LafargeHolcim Foundation Knowledge Turntable for Sustainable Construction


Making a credible commitment to sustainability in construction

Interview with Edward Schwarz, General Manager, LafargeHolcim Foundation

The LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction was established in 2003 to raise awareness of the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning and the construction industry play in shaping a more sustainable future. General Manager Edward Schwarz has been with the Foundation since the very beginning.

Is the Foundation still dealing with the same issues today as when it was created in 2003?

Edward Schwarz (ES): At that time, the term sustainability was slowly gaining momentum – today, it is already overused and has become a standard term for all kinds of things.

In contrast, we as a Foundation set ourselves apart with definitions that are as specific as possible. For example, we deliberately included CO2 reduction in our five “target issues” for sustainable construction.

In addition to addressing the triple-bottom line of sustainable development, the “target issues” also respond specifically to the increased demand for materials and solutions that are less CO2-intensive. In the meantime, the focus has shifted to the coexistence and juxtaposition of different materials in different combinations rather than to an either-or solution.

The 6th cycle of the Lafarge-Holcim Awards is currently open for entries. What is the main focus today: the environment? Nature? Architecture?

ES: It’s a combination of everything. Because we define the term so broadly, it offers room for new ideas and innovations. Currently, less projects for individuals are submitted. Rather, the submissions revolve around projects that benefit society. It’s all about the collective, whole districts or, for example, in less developed countries, whole informal settlements.

Addressing the challenges at the individual level is not particularly sustainable. It’s about a holistic approach. You also notice that water is becoming an increasingly important, very central issue. Across all continents, from small to huge projects.

Holcim_Foundation_Edward_Schwarz_LRB7354.jpgThe juries consist of well-known individuals from the fields of architecture, engineering and science – how do you attract these personalities?

ES: It is well known that we are so broadly positioned that we can make a credible commitment to sustainability in construction. The experts feel that we are not a marketing tool – otherwise they simply would not come. The current jury members are amongst the youngest we have ever had, and we have a large proportion of women.

We select the members of the jury with the aim that they contribute their know-how, and in the end, every one of them moderates elements differently. While the engineer looks at the technical achievements, the sociologist looks more intently at social aspects. It is exactly these different views that are typical for the Foundation. The members of the Foundation themselves do not participate in the jury meetings.

Zero energy, zero emissions, zero waste – which of these three fields is the most focused on?

ES: In view of the climate and the CO2 debate, the issue of emissions currently dominates. Rationally, however, it is a matter of life cycles – or “usage cycles”. The difference is that the life cycle finishes at some point, while the cycle of use is never-ending. Incidentally, I am convinced that concrete is one of the few materials that can be recycled indefinitely.

The awarded projects are flagship projects for sustainable construction and a source of inspiration. What are the obstacles to new ideas and innovation?

ES: In expert discussions, bureaucracy has emerged as the biggest obstacle. It is high time to reconsider and adapt existing norms and regulations. That, in turn, is not the task of the Foundation. This is a political challenge. Legislators need to find a way to become more flexible, faster, and make new things possible.

Original article published in German in Perspektiven by Holcim Deutschland, November 2019.


Sustainability drivers for the built environment

The LafargeHolcim Foundation and its associated universities have identified five “target issues” that aim to clarify principles for sustaining the human habitat for future generations. These “target issues” serve as criteria for projects submitted for the LafargeHolcim Awards and as a roadmap for all other related activities of the Foundation.

Last Updated: December 20, 2019
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Zurich, Switzerland
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Edward Schwarz is General Manager of the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction since its creation in 2003.

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