US proposes first carbon standard for concrete to cut building sector emissions


The United States General Services Administration (GSA) proposed new limits on high-carbon-emitting building materials for all of its major projects. The decision is expected to have a significant impact on billions of dollars in federal infrastructure investment.

GSA, the federal government’s procurement arm, manages US$75 billion in annual contracts and has a real estate portfolio of approximately 370 million square feet.

The agency issued the new requirement on Wednesday, forcing federal contractors to utilize environmentally friendly concrete and asphalt in all the agency's major projects.

The industrial sector contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Concrete, steel, and aluminum are responsible for 23% of global emissions. Furthermore, asphalt, which both retains and emits heat, exacerbates rising temperatures, especially in urban areas.

Due to the usage of cement, which bonds and strengthens the popular building material, concrete has a large carbon footprint. A tonne or more of carbon dioxide is generated for every tonne of cement produced, accounting for at least 8% of global emissions. The United States manufactures over 500 million tonnes of concrete per year.

To combat such climate pollution, GSA will require all potential contractors to provide environmental product declarations that detail the greenhouse gas emissions connected with their building materials. The carbon emitted during the extraction, shipping, and production of a product will be taken into account.

As for asphalt, GSA will now demand that contractors use at least two of the six environmentally preferred options the agency recommends when it comes to manufacturing and installing asphalt, such as bio-based binders and recycled materials, or employing a coating, which allows sunlight to reflect off the asphalt rather than absorb it.

Asphalt absorbs and emits heat, and it covers more than 40% of American cities. According to a recent study published in Science Advances, when asphalt is exposed to solar radiation, it can emit up to 300% higher pollutants. Each year, the United States manufactures 420 million tonnes of asphalt, which is used to cover over 90% of the country's road.

GSA solicited two requests to get feedback from industry stakeholders while developing the standards. According to the agency, the majority of concrete makers indicated they were already developing or delivering low-carbon materials, and a little more than half stated new materials were roughly the same price as traditional concrete.

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