Getting Off the Highway to Climate Hell

As a young man in November 1979, I saw the Australian rock band AC/DC on their Highway to Hell tour in a venue that essentially was a cattle market hall. That was a momentous night of pure escapism for me. If, however we roll the clock forward 43 years to November 2022 and the COP 27 Conference, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the world was on a highway to climate hell with its foot on the accelerator. That’s rather like AC/DC on overdrive.
The intervening time between these two events is almost the same number of years I have spent working in the stainless steels industry. During these years I have witnessed a constant growth in global consumption of stainless steels across many usage sectors. Equally I have witnessed on a wider societal scale many entrenched organisational behaviours that have not really changed over 40+ years. There is no doubt that we have made some amazing technological progress in our society over these 40+ years but have we generally been doing the right things? We have continued to be highly reliant on fossil fuels for our energy, our mobility and our manufacturing processes and yet the knowledge of other greener process technologies and supporting sustainable materials have been around during all this time.
Now we are facing a global catastrophe and yet we still are not making the shift away from the fossil fuel economy with the speed needed to both become a sustainable society and save our planet from an unimaginable fate. We are still stuck in the short-termist mindset of lowest bids win contracts and maintenance of a product or an installation is somebody else’s problem. Have we simply abandoned the notion of ‘build to last’ as the McDonaldization of our society has taken a firm grip on our behavioural norms? Have we just become greedy driven by a need for short-term personal gain?
If we are to limit or even reverse the effects of climate change whilst we still can make an impact, then we have to shift to using sustainable materials quickly in as many aspects of our lives as is possible. I strongly argue that sustainable materials are those that are currently produced with a low Carbon footprint through the adoption of using recycled raw materials and which can also operate in service with zero or minimal maintenance for a minimum of 100 years.
Stainless steels are one of the most sustainable and resilient material families we have at our disposal today with 96% of end-of-life stainless steels being currently captured for recycling. Most people know a little about stainless steels because they see and use stainless steels daily in their homes. However, do people actually know that by selectively using stainless steels in, for example, construction projects to replace around 10% of other steel components the project service life can be extended well beyond 100 years with minimal maintenance. Furthermore, the replacement of single use plastics with reusable stainless steel containers for food and drinks should just be a normal part of our life. It’s not just the appropriate and hygienic thing to do, it’s the right thing for our planet, for our sea life, for our animals and our environment. As humans we currently ingest on average 18kg of microplastics during our lifetimes. Is this acceptable when there are other more appropriate and far less harmful material choices available to us? We need to change our myopic, on-demand, fashion-laden perspective of life and think holistically, environmentally and long term. Taking this choice is not just right for our planet, it’s also the right for our health and the use of our hard-earned money too.
Stainless steels can help to save our planet and can, and are slowly being, used effectively and cost-efficiently in construction, to replace single use plastics, in hygienic applications (ie; healthcare and food and drinks processing), in clean water supply systems, in renewable power generation and to protect our coastlines from extreme weather events. Stainless steels, when specified correctly for each application, are the ultimate ‘fit and forget’ material and will also provide the lowest life-cycle costs compared to other competing and less sustainable materials.
We all need to think stainless for a safe and sustainable future.
Perhaps in 1979 AC/DC were sound predictors of our future, unless of course, we choose to make an appropriate change.
For more information about stainless steels and their applications, please contact worldstainless …

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