Decarbonization News

New draft criteria announced for EPA low-carbon construction materials in the USA

New draft criteria announced for EPA low-carbon construction materials in the USA

The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has introduced a new labeling program to identify climate friendly construction materials, as well as standardized definitions for low embodied carbon products.

In a move towards sustainable development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a new program to standardize the assessment of embodied carbon in construction materials. 

This initiative, part of the Inflation Reduction Act, introduces draft criteria for uniform Product Category Rules (PCRs) and the establishment of a label program for low embodied carbon construction materials. PCRs are a set of specific rules and guidelines that are established for a particular product category or group of products. They define how environmental impacts should be measured, what data should be collected, and how the information should be presented for that specific category of products.


The need for standard PCR requirements

Currently, the U.S. PCR market is very fragmented, with disparate PCR requirements across various product categories, each dictated by different providers. Due to this lack of uniformity, the process for evaluation and comparison of products’ environmental impacts have been complicated. In response to this issue, the EPA has proposed mandatory standard PCR requirements, initially targeting carbon-intensive construction materials such as concrete, asphalt, steel, and glass. These materials represent a substantial proportion of the construction industry's carbon footprint, making them a strategic start for intensifying decarbonization efforts.

Read more about Global EPD requirements by country.

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Towards a greener future: The EPA's dual-pronged strategy

This EPA program’s strategy encompasses two main components: 

By improving the quality and standardization of data in EPDs, the EPA aims to provide clear insights into the environmental impacts of construction materials. At the same time, the introduction of a certification label will make the identification and adoption of materials that meet stringent low embodied carbon criteria easier, in a bid to drive market transformation and move toward sustainable solutions.

This proposal is in alignment with the Federal Buy Clean Initiative, a U.S. policy aimed at reducing the environmental impact of federal construction projects. It promotes transparency and accountability through the use of environmental product declarations (EPDs) and sets standards for materials used in projects for the federal government, one of the largest purchasers of construction materials in the country. According to the draft, the new label program would define what constitutes a low embodied carbon material.


Engagement & implementation — incentives for U.S. manufacturers 

Critical to the success of these efforts is the active engagement of stakeholders across the spectrum, including manufacturers, federal agencies, and the public. The EPA has solicited input through public comments and webinars, ensuring that the development of PCR criteria and the label program is both inclusive and responsive to the diverse needs of the construction industry. Public comment will be open until April 4th, 2024.

In the coming months, the EPA plans to allocate $100 million in grants to support the development and verification of EPDs by businesses, as well as the adoption of low embodied carbon materials by states, Native American tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations. This financial backing is expected to catalyze the broader adoption of sustainable practices within the private sector.


Looking ahead — what’s next for the U.S. construction industry 

While this draft criteria currently focuses on concrete, asphalt, steel, and glass, its potential expansion to encompass a wider array of materials underscores the EPA's commitment to comprehensive environmental stewardship. The development of mandatory standard PCR requirements and the establishment of a certification label for low embodied carbon materials represent foundational steps towards the integration of sustainability in the construction industry.

Through collaboration and innovation, the EPA's low carbon construction materials initiative promises to pave the way for a greener, more sustainable future. 

How One Click LCA can help

One Click LCA's EPD Generator enables manufacturers to streamline EPD creation for multiple products with full verification control. Measure and reduce the embodied carbon of your construction products quickly and easily and be ready for the new EPA low-carbon construction materials label.


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