Rich Cofoid, DCC Council Director
The Voice Newsletter May 2024

I had the opportunity recently to do research for an upcoming NRMCA webinar on decorative concrete innovations in sustainability and thought I’d share some comments. Any of us who deal with architects and designers will tell you that over the past few years, sustainability and environmental issues have gone from an afterthought to the top of the list of questions and concerns.

For decorative concrete, earnest changes started in 1998/1999 with the passage of Federal limits on the use of VOC’c (volatile organic compounds) which are the solvents used in our sealers and curing agents. A quarter century later what began as legislative mandates has become a proactive campaign for many manufacturers of the decorative products we use. At first glance, the VOC issue may be the only thing that pops to mind when talking about sustainability but a deeper dive proves a myriad of ways decorative concrete is rising to the challenges of our environmental realities.

Integral pigments are mostly recycled raw materials in the form of iron oxides, a byproduct of the steel industry. Lighter colors have a high SRI (solar reflectance index) value which means your surface stays cooler to the touch and reduces the heat island effect. Conversely, in Northern climates, darker colors help melt ice and snow and reduce the use of salts and other chemical ice melters. Ready mix companies that have granular or liquid pigment dispensers order in bulk, thereby cutting the number of shipments and the resulting CO2 emissions of hauling freight.

Stamped concrete, since its inception, has marketed itself as replicating nature. In other words, we get the same look as quarried stone and other natural materials without mining and without shipping the stone, marble, trees, etc all over the world. Stamped concrete also has a very high lifespan and much lower maintenance than the alternatives of asphalt or pavers.

Exposed aggregate uses water-based surface retarders and leaves a surface that is highly durable in addition to being beautiful. Spectacular-looking projects use recycled glass, ceramics, and other post-consumer materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Polished concrete uses the slab already there rather than covering it up with flooring options like tile or carpet that are manufactured which creates a carbon footprint, and then shipped across the world creating more CO2. The densifiers and guards are also water-based with low or no VOC’s and the highly reflective floor reduces lighting and electrical needs. Wow, talk about a positive environmental impact!

Stains are in on the action also as new water-based and eco-friendly technologies are being introduced. Of course, what started this whole evolution, sealers, and coatings continue to see innovations in resin technology, raw materials, and better performance.

To complement the innovations in materials, many manufacturers of these products have also committed to improvements in their manufacturing processes, reducing waste, using less water, increasing energy efficiencies, and more. Our business has always made the world more beautiful, and we can be proud to say that we are making it cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable.

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