Structural clay products have been used since antiquity. Their natural characteristics ensure a low environmental impact and help improve the energy efficiency of buildings. Life cycle assessments have demonstrated that clay is a safe and sustainable material that is particularly suitable for use in contemporary green building projects.

An age-old material with an important role to play in the future of sustainability

The new application techniques for structural clay product (for walls, floors and roofing) meet increasingly high standards and levels of performance. Clay products are associated with reduced consumption of natural resources and energy, thereby significantly lowering the environmental impact of the buildings in which they are used.

Design requirements

New buildings are increasingly being designed in such a way as to improve their energy efficiency and enhance the well-being of users. 

The effectiveness of a material from the point of view of sustainability can be evaluated according to the number of needs it is able to meet at the same time: the more functions it performs, the less wastage of resources occurs. 

The environmental criteria met by structural clay products

Structural clay products meet the environmental and social criteria of green building projects in many ways:

  • Simplicity of the production process.
  • Widespread geographical distribution of production sites.
  • Environmental optimisation of processes.
  • Flexibility of the production process.
  • Technical potential.
  • Simplicity of installation.
  • Site management.
  • Innovative potential.
  • Durability and low maintenance.
  • Long-term performance.
  • Ease of recovery, reuse and recycling.

Environmental assessments over the entire life cycle of structural clay products 

The sustainability of a material is defined as the impact it has on the environment over its entire life cycle, from extraction and processing through to disposal. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for structural clay products shows that they meet the Minimum Environmental Criteria at all stages. 

Safety during extraction and storage

Clay extraction is safe and sustainable due to the absence of harmful emissions, the low noise and air pollution of the associated processes, and the fact that quarries are located close to production sites.

In addition, structural clay products can be stored without the need for special precautions and do not pose any kind of risk either to site operators or to people living and working in the immediate vicinity.

Energy recovery in the production process

The option of using low-temperature energy to dry structural clay products such as brick has encouraged many companies to switch to cogeneration systems which allow waste heat to be reused in the production process.

The quantity of energy used per unit of product in the heavy clay industry has decreased significantly in recent years.

Reuse of processing scrap

Clay waste from construction activities is classified as “clean waste”. Following a quality assessment, current legislation allows this type of waste to be reused for backfill, foundations, landscaping, etc., thereby reducing the volume that has to be sent to landfill. 

The most advanced studies in this field have the ambitious goal of developing a new building material made entirely from recycled clay.

Remediation of quarrying sites

Clay extraction sites are governed by a plan designed to reduce the environmental impact of operations through measures that include subsequent remediation of the site. A unified extraction and remediation project for decommissioned quarries requires sites to be restored or remediated upon closure. For this purpose, an environmental analysis must be performed to ascertain the consequences of altering the landscape.

Environmental assessments during usage

Energy certification is mandatory for newly constructed and recently renovated buildings, and the user is required to use a consumption indicator that measures kWh/m2 per year.

Structural clay products demonstrate a high degree of adaptability 1during use in terms of living comfort and energy savings.

A clay brick building has an excellent environmental cost-benefit ratio, especially when compared to the useful life of the building, because the energy consumed during the production and construction phases is largely offset by the low environmental impact during the period of use.

Energy potential of structural clay products

Thanks to their specific thermal capacity, structural clay products improve the energy efficiency of buildings, especially when used for building envelopes and cladding. The choice of structural clay thermal solutions not only guarantees compliance with insulation requirements but also reduces energy costs thanks to the essential role played by mass and thermal inertia. 

One of the most obvious benefits is the downsizing of the heating and air conditioning systems and a consequent reduction in CO2 emissions.

A popular material for green building projects

In recent years, the most advanced policies in the field of sustainability and green building have led to highly innovative uses of a material that has been widely used since antiquity. Thanks to their high levels of performance and adaptability, structural clay products ensure significant energy savings and a lower-than-average environmental impact.