With a growing global population comes growing pressure on the environment and our natural resources. Over half of us humans live in urban and coastal regions. In an effort to reduce the impact that expanding urbanization has on the environment, the United Nations Development Program has set a 2030 target to achieve17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.
What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
The UN SDGs cover a broad range of global challenges: poverty; hunger; health; education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; clean energy; employment and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequality; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice and strong institutions; and finally, developing partnerships to fulfill these goals in order to transform the world into a more sustainable place to live.
To achieve these goals, it is imperative that the SDGs are translated into action at a global scale. World-wide action requires private sector collaboration, including companies and institutions doing their bit at a local, regional, or global scale to improve sustainability.
In light of global climate change impacts like sea level rise and stronger storms placing coastal populations at risk, and accelerated coastal development putting pressure on marine ecosystems and biodiversity, coastal development that incorporates environmental design and green construction is a key next step.
With climate change impacts becoming more apparent and devastating around the world, it is becoming ever more crucial to include climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies into urban planning, coastal development schemes, and marine spatial planning programs. This should not be limited to development on land, but should also protect life below water (Goal 14), which is often neglected as the impacts are much less visible.
Eco-Engineering a Blue-Green Future
There are many innovative companies making a concerted effort to develop sustainable business strategies and products that positively contribute to the SDGs, from tackling sustainable materials, to addressing biological impacts. ECOncrete® is a young science-based company advancing not just one, but nearly half, of the UN SDGs.
ECOncrete, a provider of ecological concrete technology for coastal and marine construction, regenerates marine life on and around the concrete infrastructure. By installing a technical solution that restores marine life, ECOncrete are helping to reduce the ecological footprint of coastal and marine development projects and to protect and revive coastline biodiversity (SDGs 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 14). This biological boost also improves strength and durability of concrete infrastructure, and increases the opportunities for community access to and engagement with the waterfront.
The bio-enhancing concrete creates ecological benefits by combining an innovative admix, rough surface textures, and 3D designs into holistically engineered concrete infrastructure. The design encourages and supports colonization of rich and diverse marine plants and animals, enhancing biodiversity rather than reducing it.
Not only is bio-enhanced concrete strong enough to withstand harsh marine environments, the enhanced marine growth on ECOncrete actually increases the strength and durability of the structure by encouraging the growth of a living crust of calcitic organisms, like coralline algae, tubeworms, and oysters. This growth, called bioprotection or bio-calcification, is uniquely possible on technical concrete infrastructure like breakwaters and seawalls thanks to ECOncrete’s biomimetic, cost-effective, carbon-sequestering solution.
Click ehre to learn more about Carbon footprints.
As the world faces rising seas, biodiversity loss, and stronger storms on tighter budgets, ECOncrete demonstrates that nature-based, biomimetic solutions have the capacity to maximize benefits in a world with growing challenges and shrinking resources. By implementing technologies with multiple co-benefits we can reduce the carbon footprint of ports, marinas and other coastal development projects, while making them more resilient and adaptive to Climate Change.
Environmentally Sensitive Technologies
ECOncrete’s environmentally sensitive technologies address nearly half of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by sustaining marine resources, enhancing biodiversity, contributing to sustainable cities and innovations and reducing carbon emissions. In the conservative coastal construction industry which is still largely male dominated, ECOncrete is led and cofounded by a female CEO and has 70% women in key management roles, promoting SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and SDG 5 (gender equality).
The company’s bio-enhancing products, which are made of recycled materials and byproducts, and used in urban and coastal development projects address SDG 11 (sustainable cities), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), while also improving marine biodiversity that provides ecosystem services (SDG 14 — life below water) and offer unique urban-marine environmental education opportunities (SDG 4 – education).
The bio-enhancing admix includes a significant amount of slag cement and supplementary cementitious materials that are primarily calcitic, which reduces their manufacturing carbon footprint by up to 80% compared to conventional Portland Cement-based concrete products, thus promoting SDG 13 (climate change) from a mitigation perspective.
When applied in the construction of coastal defense projects such as breakwaters or seawalls primarily aimed at climate adaptation, ECOncrete amplifies the performance of the concrete infrastructure by harnessing processes naturally occurring in marine environments, like bio-calcification. This further increases the resilience and adaptivity of the structures, literally growing with time to mitigate and adapt with sea level rise and increased storminess.
ECOncrete is actively forming global partnerships with ports and other key players in the maritime industry, helping raise awareness and promote SDGs in urban and coastal development projects across the globe. By bringing blue-green innovation to the concrete and construction industries, ECOncrete is collaborating to increase resiliency and adaptivity, and change the way our future coastlines look and function.
In recognition of these contributions, ECOncrete’s co-founder and CEO, Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, has been selected as an awardee in the WE Empower UN SDG Challenge, the first global business competition for women entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Shimrit represents UN region Western Europe and other, including North America. Read more: Forbes
Living Breakwaters – Rebuild by Design
In the United States, there are already large-scale projects to deliver on the promise of restoring the environment and protecting waterfronts from flooding and storms (Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities). The “Living Breakwaters” project, for example, conceived offshore breakwaters that will reduce flooding and erosion risk, revive ecologies and connect residents to Staten Island’s shoreline. You can find more about the Living Breakwaters project, selected from the Obama Administration’s “Rebuild by Design” competition in the video series: “Sinking Cities” Click here to watch (Living Breakwaters on minutes 40:10 – 42:30)
In Search of a Sustainable Future
In a world with growing challenges and shrinking resources, we must prioritize nature-based solutions that accomplish multiple SDGs. The hardest question is: Do we really have a chance of accomplishing the SDGs by 2030?
In a fascinating TED talk, Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert, debuts a new methodology that combines the UN SDGs with the nine planetary boundaries, beyond which earth’s vital systems could become unstable.
Johan argues that we can maintain a safe and functional earth if we think beyond the next 12 years. To accomplish the SDGs, we need to transition into a transformative, disruptive future, fast. Johan’s model emphasizes 5 transformations, among them is to “cut emissions by half every decade.” With out of the box thinking leading to
“boxable” or applied solutions, we can create real change and adapt our societies to cultivate a thriving Earth.
By collaborating on concrete and immediate action, the private sector, government trailblazers, and architects and engineers can take a leading role in integrating the SDGs into their decisions. By working together to make “business as usual,” “business as sustainable” may actually be to achieve the SDGs by 2030.