The cement industry is a heavy weight of Indian industry. It is a darling of the stock market, a major contributor to GDP and the country's second-largest taxpayer. The industry poses many environmental challenges from mining to waste disposal. The industry has a unique opportunity to address these challenges without hurting the bottom line.
The cement sector is different from all the other ratings GRP has undertaken. By definition, there is nothing called a 'sustainable cement industry'. The cement industry does not fit the contemporary picture of a sustainable industry because it uses raw materials and energy that are non-renewable; extracts its raw materials by mining and manufactures a product that cannot be recycled.
Limestone mining has impact on land-use patterns, local water regimes and ambient air quality. Blasting causes problems of vibrations, cracks and fly rocks. The impact of mining is especially high in ecologically sensitive areas. There is poor mine management and poor planning for rehabilitation of exhausted land. Mining is one of the reasons for the high environmental impact of the industry.
The industry is extremely energy-intensive. After thermal power plants and the iron and steel sector, the Indian cement industry is the third largest user of coal in the country. In 2003-04, the Indian cement industry consumed 11,400 million kWh of power.
Companies in India have an opportunity to be environmentally sound while maximising their profits. Through waste management of it's power plants, fertiliser units and steel factories, they can reduce energy use. This cuts energy bills, raw material costs as well as green house gas emissions. In the process, it can turn this waste, whether it is fly ash, phosphor-gypsum, slag or mill scale, into a valuable product.
Dust emissions during cement manufacturing have long been accepted as one of the main issues facing the industry. The industry handles millions of tonnes of dry material. Even if 0.1 per cent of this is lost to the atmosphere, it can cause havoc environmentally. Fugitive emissions are therefore a huge problem, compounded by the fact that there is neither an economic incentive nor regulatory pressure to prevent emissions.
If cement is a product modern society cannot live without, we must be ready for the adverse ecological and social impacts that its manufacturing engenders. What is important is to define an 'acceptable trade-off', and benchmark the performance of the companies against it. Considering all these facts, the project decided to take on rating the ecological impact of this industry.