that are produced annually and this is about 14 billion cubic meters, a lot, if all of them decide to produce this low carbon, to do this, to produce this optimized concrete, and they all reduce 25% of cement, then it’s equivalent to removing 180 million cars off the road annually.
00;22;01;07 – 00;22;02;09
John Ortiz: That’s correct. Yeah.
00;22;02;25 – 00;22;40;22
Shirin Fataei: If I want to make choices, I would go and ask for low carbon concrete. And I think that this is something anyone can do and this is something that already is in progression the northern region of Europe. So in somewhere like Norway, you have to like that concrete plant have to only provide low carbon concrete. They cannot anymore provide these traditional high cement content concrete anymore. They have to do better. And this is something that will come to the rest of the world as well.
00;22;36;06 ñ 00;22;40;20
Simran: How do your solutions help companies and businesses address their scope 3 emissions?
00;22;40;26 – 00;23;00;29
John Ortiz: Yeah, that’s yeah, that’s, that’s a good one. So, you know, scope 3 is, is everyone’s challenge right now and I don’t want to go through, but it’s you know, we’ve, we’re working on our scope 1 2 emissions and plan to work on our own scope 3 emissions you know this coming year but everyone is in the same place. And you know, what COP26 and COP27 both focused on was, you know, carbon emissions and how do we get there and you really don’t have a credible, you really don’t have a credible global, you know, climate policy or program if you’re not addressing your scope 3 emissions because it ends up, if you’re a product-related company, it’s 80 to 90% of your overall emissions. Scope 3 is your value chain, everything in your value chain, how products get to customers, how materials get to you and so, you know, your typical approach as a company is let me look at my scope 3 emissions, let’s measure it, baseline it, and then, you know, you put everything on a pie chart. You look at what are the biggest, you know, the biggest elements of my scope 3 emissions. And then you start with those. You have to prioritize, well, in a product company and the product could be a building, could be a road, it could be, could be anything, it’s going to be the materials you buy and we have a solution that actually helps you reduce those emissions by 25 to 50%. So we can do that, again, it’s back to now. You can use our material, use our products and there’s other admixtures on the markets so we’re not exclusive. But you can, you can do this now by specifying it as Shirin said and I think the only other thing there is you know, I get, you know as head of sustainability, I get two to three calls, four calls a week from, you know, software providers, “hey, we can help you measure your scope 3 emissions” but without me asking that one of my suppliers has come to me going, “hey, I have a product that can actually help you reduce your scope 3 emissions”. And that’s what we have. And that will be part of the you know, that what we want people to understand is how you actually can target your scope 3 emissions right now, have measurable, measurable differences and changes, you know, today and again, the traditional approach have, well, let me look at my biggest, my biggest elements within it might not work. You actually have to look at all of it and say, OK, as a system, this concrete solution can be reduced by adding, you know, 2 to 3% of an admixture again, sprinkles of magic and useless of the other higher offending material in your mix. And so again it’s a little counter-intuitive, you know, something that you us every little of actually can impact what you use in other products. And again I think that’s, that’s where we can help.
00;25;36;14 – 00;27;53;14
Shirin Fataei: And there is something that I hear most people, when you hear about sustainability, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but when you talk about sustainability, a lot of people think like, “Oh my God, it’s going to cost me more”, I don’t know, like vegan meat or vegan milk or whatever and then with this case, with this specific case, because we are reducing the amount of cement and cement is actually the most expensive component in concrete. You are not necessarily increasing the cost, you stay by the same cost more or less or maybe even less, I cannot say for sure, but definitely not, you are not increasing cost intensively. You will stay the same in the worst-case scenario, your going to stay the same cost, but you will improve a lot on your CO2. As John said, on your scope 3, if you are a precast or ready-mixed concrete it stands for you If you are a construction company that is building houses, it will, it will fit in your scope 3. Somehow, all of us are entangled together and if we all work better, if we try to improve what we ask and what we are producing, then at the end of the day, in many places we can cut emissions. And I think such stuff has been done already in many other industries. I always tell John that for instance in car industry, they already improved automobile industry so many times to make it better, more efficient, faster, like aerodynamic, this and that but somehow the concrete because it’s always there, it turns into stone and afterwards you don’t think about it any more. Nobody, sometimes, no some people do, I’m sorry nobody is not true but a few people would think let me make it better, let me go one step more. I mean, researchers are always working on better solutions. They are really nice researchers, already working on this. But industry, I mean, researchers are smart, you need to, you need to change the mind of industry to do something innovative, to got that one further step for the future. And I think this is somewhere we can help a lot.
00;27;54;04 – 00;28;26;20
John Ortiz: I think collaborations are a really key part there and you know, as I mentioned before, you know, you don’t just buy things off the shelf and throw them in your concrete mix. You actually, if you rely on our team’s expertise to help you get it right so that you know, you’re not jeopardizing people’s lives, you know, with with poor structures, but you’re actually making the right choices and doing it without tradeoff. So, so again, that collaboration is key. That’s what we offer and that’s what, you know, as part of that, that whole value chain of what makes them scope 3.
00;28;27;20 – 00;28;31;29
Simran: What our future plans and goals for MBCC Group in addressing climate issues?
00;28;32;20 – 00;29;28;11
John Ortiz: First, we are looking at our own operations. We’re in and well, yeah, we’re, within our own operations where we have a pretty aggressive renewable energy target for 2025 of 60% of our energy used. You know, we’re looking at our, at our wastewater and also, you know, energy efficiency and then the other. But where will make a bigger impact is, you know, getting, getting this message out and, you know, getting more water-saving, clinker-saving or clinker-reducing admixtures out there and, you know, influencing, influencing standards and regulations to enable, you know, to one, enable and promote the use of lower, lower intensity concrete.