2021 saw real momentum for the procurement of clean materials
This year, we’ve seen a wave of attention to public procurement and its role in growing early markets for low-carbon industrial building materials — products like concrete, cement, and steel. are manufactured to be high carbon intensity, but fundamental to modern life and our built environment and have little or no viable substitutes. The Biden administration, Congress, and major states are all taking steps to harness the purchasing power of government to help decarbonize these important industrial sectors.
Under the status quo, heavy industry is poised to become the largest source of GHG emissions in the United States over the decade. Modernizing American factories so that American manufacturers can produce the cleanest building materials on the market must be part of our climate agenda. A recent report from the IEA, Net zero by 2050, estimates that the global demand for clean energy and sustainable infrastructure materials will reach $ 5,000 billion per year by 2030. As industrial decarbonization is driven by the technologies that exist today, we can invest now to reduce emissions from our factories and help them reduce carbon emissions from industrial products on which the United States and the world will increasingly depend.
Recognizing both the challenge and the opportunity, President Biden signed a Executive Decree on federal sustainability which includes a federal Buy Clean program, as well as other exciting commitments, such as purchasing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030, moving to all zero-emission vehicle acquisitions for the federal fleet by 2035 and the commitment to net zero emissions in federal buildings by 2045. Under the executive order, a clean purchasing task force will identify and prioritize pollutants and materials, such as concrete and steel, to be covered by a clean purchasing policy, and will provide recommendations in three key areas: 1) how to collect critical data on life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the production of building materials to increase the transparency of intrinsic emissions; 2) grants, loans, technical assistance or other means to invest directly and to help domestic manufacturers to report and reduce their emissions; and 3) pilot programs that encourage the federal government to purchase building materials with low intrinsic emissions.
Further demonstrating its commitment to using its scale and purchasing power to help meet U.S. climate goals, the Biden administration is taking public comment on ways it can amend federal procurement regulations to minimize the risk of climate change, including best practices for measuring product lifecycle emissions and enabling procurement officials to incorporate climate impact as purchasing criterion alongside cost and technical merit when selecting winning bids for government contracts.
Congress and major states are also moving in this direction.
Getting high quality data is the first step in any clean procurement effort. The past house Rebuild Better Act included $ 250 million in grants to enable building material manufacturers to disclose the embodied carbon of their products through a good practice tool called an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), commonly used by the private and public sectors to inform sustainable construction efforts. It also includes approximately $ 6.5 billion in funding over ten years for low-carbon materials procurement pilot projects with the goal of increasing the penetration of cleaner materials in construction projects funded by the federal government. The programs would be hosted at agencies that are the primary buyers of these materials, including the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of the Department of Transportation.
Strong funding for procurement pilot projects, coupled with grants to improve data on carbon emissions embodied in widely used building materials like concrete and steel, could deliver big GHG savings, as we do. and our partners are discussing it here. It is essential that this funding remains in the bill when it passes through Congress and that the Senate make an equivalent investment.
In addition to action in Congress, substantial progress has also been made towards passing model government procurement laws to help decarbonize concrete in states like California, New York and New Jersey.
In California, the NRDC is sponsoring legislation to add concrete to California’s existing Buy Clean program; establish more stringent requirements on EPDs; requiring the state to use performance-based specifications in the supply of concrete to unlock innovation in the design of low-carbon concrete mixes; and add a performance bonus to encourage contractors to purchase ultra-low carbon concrete in state public works projects.
In New York, the Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Leadership Act (LECCLA) was passed by both houses of the state legislature in June 2021 and awaits the governor’s signature, paving the way for a strong procurement policy for the ‘Condition on low carbon concrete. But in the meantime, the National General Service Board has already put forward a draft specification for low-carbon concrete, with the goal of approving it by Earth Day in April this year. next. While this parallel development may anticipate the need to implement the LECCLA bill that was passed last June, it provides key policy that the new successor legislation – proposed and supported by the NRDC for the 2022 session – can directly supplement, incorporating updated elements of the original LECCLA bill which was withdrawn from the final version. These include, in particular, incentives directly linked to intrinsic GHG emissions; performance-based specification standards; and an expedited assessment of low carbon materials by the New York Department of Transportation.
And New Jersey is now on the verge of adopting its own version of LECCLA, which will require the state to create a low-carbon concrete specification and offer performance bonuses to concrete suppliers who deliver concrete with lower intrinsic emissions. Concrete suppliers who use revolutionary carbon utilization technologies to further reduce intrinsic emissions, such as the ones I have discussed here, will be eligible for an additional bonus.
Retooling and innovation to decarbonize products and processes inside US factories is key to our national climate goals. If the federal and large state governments exercise procurement power to bring more low-carbon concrete, steel, and other widely used materials to market on a large scale, this has the potential to grow. translate into significant emissions savings and develop the United States’ clean economy.
In the new year, we hope that this enthusiasm for smart procurement policies will continue, including more efforts by the state to replicate the model policies. The federal government also has a critical role to play in setting standards for EPDs to ensure that we produce accurate, verifiable and comparable data on the intrinsic emissions of widely used building materials. This will help ensure that suppliers of low-carbon materials can participate at all levels, rather than facing a patchwork of different requirements between states and federal agencies. It will also lay a solid foundation for a Buy Clean program that will ultimately harness the full purchasing power of the federal government.