Industry prepped for Buy Clean era


A Carbon Leadership Forum team updates us this month on the trajectory of procurement policy compelling suppliers or contractors to include environmental product declarations (EPDs) in public building and infrastructure project bids. Laws or pending legislation reference declarations abiding International Organization for Standardization terms, which strive for data uniformity and apples to apples comparison of material or product environmental impacts. 

The top EPD data point is global warming potential (GWP), which expresses the fossil fuel-powered processes and transportation, for example, behind portland cement or concrete as kg CO2/ton or yd. Enacted or pending measures noted in the Carbon Leadership Forum report reveal how federal, state and local officials are moving to shape concrete mix designs and the economics of reinforced concrete construction:

CLEAN Future Act. H.R. 1512, ‘‘Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act,’’ March 2021. Representative Frank Malone, Jr. (D-NJ-6) wants to spur “a Federal Buy Clean program to steadily reduce the quantity of embodied emissions of construction materials and products, and promote the use of low-emissions construction materials and products in projects involving Federal funds.” 

His legislation would task the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy to tailor a Federal Buy Clean program around specific material or product categories, plus methods of setting performance standards. H.R. 1512 authors also ponder “promotion of novel technologies with the potential to reduce embodied emissions of Federal Buy Clean program-covered materials and products, along with the data collection and reporting requirements needed to implement and enforce such program.”

New Jersey Assembly No. 5223, January 2021. Penned as “an Act concerning the purchase and use of low embodied carbon concrete,” the bill moves to have the Garden State Treasury Department factor into projects requiring 50 yd. or more a discount rate for concrete backed by EPD indicating low embodied carbon properties. “The rate shall be applied to bid prices on the basis of the global warming potential values for the concrete specified in the bids, and not exceed five percent of the total bid price,” the bill states. Bidders sourcing concrete from producers who can demonstrate carbon capture, utilization and storage technology in the supply chain stand to qualify for additional discounts during project bid assessment. 

New Requirements for Concrete. January 2020, phased implementation. The City of Portland, Ore. requires EPDs to accompany Commercial Grade Concrete, Plain Concrete Pavement, and High-Performance Concrete/Structural Concrete for building or public works department projects. In 2021, officials plan to publish maximum acceptable GWP levels for mixes on the Portland Materials Testing Lab (Pre)Approved Concrete Mix Design List. The city will use EPD data collected in 2020, Portland project concrete usage data, stakeholder feedback, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Member National and Regional Life Cycle Assessment Benchmark (Industry Average) Report, and related applicable data to determine maximum GWP values. Toward January 2022, all proposed concrete for the (Pre)Approved List will need to have an EPD-indicated GWP below the city’s threshold. 

Buy Clean California, Minnesota H.F. 2204. California has enacted and Minnesota lawmakers are considering legislation favoring procurement of carbon steel rebar, structural steel, glass and mineral wood insulation when such materials are demonstrated to have below average GWP metrics. In California, officials will set a maximum acceptable GWP at the industry average of facility-specific GWP emissions, and will tap recognized EPD databases for industry average figures or, in some instances, industry-wide EPDs. 

Among construction material or product suppliers and manufacturers, concrete and cement interests have stayed ahead of the curve in publishing individual plant or industry-wide EPD. A growing database rich in credible GWP metrics will help producers prevail in concrete bids or submittals to federal, state or local agencies laser focused on embodied carbon.

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