Lessons from Concrete: From Fresh Enthusiasm to Hardened Skepticism in One Year

2 May 2023
By Clare Tubolets, SmartCrete

It’s been one year since I entered the concrete sector, taking over the helm of the SmartCrete Cooperative Research Centre as Chief Executive Officer in May 2022 to drive innovation collaboration that delivers the long-term viability of vital concrete infrastructure in Australia.

Having no previous background in concrete, materials, or the built environment I’ve been on a steep learning curve to say the least, very much aided by the great support and collaboration I’ve been offered by our partners and the broader concrete network. Coming from a career running research programs in Agriculture, I immediately saw parallels in the challenges that both sectors face as Australia moves towards net zero. Accounting for life-cycle embodied carbontransitioning to renewable energy sourcesfinding pathways to capture or sequester carbonoptimising transport and logisticsestablishing a circular economy, these are issues that the wider Australian economy needs to address to secure a sustainable and prosperous future.

Australia’s journey to net-zero is highly complex, requiring new knowledge, innovation and critically, collaboration. But the wide-ranging barriers to collaboration and more broadly to innovation may be our downfall if we can’t find ways to overcome them. The driving motivations to move to sustainable alternative products, processes, and practices are clear and mostly well-alligned across the sector. However, when overlaid with competing priorities as well as market and sectoral constraints these motivations alone will not unlock pathways to net-zero. The concrete sector is understandably risk adverse. We want our concrete structures to be durable, resilient, and long lasting. Failure of concrete infrastructure has the potential to have catastrophic consequences, so understandably, a primary driver in this sector is risk mitigation. Overlaying additional priorities such as cost, supply chain logistics, existing infrastructure, skills, customer expectations, regulations, to name a few, creates an environment where innovation is restricted to incremental improvement, rather than the radical transformation required to achieve net-zero by 2050. How do we build a system which allows for rapid innovation, while providing appropriate certainty and risk assurance?

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