Caterina Epis, President at Fondazione Promozione Acciaio, on the sustainability of steel products and metal carpentry construction

As part of a series of Q&As, constructsteel is interviewing experts within the construction sector on aspects of steel’s performance and sustainability in the built environment.

Every aspect of our life is influenced by the concept of sustainability: sustainability is an essential element of our times. We are more conscious that our wellness is linked to the health of the planet, and we adopt sustainability as a selection criterion between different kinds of products.

The current processes of exploitation of natural resources are based, still too often, on a linear growth model, according to which resources are abundant, available and low-cost. This model of “growth” cannot continue unchanged as the balance of the ecosystem is already compromised. Resources are scarce, while their demand does not cease to increase. A circular economy presupposes that the products retain their added value for as long as possible and that, at the end of their life cycle, they are not lost but re-enter the economic system to create new value.

In this context, steel is fully integrated into the concept of “permanent resource”, essential in a circular economic vision: steel is 100% recyclable and is the most recycled material in the world. Steel can be continuously transformed through recycling processes without loss of quality, allowing us to use it over and over again for the same application and consistently increasing its potential for real sustainability. Real sustainability that must now be thought of from several points of view: ecological, energy, structural, aesthetic, social, industrial and so on.

According to the federation of Italian steel companies Federacciai’s 2021 Sustainability Report, Italy rated number one among European countries for scrap recycling: in 2020 the Italian steel mills remelted about 17 million tonnes of ferrous scrap. To give an idea of the relevance of this data, it can be calculated that this quantity corresponds to about 300 times the structure in steel from the Empire State Building in New York and translates into a “recycling rate” in Italy of about 32 tonnes of recycled steel per minute.

Do we need more innovation in the construction sector? In truth, a great change has already become a reality before our eyes. Today the opportunities offered to designers and developers are many, yet the players in the real estate market are not always aware of the real economic and environmental costs related to the construction and management of a work and ready to adopt new paradigms. Just think about the durability of building and infrastructure works: the useful life of steel structures can easily exceed 50 years, in some cases even a century, avoiding the use of repeated and expensive maintenance cycles, which avoids the unnecessary waste of economic and environmental resources.

A cultural training activity on the subject therefore becomes indispensable to overcome inaccurate beliefs and to understand the real impact of steel and the construction techniques related to its use. Precisely for this reason Fondazione Promozione Acciaio has created the Steel – Infinite Perspectives document, dedicated to a new design culture and positioning steel as an essential resource in a circular economy vision.