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Sounding out on environmental product declarations

Good news (see page 20) from leading construction market data sources: In a revised forecast, Portland Cement Association Chief Economist Ed Sullivan calls for 2012-2013 cement consumption a point or two greater for each year than he had previously projected. And, McGraw-Hill Construction economists confirm in their new Nonresidential Building Index positive commercial, industrial and institutional project trends leading into next year, their confidence underpinned by a decade of Dodge and U.S. Department of Commerce data.

As an improving economy propels commercial building activity to more normal levels, project designers and owners look set to base more specifications and buying decisions on environmental criteria—and introduce concrete-specific contract language reflecting requirements not traditionally covered in ASTM standards or ACI practice. One tool designers and owners are weighing is an environmental product declaration, developed with consensus protocol similar to ASTM and ACI offerings.

At the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association’s International Concrete Sustainability Conference in early May, University of Washington Assistant Professor of Architecture Kate Simonen noted a revised draft of “Product Category Rules (PCR) for ISO 14025 Type III Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for Concrete.” The PCR addresses “cradle to gate” impacts of ready mixed and manufactured concrete, from raw materials extraction to production to transportation. The EPD details energy or fuel consumption inputs and related environmental criteria producers need to report.

The revised document is scheduled for posting at www.carbonleadershipforum.org and will reflect input from a comment period earlier this year. Drafted by the University of Washington-hosted Carbon Leadership Forum, which Professor Simonen heads, the PCR/EPD provides producers a framework to affirm the environmental footprint of different mixes. As Concrete Products noted during the comment period, the industry is well represented on the Forum through Jeff Davis of Central Concrete Supply, San Jose, and Greg McKinnon of Stoneway Concrete, Seattle; plus NRMCA’s Lionel Lemay, Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute’s Dean Frank, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Concrete Sustainability Hub’s John Ochsendorf.

“To advance a more comprehensive understanding of the total life cycle environmental impacts of buildings, design professionals need objective and verifiable environmental impact data,” the group notes. “An EPD reports the results of life cycle assessment analyses (e.g. global warming potential, water use etc.) in a consistent manner following agreed upon rules.”

Additionally, PCR and EPD are aimed at helping architects and engineers meet the 2030 Challenge for Products. Its phased targets over nearly two decades compel suppliers and manufacturers to reduce the carbon-equivalent footprint of their materials and products at least 50 percent against current industry benchmarks. The Challenge was issued by the American Institute of Architects-aligned Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization focused on addressing climate change by lowering energy consumption throughout the building sector.

The PCR/EPD for Concrete is taking shape as ASTM Committee E60 on Sustainability crafts WK23356 – New Practice for Development of Product Category Rules for Use in Development of Environmental Declarations for Building Products and Systems. It addresses market demands for more documentation to back supplier and manufacturer claims on sustainable materials and products, establishing basic requirements for their environmental declarations.

One of the groups at the forefront of validating green building and sustainability attributes in materials and products, UL Environmental, is extending reporting capabilities with an EPD Transparency Brief, announced at last month’s AIA Convention in Washington, D.C. It will enable producers to condense complex information in multi-page EPD to a “nutrition-label-like” document.

The Transparency Brief could be a useful tool for enterprising concrete and cement interests to augment the credible PCR/EPD benchmark with which the Carbon Leadership Forum has engaged industry discussion.