Our target: nature positive

The extraction of raw materials has an impact on nature, changing landscapes and natural habitats. Responsible land management is therefore an essential element of the Heidelberg Materials sustainability strategy. We are committed to working towards the Global Goal for Nature, contributing to a nature positive future.

Nature positive means stopping and reversing biodiversity loss in order to ensure a global net gain for the planet and see it on the road to recovery. In simple terms, there should be more nature by 2030 compared with 2020. Companies such as Heidelberg Materials can play their part in halting and reversing biodiversity loss by addressing their own impact on nature and implementing measures that achieve positive results for nature and outweigh their negative contributions.

Biodiversity management at our locations

As a business reliant on the extraction of raw materials, we acknowledge our impact and accompanying social responsibility. Our quarry development activities – sustainable extraction methods, reclamation/restoration, and intensive cooperation with nature conservation groups – take account of nature. For many years, we have been committed to protecting and preserving native animal and plant species.

At the core of our strategy is a deep understanding of our footprint, where negative impacts may occur, and how we can positively contribute to countering biodiversity loss. Working across five continents, we strive to understand the environments in which our sites are located and the species with which they interact across the whole quarry life cycle, so that we can set out key actions.

Numerous scientific studies demonstrate that active quarries can be extremely valuable to nature. They offer a wide variety of habitats, including undisturbed biotopes that are rarely found in today’s developed landscapes, which support many endangered and/or protected species, such as the sand martin, the yellowbellied toad, the eagle owl, or the Eurasian otter. And they are not just home to larger animals. Our quarries also provide habitats for a range of pollinators including a number of butterflies, solitary bees, and other threatened insects. For this purpose, it is important to protect spontaneously created natural areas within active quarries in addition to integrating biodiversity features into post-extraction reclamation plans.

Post-extraction reclamation also offers significant opportunities to create critical habitat types that support numerous flora and fauna and has the potential to increase the ecological value of sites and their surroundings. To build on the positive impact our biodiversity management and reclamation efforts can deliver, we work closely with nature conservation organisations, local authorities, and neighbouring communities to make an important contribution to restoring biodiversity.

Cooperation with nature conservation organisations

To truly move from biodiversity loss to gain, a concerted effort is needed by everyone, working together at landscape scale. Nature knows no boundaries, and this needs to be reflected in collaborative actions. Partner organisations assist us in understanding and minimising our impact on the environment, helping to promote biodiversity at our quarries and in their surroundings.

Since 2011, we have greatly benefited from working with the largest global nature conservation partnership organisation, BirdLife International. As we mark over a decade of mutual efforts, we are pleased to share that this collaboration will continue to grow, with the recent renewal of our Memorandum of Understanding. This renewal not only celebrates a 12-year partnership but also sets the framework for another three years of joint commitment toward environmental stewardship and biodiversity. BirdLife International and its national partner organisations help us maximise the role our extraction sites can play for biodiversity by imparting knowledge, sharing best practice, and working on the ground with our operational staff to engage and empower them. This collaboration provides opportunities to demonstrate a halt in the loss of biodiversity through better protection and management at local (site), national, and international levels and reverse the trend by increasing scientific knowledge about the high biodiversity value of quarries in order to ultimately result in a significant contribution to habitat and ecosystem restoration.

A blue lake inside an abandoned quarry, a mine can be seen in the far distance

Quarry Life Award

As a unique initiative in the building materials industry, the Quarry Life Award is an integral part of the Heidelberg Materials sustainability strategy. The research and education competition supports our approach to innovative biodiversity management, promotes research, and engages stakeholders around the world.

Researchers, university students, and non-governmental organisations as well as members of our local communities are invited to develop and – provided they qualify to participate in the competition – implement ideas for biodiversity-related projects at our company’s quarries worldwide.

Heidelberg Materials uses the award-winning projects as a basis for developing best practices for quarry management, which are then rolled out globally. In this way, we want to promote the evaluation of the quarries’ ecological value and support the development of new methods that benefit scientists, government authorities, and our company as well as nature.

The fifth edition of the Quarry Life Award was launched in May 2021. Heidelberg Materials opened its quarries and gravel pits from January to September 2022 so that the selected projects could be implemented. At the end of 2022, the winners were awarded at national and international level.


Pupils watch birds, one holds binoculars, one notes something down

Working together to share knowledge about biodiversity

More than 40 biodiversity projects have been initiated worldwide since the start of our cooperation with BirdLife. During 2023, a new project was initiated in one of our sand and aggregates pits in cooperation with the Czech Society of Ornithology, BirdLife’s partner in Czechia. A study investigated the role that mining sites can play as alternative habitats for insects that are potentially endangered due to landscape changes. The project complements our measures to improve biodiversity management at our quarries.

We also focus on helping to inform and educate the general public about the importance of biodiversity and its impending loss. In 2023, through its partnership with BirdLife International, Heidelberg Materials supported a West African initiative taking part in BirdLife’s Spring Alive campaign. In addition to promoting scientific interest in migratory birds, the project trained teachers to collect geospatial data. This means they can observe birds with their students and document their findings professionally as a contribution to citizen science.

Water Management

The ever-increasing consumption of water worldwide and competition for the limited resources available are leading to global water stress. Heidelberg Materials recognises the importance of efficient water management and conservation, which is why it has a globally applicable Water Policy.


The importance of water for our production processes

We use water in various ways, from washing gravel and sand to cooling and cleaning transport vehicles. It is also one of the source materials used in concrete manufacturing and becomes part of the building material in the production process. We obtain some of the water we use from the public water supply, but the majority comes from our own approved well systems or from rivers and lakes. The use of rainwater and recycled water in cleaning and production processes is also becoming increasingly important. Some of the water – the water used for cooling, for instance – evaporates and is released into the atmosphere. The cleaning water that accumulates when transport vehicles are washed is fully recycled. We dispose of the domestic wastewater accruing at our company buildings via the municipal wastewater systems.

Heidelberg Materials has committed itself to minimising the impact of its activities on the limited natural resource of water to the greatest possible extent. We comply with stringent environmental regulations to ensure that our raw material quarrying does not endanger local bodies of surface water or groundwater resources. All direct withdrawals are heavily regulated and closely monitored by governments worldwide. The local operating permit at each plant specifies the allowable amounts of water extraction and recirculation.

We systematically identify and classify potential water pollutants. We also carry out stakeholder analyses and risk assessments as part of our water management plans. Water quality is tested, usually in external laboratories, by taking regular water samples. In addition, there are on-site measures aimed at monitoring the water temperature, for example. These measures comply with local permit requirements and regulations as well as global reporting obligations.

We want to conserve water and minimise negative impacts through measures aimed at saving water and using it efficiently. This objective can be achieved by using rainwater, taking advantage of reuse and recycling technologies, or working with local communities on water-related projects. We acknowledge that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right and have implemented the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s WASH Pledge for access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene at all production sites.

Lake in the middle of a landscape overgrown with many plants

Sustainable water management

Responsible use of water is also part of our Sustainability Commitments 2030. We want to introduce water management plans and water recycling systems at 100% of our locations in regions affected by water scarcity by 2030. To this end, we have systematically categorised our plants using the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool. We use a water reporting system based on the GCCA guidelines at all of our company’s cement plants. We work continuously to reduce our consumption of fresh water, for example, by switching to closed cooling circuits and recycling systems. We have also started to introduce measurement systems and key figures on water reporting in our aggregates and ready-mixed concrete business lines.

As a result of climate change, environmental risks are arising more and more frequently – including those connected with water. While working to reduce our consumption of fresh water worldwide, we take local conditions into account in the implementation of specific water management measures. The particular conditions in each region in terms of factors such as climate, water resources, population growth, and economic development influence the availability and use of water. We therefore rely on individual approaches tailored to the respective locations in order to reduce water consumption as far as is economically and technically possible. We take a local approach to facilitate participation and involve key stakeholders such as communities, businesses, and governments in the development and implementation of water reduction initiatives. This enables better matching of targets and measures to local conditions. Our plant-specific water management plans help us to identify and address water-related risks at an early stage. As at the end of the 2023 financial year, 58% of our aggregates sites in areas suffering from water scarcity had implemented water recycling systems, while in the cement business line, this figure had already reached 83%.

Because we are facing a water surplus in other regions of the world, where we need to pump off large quantities of water in order to operate our quarries, it does not make sense to define a general global reduction target for the Group based on quantified water withdrawal rates. After the first Group countries developed and introduced water management plans as part of a pilot project in 2022, the 2023 water target was rolled out to all locations worldwide. Priority is given to regions affected by water scarcity, water stress, and other physical risks associated with water. The majority of our production sites worldwide already have water recycling systems. In order to guarantee efficient water use and reduce the demand for fresh water in the long term, it is our intention that all Heidelberg Materials plants will use water recycling systems by 2030.

Water and biodiversity

Aquatic animal on a sandy bottom in shallow clear water with light reflections on the water surface

Wetlands as natural wastewater treatment plants

As an expression of Heidelberg Materials’ commitment to sustainability, we reinforced our integrated approach regarding water and biodiversity in 2023. By using nature-based solutions, we are already incorporating the protection of biodiversity and water bodies into many of our projects.

Our Swedish subsidiary operates a large quarry in Löten, which supplies the concrete industry in Stockholm with aggregates. The quarry has the necessary infrastructure to treat material from the construction of the Stockholm bypass, scheduled for completion by 2030. A total of 4.5 million tonnes of blasted rock, which is contaminated with nitrogen as a result of the blasting process, is being produced there during tunnel construction.

A wetland is being created on the quarry site to purify the rock and the nitrogen-rich wastewater produced by the purification process. Various plants such as water lilies, reeds, and bulrushes are expected to thrive in three small lakes. Wetlands can reduce nitrogen in a natural and environmentally friendly way while also increasing biodiversity. Their water is also vital to birds, amphibians, lizards, and other reptiles, especially when wetlands are surrounded by a large agricultural area.

Climate risks

According to the definition issued by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), climate risks include the following physical risks.

Physical risks Physical climate risks are divided into acute and chronic risks. The potential impact of climate change also depends heavily on global developments such as demographic change, economic growth, and efforts to rapidly reduce the CO₂ concentration in the atmosphere. In its analysis of these physical climate risks, Heidelberg Materials has therefore considered both the current risk potentials and – for the periods to 2030, 2040, and 2050 – the recognised scenarios (Shared Socio-Economic Pathways) SSP1 to SSP5 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These SSP scenarios depict possible ways in which climate change could unfold and also include socio-economic aspects such as projected population growth.

The development pathways that were previously used, which were primarily based on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (Representative Concentration Pathways, RCP), have also been incorporated into these scenarios and expanded. The SSP scenarios cover both optimistic and pessimistic variations. While the SSP1 scenario can be considered consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 °C target, the effects of climate change are more severe in the other scenarios and the greenhouse gas concentration also increases. SSP5 corresponds to a “worst case” scenario. One industry-specific risk for Heidelberg Materials is the dependence of construction activities on weather conditions. Harsh winters with extremely low temperatures or high precipitation throughout the year can have a short-term negative effect on construction activity, with direct consequences for our revenue and operating performance.

In general, there are significant geographical variations in climate risks. The impact of extreme weather scenarios, such as floods or droughts, can lead to damage to our production sites, interrupt the supply to our customers, or have adverse effects on the supply of upstream products to our operating units. In recent years, for example, prolonged dry periods in Western Europe have caused low water levels, making it difficult to deliver raw materials by water. At the same time, flooding in Australia, for example, have led to interruptions in production and supply. We respond to weather scenarios like these in various ways, including by using water-saving production techniques and by optimising our wastewater management. Nevertheless, river flooding is currently a major concern for our business in this connection.

These actual effects are also reflected in our overall risk analysis. Precipitation stress and heat stress are the principal chronic climate risks, while river flooding is the most significant acute risk. For the period up to 2030, the picture remains largely unchanged, but the risk exposure to drought increases significantly.

Depending on the scenarios considered, the proportion of locations subject to climate risks will continue to rise over the periods up to 2040 and 2050. For drought stress, for example, there are significant differences between the moderate SSP2 scenario and the SSP5 scenario, which is based on the continued use of fossil fuels. The modelling indicates that our risk exposure would double. Similar developments would also be forecast for other chronic climate risks such as heat stress and precipitation stress. According to the scenarios, our locations in Asia and Africa in particular would suffer from drought and heat if greenhouse gas concentrations increase, while more northerly regions, such as North America and Europe, would be more severely affected by rainfall stress.

If we analyse the periods up to 2040 and 2050 for acute risks such as tropical cyclones and river flooding, these remain largely stable. While the former naturally occur in Africa, Asia, and Australia in particular, the risk of river flooding tends to affect the Northern Hemisphere. The relative stability of the acute risks also means that the effects of climate change are already impacting us today.

As the risks are already significant, we began a more in-depth analysis in 2022 and, based on the risk exposure and strategic importance, identified around 100 plants, which are being examined in detail. For this purpose, further risks were included in the modelling and made available to the plants. They have verified the findings, compared them with their own experiences, and are now tasked with developing location-specific adaptation measures for the critical risks, including necessary investment plans. With this analysis, we have also begun to quantify the specific financial impact on our locations. We aim to develop this analysis further, utilise it more intensively, and integrate it into accounting processes in the future.