Sources: U.S. General Services Administration; National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Alexandria, Va.; CP staff
A new General Services Administration standard targeting low embodied concrete on federal projects will require contractors to provide environmental product declarations (EPD), where available, from ready mixed or precast suppliers. It compels procurement of concrete exhibiting production stage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at levels 20 percent below national averages for compressive strength classes. EPDs express the GHG metric as global warming potential, measured by kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per cubic meter.
Along with an asphalt mix companion, the low carbon concrete standard reflects marketplace perspectives GSA gleaned from producers, trade associations and local government agencies. “The feedback from industry is proof positive that combating climate change is also an opportunity to boost American innovation,” says GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan. “We were impressed by the industry’s overall ‘can-do’ response to our requests for information, and by the fact that over 44 percent of the manufacturers that responded were small businesses.”
GSA posted separate requests for concrete and asphalt information in February, garnering input from 130-plus industry respondents. Among concrete producers, 80 percent reported that they are already producing or supplying low embodied carbon material; 60 percent have developed mix- or product-specific EPDs; and, 55 percent note that low embodied carbon concrete costs are about the same as conventional mix equivalents. Among asphalt producers, more than 80 percent note the use of recycled asphalt pavement, 60 percent use mix technology to reduce environmental impact, and, more than 50 percent find environmentally preferable mixture costs about the same or less than conventional equivalents.
The standards affect GSA contracts requiring 10 or more cubic yards of concrete or asphalt. The first in the U.S. to apply beyond a local jurisdiction, they “will help strengthen American leadership in clean manufacturing, catalyze clean energy innovation, and combat climate change,” the agency notes. GSA pegs annual U.S. consumption of concrete and asphalt at 500-plus million tons and about 420 million tons, respectively, and views the materials’ prevalence as an opportunity to lighten the environmental footprint of its building and paving projects. Both standards will evolve as the agency and its partners build implementation experience.