The Role of Steel in a Sustainable Environment

June 6, 2022
coated steel roof with solar panels

The Role of Steel in a Sustainable Environment

The Built Environment contributes almost 40% of the greenhouse gases emitted worldwide, and has therefore become a key focus area if we are to reduce carbon use and mitigate global warming. With this in mind, steel can play a crucial role in achieving a more sustainable environment thanks to a range of properties which make it one of the most recycled materials in the world.

More steel is recycled every year than paper, glass, aluminium and plastic combined. Due to the ferromagnetic properties of many steel alloys, they are very easy to remove from the solid waste stream and divert into recycling plants. Virtually no matter how many times steel is reprocessed, it will retain its properties (including its strength), making it practically 100% recyclable without any significant loss of quality. Furthermore, advancements in reprocessing technology means that recycling steel today saves at least 75% of the energy that it would take to create steel from raw materials.

Sustainable Development Goals

All seventeen of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relate in some way to environmental health and the impacts of climate change. However, when it comes to steel’s role in achieving a more sustainable environment, the four SDGs below are the most relevant to curbing the effects of climate change and contributing towards a sustainable future.

SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Steel is the main material used in delivering renewable energy like solar, hydro, and wind power, and over 40% of steel in global use is recycled, saving on raw materials and natural resources.

SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Steel is 100% recyclable, durable, strong yet comparatively light, and is non-combustible contributing to safer buildings and cities.

SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Global crude steel production has more than tripled in the last 50 years, due in large part to the alloy’s impressive sustainability credentials.

SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

As an alternative to timber for trusses and framing, the use of steel in construction avoids deforestation.

Steel’s role in sustainable construction practices

Construction is one of the most important steel-using industries, accounting for more than 50% of world steel demand. Buildings – from houses to skyscrapers to commercial centres to warehouses – rely on steel for their strength. Steel is also used on roofs and as cladding for exterior walls.

Steelmakers around the world are increasingly providing construction solutions which enable energy-efficient and low-carbon buildings. Steel is affordable, readily available and safe to use. Additionally, its intrinsic properties of strength, versatility, durability and 100% recyclability allow for improved environmental performance across the entire life cycle of buildings.

Steel’s sustainability credentials in construction:

  • Reusable and endlessly recyclable
  • Lightweight, requiring less material for foundations
  • Enables energy efficiency in buildings and other projects
  • Material efficiency relative to strength means less impact on the environment
  • Durable – 30 years or more in a benign environment

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Future generations will look back at this moment in history and scrutinise what actions we took to achieve a more sustainable world. Steel’s inherent properties make it one of the most eco-friendly building materials available and its increasing use in construction goes a long way towards achieving a more sustainable environment.