Archive for the ‘eco’ Category

Green Toner and Inkjet Cartridge YES YOU CAN

September 23, 2011

Yes You Can use compatible “green” toner cartridges in your printer and maintain your warranty!

From Bold Spicy News:

One of my clients recently received a call from a Pitney Bowes Sales Rep.  They were calling to see if my client needed additional red inkjet cartridges for their Pitney Bowes mailmachine.  My client informed the Pitney Bowes rep that they had purchased their ink from Print Green USA, Inc., and at substantial savings. The Pitney Bowes rep then stated that using cartridges that weren’t Pitney Bowes brand would void the warranty on the mailmachine.  That is not the case at all.  In fact it is illegal for a manufacturer to require that a consumer use a certain brand of product as a condition of the warranty. This is covered by the Magnusson Moss Warranty Act.  Read More Here

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Wildlife in Urban and Suburban Settings

July 8, 2010

We usually think of wildlife in parks, national forests, and undeveloped areas like the mountains. But how often do you notice examples right around you?

Behind Mall of GA, the forested wetlands are home to animals you might not imagine: birds and squirrels, but also deer, snakes, ducks, salamanders, beaver, and even coyote. Similar great examples can be spotted along the Suwanee Creek Greenway. The diversity of wildlife can be one type of indicator of the overall ecosystem health and community sustainability.

Wherever you live, what unusual examples have you seen? For anyone near or in the study area, where in particular have you seen wildlife around northern Suwanee, Buford, the mall, and along Suwanee Creek and Ivy Creek Greenways?

Do you think keeping wildlife in this urban setting is a good thing? Or is it a danger or nuisance? Deer get hit by vehicles. Canadian geese take over water features. Why should we encourage wildlife near a major activity center?
Share your thoughts!

– Green In Gwinnett Area – Keeping Gwinnett Green and Sustainable

Faucet Aerators Save You Money

March 28, 2010

If you’re looking to cut your water usage and save money, faucet aerators are the single most effective water conservation tool at your disposal.

Depending on your water consumption habits and current faucet type, adding an aerator can cut your water use by as much as 50%. At only $5-$10 dollars these simple to install devices will pay for themselves in a month or two and you will notice the difference on your next utility bill.

Think Green In Gwinnett! Keeping Gwinnett Green and Sustainable…

Green In Gwinnett Tips

October 22, 2009

Drink filtered water instead of bottled water. Filling and reusing a stainless steel container created for long term use with water is more beneficial to the environment and your pockets than purchasing bottled water. With all of the talk about chemicals used in bottling plastics it may also prove to be even more beneficial to your health.

Recycle! In Gwinnett county (Snellville, Suwanee, Duluth, Centerville, Lawrenceville, Norcross etc) all of the garbage disposal companies (including whoever eventually ends up with the final contract) pick up the little blue bins that take away plastics, aluminum cans and glass. Call your waste disposal provider today. The more you recycle the less you throw away. This cuts down on how often you purchase garbage bags, that saves you money. WalkGreen…and Save!

Join Green In Gwinnett Area on Facebook and LinkedIn! GIGA! Spread the word!

Houseplants, Pollutants, Gwinnett

October 22, 2009

Houseplants have more advantages for your home than just looking pretty. Houseplants can actually filter the air in your house and rid it of pollutants. If you mix night synthesizing plants (like orchids) with regular plants, your plants will work around the clock to filter your air. Different plants are good for different pollutants, for example philodendrons and aloe plants are especially good protection against formaldehyde.

Remember to think “Green In Gwinnett”! GIGA! Your Gwinnett Community based resource for the people!

http://www.greeningwinnett.org

City Of Suwanee To Go Paperless

October 15, 2009

SUWANEE – Municipal Court Judge Mark Lewis announced that Suwanee will be the first city in Georgia to go paperless.

GIGA Tip

September 27, 2009

Green In Gwinnett Tips
Doggie Dooty

Responsible dog owners are often confronted with the question of how to clean up the waste those morning walks tend to produce. An eco-friendly alternative is to use a page from yesterday’s newspaper. If that isn’t an option for you, buy biodegradable pet waste bags or reuse a plastic bag you have on hand.

Brandsmart. First Commercial LEED Building in North Georgia

January 12, 2009

The new Brandsmart store that is being constructed at I85 and Buford dr in Gwinnett County is more than meets the eye.  This store has been designed and is being constructed to LEED standards, making it the first commercial building in north Georgia to adhere to these standards.

What is LEED?

LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

What is Brandsmart doing in these areas?

  • They are using none of the municipality’s water supply.  They are doing this by using a unique system of underground cisterns, reclaiming, and recycling their water.
  • Landscaping that requires very little water and can survive long droughts.
  • Waterless toilets
  • Skylights equipped with computer-controlled mirrors directing daylight into the store’s interior for more use than contemporary skylights.

Keep up the good work Brandsmart!

www.printgreenga.com

Print Green USA, Inc is a proud member of Green In Gwinnett Area GIGA, and the Chairman’s Club at the Gwinnett Chamber.


January 5, 2009

giganew12-copyCity of Suwanee: Preserving a Healthy Environment in the Face of Rapid Growth

Introduction.

Follows is a review of what one town in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan
Area(GAMA) is doing to preserve its natural resources and mitigate air pollution while at
the same time improving quality of life for its citizens and preserving its small town feel
in the face of rapid growth and development. Many of the tools used by the City of
Suwanee to accomplish these tasks, including the massive Open Space Initiative and the
effective use of Planned Mixed-Use Developments, are ones that are also potentially
readily available to many other small towns within GAMA as well as without.
Borders and Connections. The City of Suwanee is located in northwestern Gwinnett
County. It is bordered by Buford to the northeast, Lawrenceville to the southeast, and
Duluth to the southwest. I-85 passes through the southeastern edge of the city where the
city abuts with Lawrenceville. This stretch of I-85 includes exit 111, approximately 30
miles from the center of Atlanta. Other major roadways passing through the City include
Lawrenceville-Suwanee/Suwanee-Dam Rd.(GA 317), Peachtree Industrial, McGinnis
Ferry Rd., and Buford Highway(US 23). One rail line, the Southern Railroad, passes
through the City, paralleling US 23 and Peachtree Industrial.

Ecological.

The Chattahoochee River passes just west of the western boarder of the City
of Suwanee with the Chattahoochee River Corridor extending into a small area of
Residential and Commercial zoning comprising about 4000 feet of that border. There are
several streams within the City, two of which, Bushy Creek and Suwanee Creek, are
tributaries to the Chattahoochee. There are no known occurrences of protected species
within the City. There are no other major natural resources within the city with the
exception of the following. The Georgia DNR has shown that Suwanee “contains
Significant Groundwater Recharge Areas that have, according to the Groundwater
Pollution Susceptibility Map of Georgia, a Low Susceptibility rating.”(1, “Natural
Resources”) The rating is based on the DRASTIC system, as laid out by the EPA, which
examines the hydrogeolgic settings of a given area and creates an overlay map indicating
areas susceptible to contamination (5). Lastly, Suwanee and Gwinnett Co. are a part of
the Atlanta Metropolitan AQCR, which is currently a non-attainment area for ozone. This
classification places restrictions on the expansion of roads and other structures that
contribute to the creation of ozone(smog) in the Atlanta area, as well as bars the receiving
of certain Federal funds.

Demographic.

The City of Suwanee comes from humble beginnings as a predominately
rural farm town with a population of only 615 in the early 1970’s. However, through the
70’s up until 1990 the population of Gwinnett Co. increased 388%, adding approximately
94,000 people between 1970-80 and 186,000 people from 1980-90. By 1998 (latest
Census estimate) the county had grown another 169,000 people. Suwanee’s own growth
has been exponential during this period, with a quadrupling of the population between
1990 and 2000, from 2,412 persons to 9,191. The 2007 estimate has the City at about
16,250 residents(2). A comparison of the growth rates reveals that while the Atlanta
Region has held steady at about 2.5% over the three decades and Gwinnett Co. has
actually slowly decreased from 8.7% to 5% from 1970 to 1990, Suwanee has seen nearly
a tripling of its growth rates over those same three decades (’70- 5.25%, ’80- 8.9%, ’90-
14%). In short, Suwanee has been growing fast.(1)
Current 2000 Census data shows the age distribution to be centered at 35-44 years of age
and weighted between approximately 50% of the population between the ages of 25 and
54. The vast majority of these are white (94% in 1990), with only about 4.4% black and
2% Asian. Almost half of the population of Suwanee in 1990 was at a high school
education or lower, 21% with some college but no degree, and a third of the population
having at least a College Associates degree. These numbers were, at the time, overall
worse than the County’s. Per capita income in 1990 was slightly below the County at
$17,300 and Median Household Income was well above the County’s at $48,750, with
income groupings evenly distributed.(1)

Projected Growth.

Total population is projected to grow to about 20,500 people and
8,000 households by 2020, with a sharp leveling off of growth after 2015. Long term
projections for 2030 have households at 11, 495 and the population between 30,000 and
32,500. Socioeconomic trends, including Median Household Income and education
levels, have also shown a strong improvement since the 1980’s and are projected to
continue. The current city average of about 3 persons per household, however, is not
projected to change much. This means much of the future growth of the City is expected
to be as large families rather than single adults.(2)
Land Use. The City of Suwanee’s land area currently totals 6,998 acres, or about 10
square miles, with the following breakdown. About 42% is Residential, with 95% of that
being Single-Family and the remaining being Multi-Family. Only about 6% of the land
was being used for Commercial, with the overwhelming majority of that being
commercial/retail. Light industry comprised approximately 10% of the land. Parks/
Recreation & Conservation lands were about 11.5% of the land use. Total undeveloped
acreage is currently 12% of the land area of the City. That is projected to ultimately be
reduced to 0% in the future.(2)

Problems the City Faces.

Space has become a very valuable commodity within the
small city due to its extremely rapid growth. One of the issues cited as being the leading
cause of urban sprawl in the Atlanta area is the fact that homeowners and developers have
always preferred large lot sizes, with upwards of an acre or more not entirely uncommon
for one household (Wes Rogers, Senior Environmental Planner, 3/14/2008). This problem
has especially impacted Suwanee as the town has seen much of its land occupied by lowdensity
subdivisions, with lot width minimums from 85 to 150 feet.
This leads to the number one challenge the City faces today: managing infill well. Infill is
the result of the rapid growth the I-85 corridor has experienced in the past several years.
“As growth has leap-frogged… up the I-85 corridor, in checkerboard fashion, spurred by
road and sewer extensions, urbanization has been a function of filling in the spaces left
between disparate development projects- basically a densification of the checkered-board
over time until all of the spaces are filled” (1, “Land Use”).
To make matters worse, since Suwanee is a part of the Atlanta area urban air quality basin
and since that area is currently in non-attainment for ozone emissions, Suwanee and
Greater Gwinnett County are both subject to federal regulations which, “impacts the
county’s road improvement program and its ability to add additional capacity to
regionally significant roads”(1, “Natural Resources”). Furthermore, the Atlanta Regional
Commission has been working on ways that local governments can help reduce air
pollution by reducing average trip miles, etc. These, together, put added pressure on the
City of Suwanee to “infill” smartly.

The Chattahoochee Corridor does not greatly affect the City, but is noteworthy. Related to
it are the many un-developable areas such as low-lying flood-zones and wetlands. There
is also some concern for the vast recharge area over which the city lies.

Finally, to tie all of these issues together and expand on them some, it is, in fact, the
Mayor and the City Council’s desire to make their city an environmentally pleasing and
pleasant place- if not for Mother Nature, at least for the human beings living there. This
includes everything from side walks and greenspace to matching street lamps along the
main thoroughfare into town. They also wish to reduce traffic through so-called “smart
planning,” or to put work, play, residence, and shopping all within readily accessible
distance of each other.

In short, the challenge faced by the City of Suwanee in recent years has been to infill the
remaining available space while at the same time preserving the city’s small-town feel,
improving pedestrian access and lowering traffic, and saving as many trees and green
open areas (for the purposes of aesthetics and the environment) as they realistically can.

Solutions and Other Actions.

Chattahoochee River Corridor & Tributaries.
The Chattahoochee River Corridor extends into a small portion of the western extreme of
the City and, overall, affects the City little. Nevertheless, this area is subject to regulation
under the Georgia Metropolitan River Protection Act and the River Corridor Plan and so
is not insignificant(1).
Per regulations there is required a 50 ft. non-disturbance buffer, a 100 ft. set back for all
development, and a 150 ft. setback for all impervious development within this corridor
(1). In addition, there are severe restrictions on land use within a 7 mi. radius of any
down stream municipal water intake plants. However, none currently exist near the City
and none are likely to ever be developed within this proximity(1). There is one last action
which the City was required to take as the commercially zoned section that occupies
much of the corridor/city overlap is developed. As a precaution to protect the
Chattahoochee from storm water runoff and river bank erosion, 6 acres of land of this lot
were slated to be preserved, undisturbed (Wes Rogers, 3/14/2008).
There is a further requirement of at least a 35 ft. non-disturbance buffer for all tributaries
of the Chattahoochee with an additional 35 ft. impervious surface setback(1). However,
this seems moot as current city stream-buffer ordinances require a 50 ft. non-disturbance
buffer with an additional 25 ft. set back for development for all streams within the City
(4).
Wetland Conservation/Utilization and the Greenway.
Per city ordinances, all wetlands within the city are subject to standard S. 404 permitting
under the Clean Water Act. However, there are no easily developable wetlands within the
city as those that do exist are flood-zones for streams and rivers. This posed a problem for
the City of Suwanee as it meant there was privately owned land within its boundaries
which could not be used by either its owners or the public at large. As a solution, the
green-minded Mayor of Suwanee decided 10 years or so ago that, rather than leaving all
of that land to just sit and waste away, he would like the City to buy it up and convert it to
greenways. The green-minded City Council agreed to the idea, and so in 2001 the City’s
award winning “Open Space Initiative” was begun. With this initiative the City took out a
$17.7 million bond and began the purchasing of land and developing of trails and parks.
One of the crowning achievements of this project has been the Suwanee Creek Greenway,
a project which also received State Recreation Grant funding. This greenway connects the
expansive George Pierce Park sports complex with the Town Center and preserves
several acres of flood-generated wetlands along the Suwanee Creek. Also, since the City
owns the lands, the project also prevents any issues with takings or zoning violations, as
well as circumvents having to deal with developers in the preservation of open space.
Finally, before taking out the bond the City held a vote, and its citizens agreed to take a
140% increase in property taxes in order to pay the bond back.
Air Quality.
“The City of Suwanee is also working toward improving air quality through coordination
and integration of land use and transportation, the encouragement of mixed use and
pedestrian friendly facilities, the support for a commuter rail station and building of the
necessary infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation.” (1, “Natural Resources:
Air Quality”)
These actions are covered in further detail below.
Coping with Growth: reducing traffic, managing density, and maintaining open space.
In 1998 a new Zoning Master Plan was created to cope with the growing pains of the city.
Of particular note in this new master plan was a new type of zone, the PMUD (Planned
Mixed Use Development). In short the objective of the City in creating this zoning type
was not to increase density but to make travel in the city more pedestrian friendly, make
daily life for the residents of the mixed-use zones easier, and reduce overall trip mileage,
all while preserving some open space as well. There are two types of PMUD: Mixed-Use
Village (MUV) and Mixed-Use Center (MUC). The difference is essentially that the
Village is predominantly residential and the Center is predominantly commercial or
industrial(offices). The goal of both is to put residents closer to their place of work and/or
shopping and at the same time provide open space for recreation. A full list of objectives
for PMUD zoned areas can be found in Section 510.A in Article V of the Zoning Master
Plan.(3)
In the 1998 zoning map there were 6 PMUD zoned regions within the city, each at
specific “Character Areas” per the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. The future land use
projections in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan shows these PMUD areas expanded, with
several new and broader overlay Character Areas. These new Character Areas are mainly
meant as a tool for organizing the City’s development plans, though some older areas
may have purpose beyond this. Follows is an explanation of the thinking behind the
creating of certain PMUD zoned Character Areas.
The goal of some of these Character Areas is to facilitate transition from existing
commercial or industrial areas to existing low-density neighborhoods within the minimal
space remaining between the two (the infill). One prime example of this is the area
around the Peachtree Industrial Boulevard (PIB) and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road
intersection. Here PMUD and multifamily housing are being used as transitions from the
heavily commercial PIB Corridor and single family uses to the north and Town Center
and Old Town to the south. Another particular PMUD zone, known as Suwanee Station,
was set in anticipation of a future commuter rail station for the City of Suwanee and also
serves as transition between light industry and single family areas. Most areas are set to
utilize both MUV and MUC together, though some are exclusively one or the other. Of
note in the only MUV-only area is the planned use of a conservation neighborhood, in
which a minimum of 50% of the area must be devoted to open space, due to the presence
of extensive flood-plains in the area. Also of note is that all Character Areas, for all types
of zoning, are designated low-medium density, with the exception of the Sims Lake/
Suwanee Gateway area near the I-85 interchange. It is slated for high density residential
development.(1, 2)
To go more in depth, as a part of the preservation of open space, all MUV areas are
required to have at least a ½ acre park within 500 ft. of the front door step of all housing
units and are required to preserve at least 20% of the gross area of the development as
open space. This often results in the transference of that land to either the City or, in some
cases, the home owners association for that neighborhood. Both areas carry extensive
regulations on the nature and use of driveways, alleys, and parking lots- mainly to the
effect of having them placed in the back of development and away from where their
traffic might disrupt traffic on the main streets. Sidewalks are mandatory and, to further
facilitate pedestrian traffic, several of the PMUD zones and broader Character Areas will
be interconnected via trails and greenways. Thus the City hopes to accomplish the task of
infilling its undeveloped areas without destroying its small town character or creating
traffic and air quality problems, while also better connecting the already developed areas
of town to one another.(1)

Funding.

Suwanee has 5 main sources of funding for its plans. The obvious first two are
local funding from the City’s own coffers and the State of Georgia. Other primary sources
of funding include the Open Space Bond, as discussed earlier. A SPLOST, passed in
2005, goes towards many of the City’s road maintenance, pedestrian development, and
city building maintenance projects. Finally, a TAD has been set up for the development/
re-development in the Suwanee Gateway Character Area. Occasionally money comes in
from Gwinnett County or the Georgia DOT.
Room for Improvement. The City of Suwanee was ranked as the #10 Small Town to
live in in the US in 2007 by Money Magazine. This is for good reason given all that the
City has done, is doing, and will do to improve the quality of life of its citizens in the face
Atlanta’s monstrous sprawl. But, that is not to say that there is not more the City could
do. The biggest thing the City could do to really push the environmental-shade of green is
to pass ordinances requiring Low Impact Development practices and Energy Star
efficiency standards for all new development and pushing for older developments to
retrofit parking lots and even replace conventional roofs with green roofs, etc.
The City’s Senior Environmental Planner, Wes Rogers, has himself, expressed a desire to
do things like put the lights in the Town Center park on solar power instead of leaving
them on the system, feeding off the nearby Buford dam. However, as Wes Rogers points
out, things like forcing LID design practices and putting up solar power panels, as green
as they might be environmentally, can often times be in conflict with that other shade of
green that developers and cities must pay so much attention to: money. As Wes pointed
out in a phone conversation, LID and energy efficiency practices are often not worth their
initial costs, which can be very high. This is because the developers often lease the
property, so that they are not the ones paying the electric and water bills; and because
impervious surface taxes are not very high, making benefits from reduced impervious
surface minimal to none. Furthermore, he points out that installing solar panels is not
very realistic if its own costs are going to be well above the actual savings on the electric
bill because it will not necessarily be very justifiable in the eyes of the citizens. In other
words, in a cost versus benefits analysis, justifying the more environmentally friendly
methods can often be a hard ticket to sell to developers and citizens if they are not
already on the City’s side as the comparison can often be heavily weighted on the side of
costs.
To make a LID ordinance more justifiable or simply to make LID practices more
appealing, the City could instate its own impervious surface tax. However it would
probably have to be fairly stiff and would possibly not get the support of the City’s
citizens. Alternatively, as an implied police power granted in the State Constitution, the
City could target the impervious surface tax to only people who go over a certain
percentage of impervious surface or towards commercial and industrial developers.
Subsequently, those developers making full or substantial implementation of LID
practices on their properties could have those properties completely exempt from said
tax. Of course this poses the issue of possibly reducing commerce in the area; but given
the City’s desirability from a residential stand point and how well it is connected to
Atlanta and the rest of Gwinnett County, this seems like it would be of little issue. The
real issue, for Suwanee, would be the fact that most of the city is already developed, with
those areas that are not developed already being under construction and potentially
beyond the point of being able to use LID technology without retrofitting.
Suwanee: A Model City? How applicable are Suwanee’s design practices to other small
towns in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area(GAMA)? This is difficult to say as
Suwanee has some very important but unique characteristics. Easily the biggest and most
important of these is the City’s governing officials and its citizens. There are many towns
in the GAMA that certainly do have the connectivity that Suwanee does and do have the
natural beauty and appeal that Suwanee has. However, how many can claim to have a
governing body truly concerned with the preservation of open space, protection of
valuable natural resources, such as streams and wet lands, and desire to mitigate air
pollution, so much so that the governing body would be willing to even suggest more
than doubling property taxes and taking out a $17.7 million bond so as to pay for it all?
Then how many of those cities have citizens that would agree to it or even could agree to
it for it not being beyond their financial means?
Another important characteristic that really helps make the City’s PMUD zones work is
that fact that the town did develop in a haphazard manner, such that today all that is left
are the infill spaces. This characteristic of the City helps to make the PMUD designs the
obvious choice, not only for all the benefits already stated above, but also because they
allow for the preservation of property value in some areas that might have otherwise
suffered due to undesirable locals- i.e. next to light manufacturing plants.
Nevertheless, it is certainly possible for many of the ideas implemented in Suwanee to be
applied to other towns. Even in areas where the demographic is not affluent enough to be
able to afford such things as Suwanee’s Open Space Initiative, the plan could still be
applied if support from federal, state, and/or county governments could be garnered.
Mixed-use developments, while they make more sense for a town that is in the “infill”
stage, could easily be applied anywhere. They could even be used as a tool to help boost
land values and desirability in up-and-coming small towns as the Mixed-Use areas of
Suwanee are definitely a part of what makes the town so attractive today.
Conclusion. As the City of Suwanee faces another doubling of its current day population
by year 2030 and a dwindling of its land available for development, it has been pressured
to preserve its small town feel, its natural beauty, and its clean air all while comfortably
fitting in the extra 15,000 residents. Through the support of its citizens in proceeding with
the Open Space Initiative and in the smart use of Mixed-Use zoning the City appears to
be well on the way to accomplishing that task, 20 years ahead of schedule. While there
are still areas for improvement in deepening the City’s environmental shade of green,
things like a new LEED certified City Hall and a strong will to preserve greenspace and
reduce air pollution make it hard for one to argue the point.

References
1. City of Suwanee City Council. 2000. A Comprehensive Plan to the Year 2020. City of
Suwanee, GA. Available online at: http://www.suwanee.com/
economicdevelopment.reportsregulations.year2020.php. Accessed 3/1/2008.
2. City of Suwanee City Council. 2008. Draft of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. City of
Suwanee, GA. Available online at: http://suwanee.com/compplandraft.php. Accessed
5/8/2008.
3. City of Suwanee City Council. 1998. Zoning Ordinance. City of Suwanee, GA.
Available online at: http://www.suwanee.com/
economicdevelopment.reportsregulations.php. Accessed 3/1/2008.
4. City of Suwanee City Council. 2006. City of Suwanee Stream Buffer Protection
Ordinance. City of Suwanee, GA. Available online at: http://www.suwanee.com/
economicdevelopment.reportsregulations.other.php. Accessed 3/21/2008.
5. DRASTIC: A Standardized System for Evaluating Ground Water Pollution Potential
Using Hydrogeologic Settings. EPA #600287035. 1987. Available online at: http://
nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=20007KU4.txt. Accessed 12/29/2008.

British engineers have developed a new environmentally friendly cement that is carbon-negative « The Swarm

December 31, 2008

British engineers have developed a new environmentally friendly cement that is carbon-negative « The Swarm.

Cement, a vast source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, could be transformed into a means of stripping the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an innovation from British engineers.

The new environmentally formulation means the cement industry could change from being a ’significant emitter to a significant absorber of CO2,’ says Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, chief scientist at London-based Novacem, whose invention has garnered support and funding from industry and environmentalists.

The new cement, which uses a different raw material, certainly has a vast potential market. Making the 2bn tonnes of cement used globally every year pumps out 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions – more than the entire aviation industry. And the long-term trends are upwards: a recent report by the French bank Credit Agricole estimated that, by 2020, demand for cement will increase by 50% compared to today.

Making traditional cement results in greenhouse gas emissions from two sources: it requires intense heat, and so a lot of energy to heat up the ovens that cook the raw material, such as limestone. That then releases further CO2 as it burns. But, until now, noone has found a large-scale way to tackle this fundamental problem.

Novacem’s cement, based on magnesium silicates, not only requires much less heating, it also absorbs large amounts of CO2 as it hardens, making it carbon negative. Set up by Vlasopoulos and his colleagues at Imperial College London, Novacem has already attracted the attention of major construction companies such as Rio Tinto Minerals, WSP Group and Laing O’Rourke, and investors including the Carbon Trust.

The company has just started a £1.5m project funded by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board to build a pilot plant. If all goes well, Vlasopoulos expects to have Novacem products on the market within five years.

Jonathan Essex, a civil engineer at the building consultancy Bioregional who also sits on the environment and sustainability panel for the Institution of Civil Engineers, welcomed Novacem’s ideas to tackle the carbon impact of cement. ‘In the UK the climate bill commits us to reduce CO2 emissions, and every sector should play its part. The construction industry needs to take greater responsibility for its own environmental impact.’ Essex said that, if Novacem can make their cement at a competitive price, the next step could be to take even more CO2 emissions out of the process by using renewable energy to fire the furnaces.

According to Novacem, its product can absorb, over its lifecycle, around 0.6 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of cement. This compares to carbon emissions of about 0.4 tonnes per of standard cement. ‘From that point of view, it’s attractive,’ said Rachael Nutter, head of business incubators at the Carbon Trust. ‘The real challenge is what is the supply chain, who do you need to partner with to take it to market? The million-dollar question is what are the applications of it? If it ends up as decorative applications such as floor tiles, it’s quite interesting but not as much as if you get into load-bearing structural stuff.’

Previous attempts to make cement greener have included adding more aggregate to a concrete mixture, thereby using less cement. But this still does not tackle the problem of the carbon emissions from making the cement in the first place. Other systems use polymers in the mix, but none have yet made a significant impact on the market.

A spokesperson for the British Cement Association expressed a sceptical note, saying that though there was much ongoing laboratory work on new types of cement, there were also problems. ‘The reality is that the geological availability, and global distribution, of suitable natural resources, coupled with the extensive validation needed to confirm fitness-for-purpose, make it highly unlikely that these cements will a be realistic alternative for volume building.’

Vlasopoulos responded that magnesium silicates are abundant worldwide, with 10,000 billion tonnes available, according to some estimates. ‘In addition, the production process of our cement is of a chemical nature, which means it can also utilise various industrial byproducts containing magnesium in its composition.’ He is confident the material will be strong enough for use in buildings but acknowledged that getting licenses to use it will take several years of testing.

Explainer: Ecofriendly vs traditional cement

Standard cement, also known as Portland cement, is made by heating limestone or clay to around 1,500C. The processing of the ingredients releases 0.8 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of cement. When it is eventually mixed with water for use in a building, each tonne of cement can absorb up to 0.4 tonnes of CO2, but that still leaves an overall carbon footprint per tonne of 0.4 tonnes.

Novacem’s cement, which has a patent pending on it, uses magnesium silicates which emit no CO2 when hearted. Its production process also runs at much lower temperatures – around 650C. This leads to total CO2 emissions of up to 0.5 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of cement produced. But the Novacem cement formula absorb far more CO2 as it hardens – about 1.1 tonnes. So the overall carbon footprint is negative – ie the cement removes 0.6 tonnes of CO2 per tonne used.