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How the Buy Clean initiative impacts American concrete manufacturers

How the Buy Clean initiative impacts American concrete manufacturers

Chicago Illinois, image by Pexels

The Buy Clean initiative spurs 14,000 new concrete EPDs in the US.

American manufacturers closer to low-carbon construction materials — concrete paves the way

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) deemed its pilot low-embodied carbon (LEC) program a success. One year after its launch, data published by the GSA highlight the positive results of the Buy Clean initiative for American manufacturers. Concrete manufacturers in particular, published over 14,000 additional EPDs for concrete.

“American manufacturers are ready to meet the need for more sustainable building materials and help achieve the triple win: good jobs, solid value for taxpayers, and healthier communities,” according to the Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Robin Carnahan.
 

The GSA finds the Buy Clean initiative effective

Since the launch of the GSA’s low-embodied carbon (LEC) program in 2023, American manufacturers have published approximately 17,000 new environmental product declarations (EPDs) across four material categories (concrete, asphalt, steel, and glass). This marks a significant increase indicating that the industry is actively responding to market demand for materials with lower emissions. Notably, over the past year, there has been a significant growth in North American EPDs, including over 14,000 additional EPDs for concrete, representing a 15% increase, and 2,700 new asphalt EPDs, which have quadrupled in number from a year ago.

The GSA's report confirms the effectiveness of the Buy Clean project in promoting sustainable practices among American manufacturers. The initiative, part of the broader efforts to enhance sustainability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), set new guidelines for the carbon footprint of construction materials. For US concrete manufacturers, adapting to these guidelines is essential for compliance and maintaining a competitive edge.

These findings showcase how the Buy Clean Initiative is catalyzing market demand for LEC (low embodied carbon) materials and succeeds in boosting American innovation, creating good-paying jobs, and addressing the climate crisis.

Why concrete manufacturers?

Concrete, the most consumed man-made material in the world, is responsible for 8% of total global carbon emissions. By 2060, the global building floor area is expected to double, signaling rapid growth in construction efforts and increased concrete use. With the environmental impact of concrete production being a critical issue, concrete became one of the main pillars of GSA's Low Embodied Carbon (LCE) project. Followed by asphalt, glass, and steel.

Read more about How EPDs benefit concrete manufacturers.

Why is concrete carbon-intensive?

Concrete is composed of cement, water, sand, aggregates, and sometimes chemical admixtures for increased workability. The production of cement, particularly its main constituent clinker, is the primary source of concrete’s high carbon emissions. Clinker is produced by heating crushed limestone, clay, and other materials to temperatures as high as 1400 degrees Celsius. This process, known as calcination, decomposes limestone (CaCO3) into lime (CaO) and releases carbon dioxide (CO2).

The energy required to reach such high temperatures typically comes from fossil fuels, further contributing to the carbon intensity of cement production. Additionally, concrete is often used in monolithic structures that are difficult to reuse, leading to significant amounts of waste and additional carbon emissions when new concrete is needed for future buildings.

How the Buy Clean benefits American concrete manufacturers

The GSA report highlights several key benefits for American manufacturers resulting from the Buy Clean initiative:

  • Reduced carbon emissions: By adhering to the guidelines, manufacturers have successfully reduced the carbon footprint of their concrete products. This is primarily achieved through the use of alternative binders such as Fly Ash, Ground Granulated Blast Furnace Slag (GGBS), and calcined clays, which replace traditional clinker.
  • Cost savings: Reducing clinker content not only lowers carbon emissions but also decreases production costs. 
  • Increased competitiveness: Manufacturers adopting low-carbon practices position themselves as leaders in sustainability. 
  • Regulatory compliance: Proactively adapting to the NYS Buy Clean guidelines ensures manufacturers remain compliant with current and future regulations, avoiding potential penalties and ensuring long-term viability.

Why does concrete need EPDs

Concrete EPDs provide environmental data that showcase the levels of embodied greenhouse gas emissions.

Practical steps for American concrete manufacturers

To capitalize on the positive outcomes highlighted by the GSA report, American concrete manufacturers can take several practical steps:

  1. Minimize concrete quantity by design: Optimize structural grids and use material-efficient solutions like hollow core slabs. This approach reduces the amount of concrete needed while maintaining building adaptability.
  2. Reduce clinker use: Substitute traditional clinker with alternative binders such as Fly Ash, GGBS, and calcined clays. This reduces both carbon emissions and material costs.
  3. Engage stakeholders: Get buy-in from developers and investors to implement low-carbon concrete solutions. 
  4. Align construction schedules: Plan construction schedules to accommodate longer curing times for alternative binders, ensuring they reach the necessary strength levels.
  5. Set low-carbon specifications: Establish low-carbon concrete specifications as a purchasing requirement and ask suppliers to provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to verify their claims.
  6. Consider transportation impacts: Factor in transportation-related Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), emissions when selecting suppliers and materials.

 

Buy Clean Initiative success stories from New York City & California

The GSA report includes several case studies demonstrating the success of the NYS Buy Clean initiative. For instance, a major infrastructure project in New York City reduced its embodied carbon by 30% through optimized design and the use of low-carbon concrete. Another project in California achieved significant cost savings by substituting 40% of its clinker with alternative binders, without compromising the quality or durability of the concrete.

Read more about Buy Clean concrete guidelines for New York buildings.

Read more about California’s embodied carbon limits.


Background on GSA's low embodied carbon program

A year ago, GSA announced a pilot for 11 projects to procure and install low-emission construction (LEC) materials — concrete, asphalt, glass, and steel — that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2023, GSA committed $2 billion for over 150 projects to use these cleaner materials nationwide. Additionally, GSA engaged with the industry through 16 events, including six industry days, to promote federal Buy Clean requirements and support the growth of LEC materials in the construction market.

In March 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration launched the Federal-State Buy Clean Partnership with 12 states, later adding Minnesota. These states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington — committed to prioritizing lower-carbon materials in state-funded projects and collaborating with the Federal government. The U.S. Climate Alliance also announced support for these states with policy, technical, and analytical assistance to advance their Buy Clean initiatives.

What is next for American concrete manufacturers?

The GSA's findings confirm the positive impact of the Buy Clean initiative on American manufacturers. By reducing carbon emissions, lowering costs, and enhancing competitiveness, the initiative provides a clear pathway for the concrete industry to achieve sustainability goals. As the construction sector faces increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint, manufacturers must adapt to these new guidelines and innovate to produce low-carbon concrete. Embracing these changes not only ensures compliance but also opens up new business opportunities, contributing to a more sustainable built environment.

How can the Concrete EPD Generator help concrete manufacturers

With One Click LCA’s EPD Generator for concrete, manufacturers can create environmental product declarations (EPDs) that align with regulatory requirements in the US. Get in touch with our EPD experts to learn more about creating concrete EPDs for your product

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