Sustainability is one of the foremost aspects of steel in relation to the environment, quality, and overall durability. As we have discussed in previous articles, steel is one of mankind’s oldest utilized tool and building materials. It is 100% recyclable and incredibly durable and energy efficient. As such, it has always had a role in sustainable design—and one that is only destined to grow along with demand for eco-friendly solutions. 

Were you aware that the world’s #1 most recycled material is steel? Many people think aluminum, but it is steel. According to IISI (International Iron & Steel Institute) the 20 billionth ton of steel was recycled in 2007. Ok you think, so it’s recycled, no big deal… In addition to the vast tonnages recycled, what is highly interesting is that steel is the only material that can be infinitely recycled and never lose its quality – it does not lose its properties.


Steel’s sustainability

Steel is at the forefront of advancements in sustainability. A design is truly sustainable when it meets the needs of the present, efficiently, without compromising the needs of future generations; and steel products that are structurally and operationally efficient fit the bill.

Steel is inherently sustainable. Besides its recyclability, steel has a high strength-to-weight ratio, coupled with a low carbon footprint, making for an overall reduction of embodied carbon. Steel structures are low-maintenance and designed for deconstruction, reducing waste and costs of upkeep.

Though steel has been around for so long, it is changing with the times. Of particular interest are the new advanced high strength steels – a key component to steel’s sustainability today. Government standards are continuously pushing the automotive, truck, and bus industries towards better and better fuel economy. Due to that, aluminum became a player in the automotive world due to its much lighter weight and corrosion resistance. The steel industry rose to the challenge. With advanced high strength steels, automotive steel is getting thinner and thinner, lighter in weight, all while improving strength and passenger safety. Aerospace steels are going the same route; Huge cargo ships, larger than ever, are also going thinner and lighter with the use of high strength steels. Lighter ships equal more voyages on less gallons of fuel – that is sustainability.

One item in the news recently…earthquakes. According to IISI, steel pipe has the best capacity of any other material to withstand the seismic action of earthquakes.


An eco-friendly future

Analysis of steel constructed buildings shows that water consumption, waste, and even fuel-consuming trips to and from building sites are ALL reduced when steel is the primary material. In energy consumption, steel keeps leading when construction is complete. Steel cladding protects a building from the elements, and again, the high strength steels have reduced the size of beams needed to achieve the same or greater strength than in the past. Smaller beams quickly add up to more useful square footage within a building.

Growing emphasis on solar power and water conservation are also promising for the steel industry. For instance, steel frames are often used for solar thermal panels. Thermal solar systems also produce hot water and are one of the most popular uses of solar energy. But, where would the water be stored if not in large, steel, tanks?

Steel machinery, implements, and related technology have enabled the world’s farms to feed our burgeoning population. Today in developed countries less than 3% of people farm. 100 years ago that number was close to 75%. Seed technology has improved and the steel-built machines, grain elevators, storage and transportation have kept up.

All things considered, it’s remarkable how many ways this ancient material feeds “new” sustainability trends—trends that, ultimately, will benefit the planet and its many inhabitants.


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