Increasing demand for low carbon concrete, transparency, and digitization are driving a radical transformation in how EPDs are developed and used.
Industry demand for low carbon concrete and the critical need to measure reduced carbon metrics are driving radical change in the concrete industry, which increases monthly with new legislation, investor and commercial demand influencing construction materials production and specifications. Here we explore the history of Environmental Product Declarations and how they have evolved in response to this change to become a critical part of every concrete producer’s business for large, small, and everyday construction projects.
EPD 1.0: Focused on quality measurement, not cost or ease of use. The very first EPD was developed in 1998, nearly 26 years ago, and measured the efficiency and environmental sustainability of a hydroelectric plant in Norway. The EPD was a breakthrough. The new ISO standards behind the declaration focused on quality and consistency of measurement backed by third party verification. EPDs became a global standard because of the focus on quality but this came at a cost. Developing the life cycle assessment (LCA) report, creating the EPD and obtaining third party verification took months of costly consulting talent.
In the following 15 years, EPDs slowly gained momentum, especially in Europe, and solidified their role as a global standard for environmental impact measurement.
EPD 2.0: A breakthrough in cost and ease of use. In 2013, there was a second breakthrough in EPDs led by the U.S. concrete industry. In the prior year, Jeff Davis, then Vice President and General Manager of Central Concrete Supply in San Jose, Calif., and part of U.S. Concrete, heard that EPDs were going to be introduced into the United States. His largest customers included Apple, Google, Facebook, and the City of San Francisco. All were launching major projects and wanted green, reduced carbon construction materials and methods.
In response, Davis contacted Climate Earth, aiming for Central Concrete to be the first producer in the industry to offer EPDs and have the documents available for every mix on every bid. From that conversation, the first Product Category Rule (PCR) for Concrete was developed at the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), headed by Kate Simonen and with the participation of myself and others, including National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Executive Vice President, Structures and Sustainability Lionel Lemay. A CLF committee produced the first PCR for Concrete, providing a roadmap for how to create a material-specific EPD.
In parallel, Climate Earth developed software to create EPDs for any mix, anytime, on demand. In April 2013, EPD 2.0 was born when the first ever EPD generator was launched. This generator, delivered to Central Concrete, enabled them to produce an EPD for any mix on demand for any job.
EPD 2.0 maintained the quality results of EPD 1.0 at a much reduced cost and offered an easy to use, business friendly online tool. New EPDs could be delivered in minutes, not months, by a quality control engineer with no LCA background or experience. This radical process change made EPDs available and cost effective and enabled Central Concrete to become known nationally as the leading innovative provider of reduced carbon concrete.
EPD 2.0 placed concrete in a leadership role over other core materials. Producers could immediately utilize known technologies or practice, led by supplementary cementitious materials, to create high performing, low carbon mix designs, and submit EPDs for every mix on a project’s concrete schedule. Other core materials (steel and wood) still do not have the capability to generate EPDs for every product or reduce carbon significantly while concrete maintains a leadership role among structural materials in rapidly reducing carbon.
EPD 3.0: The third wave, prioritizing analysis, and digital connections. Today, the world has shifted once again. EPDs are no longer a nice-to-have for a LEED job, but a growing purchase requirement for large projects around the nation and the world. The mandates for EPDs are driven by federal, state and local government agencies, project owners, investors, architects, engineers, and major producers committing to net zero carbon by 2050.
The U.S. Government’s Inflation Reduction Act invests:
- $5 Billion in grants to support efforts to develop and implement strong, local greenhouse gas reduction strategies;
- $3.4 billion for General Services Administration projects with low-embodied carbon standards which are already set for concrete; and,
- $350 million for grants, technical assistance and tools to help manufacturers, producers, suppliers and others measure, report and substantially lower the levels of embodied carbon of construction materials including steel, concrete, asphalt and glass.
In addition to the federal government, many cities and 35 states are now, or are in the process of, developing low carbon standards for concrete. The implications of these changes are clear. Low carbon, measured by EPDs, has become a hard purchase metric and a business imperative for any concrete producer that wishes to participate in major projects around the country.
So what are the implications for EPDs in this market with continually increasing demand for low carbon concrete? As carbon increasingly becomes a purchase metric, generating an EPD is necessary, but no longer enough. The low carbon market mandates a new EPD 3.0 process:
- Utilize analytics to filter, screen, edit and optimize carbon while meeting all constructability requirements;
- Generate the EPD from the optimal mix design; and,
- Publish the EPD digitally for downstream analysis and reuse in systems.
EPD 3.0 shifts the focus away from simply generating an EPD to the analysis of mix designs and the digital distribution of the EPD. In summary, the fundamental concept of EPD 3.0 makes the EPD itself secondary. Having embedded, easy to use analytics to ensure that a producer can select the right mix for the specific job that meets all constructability requirements, at the lowest possible embodied carbon, at the lowest possible cost becomes the priority. Using effective analytics prior to producing the EPD are as important or more important than the EPD itself. Additionally, in today’s increasingly digital world, it’s critical that the EPD can be delivered and shared with any system, anytime for evaluation, consolidation and reporting.
Chris Erickson is CEO of Climate Earth, a company he founded in 2008 for the purpose of automating LCA to make it business friendly, and a cost effective means to measure and manage environmental impacts in a sustainable economy. Climate Earth EPD generator systems for ready mix, masonry, and cement currently operate at over 1,000 plants in North America, Europe, and Asia. Chris can be reached at [email protected].