Aluminum Industry Report Supports Sustainability Message
For years, the aluminum industry has been touting its product’s recyclability and other sustainable features. Now, it has the data to back up its boasts.
During last week’s Aluminum Association Aluminum Week event in Chicago, the trade group released the results of its study on aluminum’s benefits, assembled over a three-year period but covering the material’s improvements over the past 20 years. Aluminum: The Element of Sustainability is the comprehensive report that came out of the association’s research.
“We needed to be better than our competitors in telling our story. We needed to build that database to allow us to tell that story credibly over the long haul,” says Steve Williamson of Tri-Arrows Aluminum and a member of AA’s Sustainability Committee. The report covers seven aspects of the material’s sustainability: strength, durability, flexibility, impermeability, low weight, corrosion resistance and, of course, recyclability.
While aluminum has always been noted for its recyclability, the industry has also made strides in other areas in terms of improving its environmental attributes. Energy demand for primary aluminum production has declined 17 percent since 1991, while energy demand for secondary production has fallen 58 percent. Similarly, greenhouse gas emissions caused by primary production have dropped 72 percent in the past 20 years, while emissions from secondary production have declined 65 percent.
"This study puts hard data behind the key metrics that define sustainability for the aluminum industry," says Steve Larkin, president of the Aluminum Association. "It details dramatic reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions that the industry has achieved through process and technological improvements."
One element of the release that differs from similar reports from other trade groups was the data itself, which covers all of North America and traces the process from bauxite mining through production. The report is based on both government data and information from several aluminum groups, including the Aluminum Association, the International Aluminium Institute and the European Aluminium Association. And all of that data has been made available in the report.
Steve Gardner, director of communications for AA and a chief architect of the report, says the association grappled with the idea of making its propriety data public, but ultimately decided that was the way to go. “We should be transparent and set the bar and challenge other industries to do the same,” he says. “In forums where we’ve been on with PET or glass, it’s a great feeling to be able to say, ‘Our data is out there, where’s yours?’”
The full report will be available on the association’s website, www.aluminum.org in a few weeks.