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Is there an eco-friendly alternative to concrete?

Posted by Jason Ramsdale on 18 January 2016 at 10:50 am

Whether it’s building a house or laying the foundations for your new conservatory or for stabilising your new solar ground array there is no denying that concrete is a fantastic building material. Concrete is:

  • Economical with readily available ingredients
  • Long lasting and low maintenance
  • Weather, rodent and insect resistant
  • Easily moulded to specifications
  • Fire-safe

However, the environmental impacts of manufacturing concrete are enormous, accounting for approximately 5% of the world’s CO2 production.[1] You may be pleased to hear then that there are ways of making our building material choices greener without reverting to living in mud hut!

Recycled and sustainable materials:

Concrete can be manufactured using recycled and more sustainable materials helping to lower its carbon footprint. An example of a UK supplier of recycled concrete is Eco-Readymix who make use of recycled glass fragments and sand from ground recycled concrete

Rammed Earth:

An alternative to using concrete is rammed earth which involves compacting damp sand, gravel and clay (maybe not too far from living in a mud hut after all!). Rammed earth has a distinct appearance and uses natural and readily available materials making it incredibly environmentally friendly.

Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs introduces rammed earth construction in this video:

The potential benefits of rammed earth construction include:

  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Low energy construction
  • Locally sourced
  • Helps to regulate humidity
  • Adds thermal mass
  • Airtight


  • High levels of construction quality control are required with few UK codes of practice. See Green Spec for more details
  • Durability is site and material specific
  • External walls will require additional insulation
  • Soil testing is needed as not all soil types are appropiate
  • Time consuming
  • To add strength 5-10% cement is usually added compromising environmental credentials

That said if it's cool enough for rockstar Randy Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive it might be worth looking into:

You can also enjoy the textured polished look of rammed earth solid flooring during the annual open days at John Christophers' SuperHome.

Although we might not all be able to avoid using concrete for the moment, we could seek to minimise our impact by choosing supplies that pride themselves on incorporating as much recycled material as possible. And, for the more adventurous amonst us, perhaps it's worth digging into rammed earth possibilities. One company specialising in rammed earth construction in the UK is Earth Structures. Or if you fancy giving it a go yourself courses are available at Rammed-Earth, Earthship Brighton and CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology).


[1] Berkley

Image: Centre for Alternative Technology

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