Is Steel a Sustainable Material? 5 Things To Know

Published Categorized as Sustainability
Sustainability of Steel

Environmental consciousness is becoming more and more critical in today’s day and age. And as finite resources continue to become less available, the need to find alternative solutions for use in a variety of industries is reaching an all-time high. This need leads us to wonder whether steel is a sustainable material.

Steel is one of the most sustainable materials available. Steel is known for its longevity, durability, and environmental friendliness. As one of the most recycled materials in the world, steel could lead manufacturing into a new green world if used correctly.

This article will cover five things you should know about steel and its sustainability. Ready? Let’s get started.

What Are Sustainable Materials?

The increased need for scientific and engineering ingenuity is on the rise as the world continues to deplete finite resources like oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy. These nonrenewable resources, also called fossil fuels, are formed within the Earth over the course of millions of years.

Sustainable materials can be produced in large quantities for industrial and consumer use without depleting nonrenewable resources, such as fossil fuels. Sustainable materials also don’t have a negative effect on the environment and natural resources to the point of extinction.

People use nonrenewable resources for everyday uses. For instance, fossil fuels are used for various human needs, from gas for vehicles to cooking, heating homes, and making plastics.

Fossil fuels are in high need but limited supply, a situation that has forced the world to explore sustainable methods of producing industrial and consumer materials. Sustainable or renewable resources are materials designed for use as substitutes for nonrenewable resources to minimize negative environmental impact.

Sustainable materials reduce environmental impacts on the supply chain by using less toxic and more durable materials. In addition, using materials more productively over the course of their life cycles is essential for the economic and environmental future of human society.

Currently, there is global competitiveness circling the use of nonrenewable resources. This competition is likely to continue increasing as the world population and economies grow. As a result, there has been a widespread call for countries to take up positive production methods to protect the environment from short and long-term harm.

While we can’t completely stop using nonrenewable resources, such as fossil fuels, we can aim to reduce waste, and environmental impact and open the door for future innovation.

Additionally, switching to sustainable materials is a great way to safeguard the environment and prevent the depletion of natural resources.

What Is Steel Made Of?

Steel is a promising material that can create a variety of industrial and consumer products. Today, steel is one of the greenest resources and ranks high on the list of most recyclable materials.

Steel is made of iron and carbon and usually contains chromium, carbon, and other alloying elements produced from pig iron. By removing some carbon and adding other elements like manganese and copper, steel is created.

Unlike fossil fuels like oil, iron is one of Earth’s most readily available elements. But unfortunately, iron doesn’t come as a useful metal naturally. Therefore, it must be manipulated and combined with other natural elements to develop steel’s highly sought-after and valuable properties.

Steelmaking has an extensive history throughout human society. Beginning roughly in the 1200s B.C.E., the ability to use iron to create steel was rapidly trending throughout the Middle East and Greece and eventually made its way to Europe and the Roman Empire.

Around the 17th century, steelmaking became popular in North America, which eventually led to the first operating furnace created from steel in 1646, according to this article from Earth Magazine.

Three main types of steel are used today: alloy, carbon, and stainless. Of the three types, carbon steel is the most popular in the US and continues to be used in the manufacture of a variety of items.

Generally, steel is used in a variety of industries from construction, to packaging, automotive, home appliances, and several others.

Steel prices and production costs are still relatively low and have remained stable because the capacity for steel making has yet to exceed steel consumption.

1. Steel Is Durable

The top reason steel is a great sustainable resource is that it is highly durable. Even under harsh conditions, steel is tough and can outlast other less durable building materials. In addition, it is resistant to corrosion, which we’ll discuss later in this article, and has a solid chemical makeup.

Steel is vital in a way that other materials are not due to its composition of both iron and carbon. The alloy can withstand several harsh elements, which makes it perfect for building and construction in areas with high winds, blowing sand, and other extreme weather conditions.

Constructing structures with steel gives you the peace of mind that your project will have a long useful life without the need for constant repairs due to steel’s natural strength. Weaker materials usually require regular maintenance and the use of several other materials (i.e. more concrete), which increase the strain on the environment.

If a structure is solid and durable, it’s less likely to be at risk of damage and liability. As a result, building owners and investors have less chance of expensive repairs and uncertainty.

Pre-engineered steel structures are safe, durable, and beneficial for many people and for many purposes.

Frequently, steel buildings are less expensive when it comes to expansion and construction projects. They are sturdy, durable, and designed to last.

Steel can be used for commercial establishments, industrial facilities, recreational organizations, agricultural structures, or residential buildings. Steel has been used for centuries, and a lot of that is because it is solid and robust.

2. Steel Is Recyclable

Interestingly, steel and iron products are responsible for creating about 65% of the average automotive vehicle today. Also, automobiles that have been scrapped for parts, or are no longer in use, can be drained of all fluids and then shredded and sold for the valuable materials it’s composed of.

Steel mills often utilize vehicles that have been scrapped and recycle the material for other steel projects. Because steel is recyclable, it’s a highly effective sustainable material with extensive usability.

Steel-to-steel recycling, such as the example described above, is a means of creating new steel products. Bridges, cars, ships, and other steel products can be made from steel-to-steel recyclables. This renewable source of production is a great way to reduce our human impact on the environment and get creative with manufacturing.

According to this article from World Auto Steel, steel can even be recycled after it’s been set on fire. That’s right, even incinerated steel has the potential to be recycled and used for other products.

Because steel is magnetic and durable, even fire can’t eliminate its usefulness.

Cars, trucks, and other vehicles are arguably the most recycled consumer products. Every year, the steel industry recycles millions of tons of steel from vehicles that have reached the end of their useful lives.

Recycled steel saves both energy and natural resources. The US steel industry saves enough energy through its recycling efforts to power millions of households annually. To do this, old cars are usually hauled to a vehicle destroyer or dismantler, where the parts are stripped.

After usable functions are removed, the batteries, tires, and fluids are also removed and taken to processors. From there, the automobiles are shredded, and that’s how iron and steel are taken from the cars.

3. Steel Can Be Used Indefinitely

As I mentioned above, the recyclable property of steel makes it a highly sustainable material as there is no limit to the number of times it can be recycled and reused to make quality products. Not only can steel be recycled an infinite number of times, but it also doesn’t decrease in quality regardless of how many times it’s shredded and reused.

So, even though steel is created from a nonrenewable source, it’s not wasted because it can be used forever once the steel is made. The American steel industry is the cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient sector globally.

Steel is crucial for a modern and sustainable society as it can be used forever and is highly durable, features that make it ideal for recycling. It’s also used to make other environmentally conscientious products like electric vehicles.

Plus, using steel to create safer structures is also proving to be environmentally friendly because it is durable and built to last. Plus, as our engineers and constructors improve their ability to create quality products, it requires less energy and resources to produce steel than what it took years and years ago.

According to, it takes less than half of the energy to produce steel today than it did 40 years ago, which has led to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

4. Steel Is Environmentally Friendly

Steal is sustainable because it is environmentally friendly, a feature that allows for large-scale steel production. It’s incredibly versatile and has many uses for consumers, manufacturers, and industries.

Additionally, steel is an excellent resource because it doesn’t consume or deteriorate our environment as much as products like plastics.

You’ll find steel used in nearly all corners of the world and in nearly every aspect of human society, from the forks you use to dine to the car you drive to work.

As one of the top recycled materials, steel is especially friendly to the environment, and even its byproducts are used in the production process. Almost 70% of steel is recycled in the US annually, and the number continues to grow as we continue to realize the importance of environmentally conscientious decisions.

Steel recycling efforts contribute to almost 80% of the overall energy used in the production of raw materials. This has aided the fight to save fossil fuels and other natural resources, while also reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses.

Not only is steel suitable for the environment, but it’s also good for the economy. The large-scale use of steel has significantly reduced the cost of industrial production since most of the materials are made using recycled materials. This saves money from having to extract iron and ore from the ground.

Plus, the steel industry is producing jobs that stimulate the economy by hiring workers for production and recycling.

5. Steel Is Rust-Resistant

Not only is it a sustainable material, but steel is also recyclable, rust-resistant, and easy to clean.

Another benefit of using steel is that it can be polished and finished into a beautiful piece for nearly any project. Today, stainless steel in homes, especially kitchens, is all the rage because it creates a clean and contemporary look that most homeowners fancy.

The versatility of steel allows for the creation of different designs which increases overall flexibility when it comes to construction and product development. In addition, steel resists corrosion which adds to its overall beauty, especially in interior design projects.

Another factor that contributes to steel’s sustainability is its toughness. And because steel is made from alloyed carbon, it becomes tough and resistant to external factors such as wind, temperature change, rust, and corrosion.

Some environmental conditions like heavy wind, intense weather, or blowing sand can easily corrode light material. However, buildings made of steel are protected from these conditions and are therefore more reliable over time.

Steel is smelted during the creation process, which contributes to its overall strength. The metal is also superheated to temper and increase the overall strength of the material.

Steel retains its attractiveness and versatility through extreme and severe circumstances. As a result, contractors are continuously turning to steel more and more for various projects from bridges and railings to residential and commercial buildings for this purpose.

Final Thoughts

Steel is a sustainable material that can be used to make attractive and robust products. Because steel is made from a combination of iron and carbon, it is super strong, durable, and made to last.

The history of steel is long, and even though its use is becoming more and more frequent, its production is unlikely to ever become a problem.

Steel can be easily recycled to create environmentally friendly products, which makes it one of the most sustainable products around.


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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