GSA backs low embodied carbon material spec commitment

The General Services Administration has released a list of more than 150 federal building construction or upgrade projects across 39 states and District of Columbia where low embodied carbon (LEC) material specifications will be supported by $2 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funding. Contract language will favor LEC material use, net estimated deliveries totaling: 

  • Concrete $767 million 
  • Glass $464 million
  • Steel $388 million
  • Asphalt $384 million 

The funding advances the Buy Clean Initiative, under which the federal government prioritizes purchase of asphalt, concrete, glass and steel that have lower than normal levels of greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production, use and disposal. Coupled with projected life cycle energy savings, the LEC specification will equate to a greenhouse gas emissions reduction exceeding 41,000 metric tons. 

GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan announced the funding commitments in Topeka, Kan., where the agency has budgeted upward of $25 million for LEC materials upgrading the Frank Carlson Federal Building and Courthouse. “By incorporating clean construction materials in more than 150 projects,” she observed, “we’re helping create good-paying jobs in the clean manufacturing industries of the future and sending a clear signal that the homegrown market for these sustainable products is here to stay.”

“[This] shows the federal government leading by example on tackling the climate crisis by spurring demand for low-carbon manufacturing,” added White House Senior Advisor John Podesta. “This is exactly what [our] Investing in America agenda is all about—boosting American innovation, building a clean energy economy, and creating good-paying jobs all across the country.”

The Inflation Reduction Act provides $3.375 billion for GSA to invest in federal buildings to help reduce carbon emissions and catalyze innovation, primarily by acquiring and installing LEC materials for construction projects.

The Carlson Building contract will see low embodied carbon concrete replacing existing pedestrian and vehicular pavements, while new windows and doors of blast resistant aluminum frames and insulated glass reduce the facility’s energy consumption. 

The Portland Cement Association is seeking White House withdrawal of a proposed change to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) as it would require member producers to “endure regulatory overkill and unnecessary, mounting expenses.” The measure would lower the primary (health-based) annual fine PM standard from the current level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) to a 9-10 µg/m3 range. 

A PCA study predicts that lowering the standard to the newly proposed limit could require $125 million to $216 million in capital expenditures and spur up to $70 million a year in additional operating costs for cement producers. Instead, the association encourages the Environmental Protection Agency to scrutinize the greatest cause of PM emissions: unmanaged wildfires. Overall, wildfires account for more than 30 percent of primary PM emissions against the U.S. cement industry’s 0.1 percent contribution. A single event could negate the efforts of the industry to meet the revised NAAQS standard. Moreover, PCA notes, the industry’s PM emissions have dropped 37 percent during the last two decades, thanks to the efforts of producers and federal agency officials, and will continue on their downward trend.