Industrial ecology is a major component of Lafarge’s corporate social responsibility programme in sub- Saharan Africa – alongside initiatives promoting safety at work, healthcare and education. The group’s energy recovery projects are based on a co-development model that marks a new stage in Lafarge’s history on the African continent – and a shift from an aid-based to a partnership-based approach.
By 2020 there will be eight billion people living on our planet – all aspiring to decent housing and fair access to infrastructures. In order to build the towns and cities of the future, the construction sector faces significant economic, technical, social and environmental challenges. Lafarge is working to deliver solutions – both by making its own operations more sustainable and by participating in leading theglobal building materials sector along the path to sustainability.
Lafarge has been present on the African continent since 1928 and in sub-Saharan Africa since 1985. With a production capacity that has nearly tripled since 2000 and operations in ten countries, Lafarge is currently one of the leading cément producers in sub-Saharan Africa, where the group has 7,600 employees and makes 12% of its sales revenues. Over the past five years, esponding to unprecedented urban growth, Lafarge has made investments in Uganda, South Africa, Cameroon, Zambia and Nigeria, bringing its ément production capacity in the region to 20 million tonnes per year. A further 10 million tonnes of capacity are scheduled to become operational by 2017 – including projects in Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. New capacities are also planned in Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.
A long-standing commitment to sustainable development
Today a business is assessed not just on its Financial performance but also on the way it conducts its operations and its ability to create value for all its different stakeholders. It bears a responsibility to its employees and its customers – and also towards communities living in the regions where its operations are based. Lafarge’s own development depends both on its environmental performance and on social progress: the group’s growth and competitiveness are inseparably intertwined with the quality of the living conditions where it is present – and over the long term no economic growth is possible without conserving the natural resources.
Sustainable development has long been at the very heart of the group’s strategy – partly due to the environmental footprint of its activities, butalso because Lafarge often operates in remote locations where it can play a major role in the socio-economic development of an entire region. Lafarge enshrined its environmental concerns within its core values – the group’s “Principles of Action” – back in 1977, and this commitment has steadily been re-affirmed over time. Initially the group’s efforts were focused mainly on reducing its environmental footprint; today, its scope of action has widened to include social and societal challenges. The Sustainability Ambitions 2020 programme, launched in 2013, reflects these wider concerns. The programme aims to contribute to the well-being of local populations by improving social and economic living conditions for the communities in which Lafarge operates. This translates into training offers, local job creation schemes and healthcare and education programmes. It also involves supporting sustainable building by developing new sustainable products and services and contributing to energy-efficient construction projects. Finally, Lafarge aims to promote the circular economy: a pioneer in industrial ecology, the group firmly believes in creating synergies between different industries so that one company’s by-products become another’s fuels and raw materials, conserving natural resources in the process. Lafarge is involved in wider initiatives, too: in particular as a co-founder of the Cement Sustainability Initiative led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a programme that encourages the deployment of ambitious sustainability policies across the cement sector as a whole.
Action for health, safety and education
While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy is defined at group level, its implémentation involves taking specific local needs and factors into account. In sub-Saharan Africa there are various factors that need to be considered: inadequacies of the economic, medico-social and educational systems; weak environmental regulations, and so on. In consequence there are very high expectations of any international business locating to the region. Lafarge seeks to fulfil these expectations by working closely with local communities, authorities and specialist NGOs. Through these partnerships we are able to devise and implement a CSR policy alignedwith the priorities of our local employees and the local communities – a policy that translates into a programme of targeted initiatives. Lafarge made the health and safety of its employées and subcontractors a top priority right from the start. The group faced rapidly the healthcare challenges posed by HIV and AIDS and responded in the early 2000s, launching prevention and treatment programmes designed for its employees and their families. More than 500 people are receiving treatment under these programmes and prevention campaigns are conducted on a regular basis. Building on this experience, Lafarge has since expanded its programmes to encompass other public healthcare issues (the fight against malaria, cardiovascular disease and diabetes). Safety at work is one of the group’s abiding priorities. This involves establishing consistent standards across all sites – with respect to working at height, for example, using mobile equipment and working on electrical installations. Campaigns to raise awareness of potential risks are conducted at regular intervals. For example, the group is working to reduce the number of accidents occurring during the transportation of products from its plants – a highly complex challenge in some African countries where many roads are poorly maintained and there is no real road safety culture or effective regulation. A large-scale training scheme with haulage companies in Kenya has helped to keep road transport fatalities at zero for more than five years now.
Lafarge is also involved in a range of programmes that aim to improve education and Professional training levels among local populations in sub- Saharan Africa. An initiative at the Ewekoro plant in Nigeria, for example, offers Professional training courses in automation, electrical installation and engineering. Sessions are led by speakers from higher education institutions and former Lafarge employees. Apprentices receive a monthly bursary and are awarded a diploma on successful completion of the course.
Co-development: adding a new dimension to CSR policy
Alongside these initiatives promoting healthcare, safety and education, Lafarge’s CSR policy also prioritises industrial ecology projects. Promoting complementarity between different industries (one industry’s ‘waste’ becoming another’s fuel and raw materials) is also changing the way CSR itself is perceived. From its original aid-based approach, CSR is naturally evolving towards co-development projects focused on energy-related issues.
Lafarge has set itself the target of supplying its cement kilns with 50% non-fossil fuels by 2020 – with 30% of the total to be from organic waste such as coffee husks, rice husks or palm kernel shells (biomass). Underlying this target is the group’s aim to reduce its energy bill and reduce its ecological footprint while at the same time helping to develop the local economic fabric. Most of the waste currently recovered by Lafarge in the region comes from agriculture. In a context of dwindling resources and growing competition for access to non-fossil fuels, Lafargeneeds to secure its biomass supply and is establishing partnerships with local farmers in order to do so. In some cases Lafarge is using its own land to create plantations for energy supply purposes – on its quarry sites at Mombasa in Kenya and Ewekoro in Nigeria, for example. Elsewhere it is offering growers subsidised plants, supporting the coffee industry in Uganda, for example (Box). Agroforestry projects are also being studied in Tanzania and Nigeria : they will make it possible to produce high value-added agricultural and forestry products, develop subsistence farming and generate biomass. Lafarge’s co-development
strategy is based on four guiding principles: to have no negative impact on the growing of food crops; to ensure the conservation of soils and water resources; to preserve or enhance biodiversity; and to share wealth and contribute to the well-being of local communities.
Whatever the specific nature of the project selected it must also generate significant benefits for the local communities. Lafarge therefore aims to prioritise large-scale agricultural projects involving many small farmers in order to create value for as many people as possible. Implementing successful co-development projects calls for an in-depth understanding of local needs and realities. Every project needs to be undertaken in close collaboration with local populations in order to ensure that they remain on board over the long term. Project management is another key challenge for the group – in Uganda, for example, Lafarge is working with a total of 40,000 farmers. These complex projects need their own dedicated management systems and funding allocation – and their business models need to incorporate return on investment lead times of at least three to four years, in line with agricultural specific cycles. Despite all these challenges Lafarge is dedicated to professionalising its co-development strategy, which offers an unprecedented opportunity to enhance the competitiveness of its businesses in sub-Saharan Africa while at the same time improving living conditions for local communities.
The emergence of these co-development projects represents a radical new stage in Lafarge’s history in sub-Saharan Africa, with profound impacts for the group’s CSR practices. By their nature these projects involve reciprocal commitments between the group, the communities and local authorities. They are changing the way Lafarge relates to the region – from an aid-based approach to a partnership-based approach. In this way Lafarge aims to make a net positive contribution to society and the environment, reducing its environmental footprint while at the same time maximising the value created for all its stakeholders.