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Simon Kronenberg, CEO of Holcim Switzerland: “We see ourselves as part of the solution, not the problem”

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The situation is tense on the hill of Mormont, where militants are camped, who call themselves Zadists. They occupy the premises to denounce what they consider to be an attack on the environment on the part of LafargeHolcim. The multinational, however, intends to dig further on this site, while respecting nature as much as possible, she said. Legal proceedings aimed in particular at removing the occupants have been successful and they must vacate the premises before March 30. Interview with the boss of LafargeHolcim in Switzerland, Simon Kronenberg.

Also read: In Eclépens, the orchids of discord

Le Temps: What is the current situation?

Simon Kronenberg: We have started several legal proceedings this fall, because we believe that the occupation of the site is illegal. The proceedings took a long time, but the courts ruled and asked the activists to leave the scene before the end of the month. The political and police authorities are in charge of the case. We hope that this operation will take place in a peaceful manner.

How do you do? Have you entered into a dialogue with the occupants?

Yes. We tried to talk to them but without much success, because they are sticking to their position. We regret that they do not recognize our efforts for the environment and biodiversity.

How much does this story tarnish LafargeHolcim’s reputation?

We see ourselves as part of the solution, not the problem. The group has been taking the climate issue in hand since the 1990s. We comply with all laws and apply the highest environmental standards in terms of circular economy and sustainable development. We have a constructive dialogue with communities and NGOs.

How well do you understand the activists of Eclépens?

It is a societal, political question. Their concerns for the planet are legitimate. But with its “Net Zero Pledge”, LafargeHolcim made a commitment last summer to reduce its carbon emissions, according to the Paris Agreements, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This is the main objective. most ambitious in our industry. Our subsidiary in Switzerland is at the forefront of these issues.

Politicians and scientists support the Zadists …

And we respect that, as we respect the freedom of associations, of expression and of debate and we take our responsibilities. But we also believe in providing a service to the community. The materials we produce are delivered to the region for socially useful infrastructure projects. The CHUV uses it for the Lausanne Children’s Hospital. Our customers are on the Lake Geneva area, it’s local. This industry is local. In general, cement plants all over the world are local businesses that supply their customers in the surrounding area.

Who are the other beneficiaries of Eclépens’ career?

Eclépens cement is found in many infrastructure projects such as the Nant de Drance dam, the CEVA in Geneva with several tunnels, the M2 metro in Lausanne, the Vortex [un bâtiment sur le site du campus de l’EPFL, ndlr], the EPFL Learning Center, the Vidy WWTP, etc. In terms of waste recovery, dried sewage sludge from the canton of Geneva is also treated at Eclépens. We supply the equivalent of 2,000 households in four municipalities with district heating through the use of thermal energy from the cement kiln.

Are you saying that if you were to close Eclépens, French-speaking customers would have to get their cement further away, which would be more polluting?

Without Eclépens, the material would have to be transported from further afield. According to a recent report from the Confederation, Switzerland’s supply of indigenous raw materials needed to manufacture cement is threatened in the short term. However, it is only with materials available locally in sufficient quantities that the environmental performance of Swiss construction can improve. It should also be noted that more than 50% of the production that leaves Eclépens is delivered by train, and the other half by truck. The site is one of the most efficient European cement factories, with a carbon footprint 25% better than the European average.

Our video:
Meet the Zadists, diehard climate activists

What makes the site more efficient?

The site produces its own electricity thanks to solar panels and a turbine which uses the thermal energy of the plant. Current projects will also allow us to use up to 95% of alternative fuels, resulting from the recovery of waste. In terms of the circular economy, thanks to a new installation which recovers 100,000 tonnes of mineral waste in the form of alternative raw materials per year, we are preserving natural resources and saving landfill space. In terms of biodiversity, the Mormont quarry is at the forefront and constitutes a refuge for rare birds, chamois and amphibians.

How is the demand for cement in Switzerland?

She’s stable. By wanting to expand on the Birette site [un plateau adjacent au site d’extraction actuel], we do not want to produce more. This is a long-term operation that aims to ensure that we can continue to produce in the region in the future.

Does this mean that the occupation of the site by the Zadists did not have a great impact on your activities?

No, the occupation of the Zadistas poses significant security risks. With a view to the next stage of operation of the Birette, we want the land to be cleared so that the archaeological excavation campaign can begin as quickly as possible in order to keep to the provisional schedule of the project.

What is the potential of the Birette?

Thanks to our resource conservation projects, the operating phase of the Birette, initially planned for seven years, should be extended until 2035. This project is a continuation of what we have been doing here for 70 years. [la carrière d’Eclépens est exploitée depuis les lendemains de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale].

How many quarries are there dedicated to the production of cement in Switzerland?

There are six cement factories in Switzerland, three of which belong to Holcim Switzerland (in Eclépens, Siggenthal in Aargau and Untervaz in Graubünden). Two others belong to Jura Cement, owned by the Irish group CRH [dans le canton du Jura et en Argovie] and one in Vigier, a subsidiary of the French group Vicat [dans le Jura bernois].

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