In New York, a chance to create a model policy for green concrete
After water, concrete is the most widely used material on the planet and, in most cases, has no alternative. Last year, 30 billion tons of concrete were produced worldwide and the demand is increasing with increasing urbanization. Concrete is also responsible for a lot of climate pollution, largely because its typical binder, Portland cement, is very emissive. Portland cement makes up only 10-15% of the mass of concrete, but accounts for 80-90% of its emissions, mainly due to chemical reactions in the manufacturing process, not fuel combustion. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world, behind China and the United States, responsible for around 8% of global climate emissions.
The decarbonization of concrete and, by extension, cement, is a key opportunity for climate action. We cannot achieve our climate goals without policies to eliminate emissions from this sector. And we won’t be able to capture the low-carbon concrete and cement market if we don’t make sure American companies lead the way.
Fortunately, a bill just passed by the New York State legislature, a place synonymous with concrete jungle, sets the stage for doing both. New York, like many states and the federal government, is a major purchaser of concrete for government-funded construction of roads, bridges, buildings, and other projects. This makes public procurement a powerful lever to create early markets and a sustained demand for low carbon concrete.
Known as the Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Leadership Act (LECCLA), the bill directs the General Service Office (OGS) to establish guidelines for the procurement of low carbon concrete for projects in the State. Next, LECCLA requires the OGS to convene a group of expert stakeholders, including engineers, architects, representatives of the construction industry and state regulators, and, within a period of one year, designs a system that allows state agencies to start awarding contracts based not only on price, but also on climate performance. . More specifically, the group of experts is invited to examine the possibility of resorting to tenders to reduce the carbon intensity of concrete purchased by the State.
New York regulators now have a major opportunity to create a high-impact strategic plan for greening this most ubiquitous industrial building material. Done well, LECCLA will become a model that other states and the federal government can emulate. The NRDC believes that there are key policy elements they should adopt:
1. Establish a minimum standard of climate performance that changes over time
LECCLA should establish a minimum standard of climate performance that concrete companies seeking government business must meet and plan to increase this standard over time.
2. Design guidelines to stimulate innovation through a competitive bidding mechanism
LECCLA should encourage companies to go beyond minimum performance standards by giving an advantage to offerings with the lowest carbon concrete embedded. In such a system, companies would document the carbon intensity of their product voluntarily and through an established tool, known as an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). The bids with the lowest emissions score, as measured in the EPD, would get a discount (e.g. 5%), making them more cost competitive and more likely to win the deal of State. It is important to note that tenders would remain blind to all participants, so concrete producers would always have a vested interest in competing on costs as well.
Offering a discount rate for the greenest concrete would create a powerful incentive for companies to continuously innovate. Along with the minimum performance standard, this has the potential to generate a positive feedback loop where preferential purchasing incentives spur the adoption of new climate solutions, which ultimately become the basis for raising the performance standard.
3. Support the advanced technologies we need to eliminate industry emissions
In addition to the base discount rate, LECCLA is expected to apply an additional discount to offers that include carbon capture and use, carbon mineralization elements, or other technological advancements. Such a targeted innovation incentive is exciting because, as I have explained here, the climate opportunities associated with concrete are not just about reducing emissions in the short term. The combination of the unique properties of concrete and its wide use in the built environment means that concrete could one day be a global carbon sink. But seizing this opportunity now requires investing in low-carbon solutions for the sector.
Overall, a combined discount rate of this nature would not only encourage the immediate adoption (and combination) of existing, out-of-the-box solutions (e.g. energy efficiency; blends of cement that use less clinker; concrete mixes that replace some cements with alternatives like ground glass pozzolans), but longer-term investments to combat emissions from the Portland cement manufacturing process.
4. Make sure that concrete purchased for state-owned enterprises meets the highest structural standards.
Rather than requiring that concrete be produced using a certain process or with specific proportions of cement and other constituent materials, LECCLA should instead include performance-based specifications that require that concrete purchased for State projects achieve declared performance results – for example, standards related to its resilience. , durability and permeability. Tests for these key characteristics are well developed and widely used. By using them, we’ll make sure that when we switch to better, cheaper, and cleaner concrete, we never compromise on safety.
5. Include unprecedented clean air protections
Cement kilns emit a lot of hazardous air pollutants which are linked to a range of health problems. To ensure that reducing climate pollution does not come at the expense of dirtier air, LECCLA must include leading safeguards that prevent concrete companies from making “green” claims if they use cement. made by burning solid waste that emits pollutants that are harmful to human health or ecosystems. The best result is simply to burn less of anything. Fortunately, one of the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce the carbon embedded in concrete is to find alternatives to cement. Thus, a performance-based approach will lead to the use of less cement and therefore less burning of solid waste, or the like, in the kilns.
6. Support state producers to adopt EPDs and participate in the state contract market
LECCLA should offer an EPD tax credit to the state’s concrete and cement producers to help them cover the costs of EPD development and encourage the adoption of EPDs by industry. While EPDs are not perfect, greater use of EPDs in climate leadership states like NY is the surest way to accelerate learning from industry and government and improve performance. ‘tool. Even if every concrete producer in the state took this tax credit, the total impact on the state budget would be modest.
If OGS and the task force seize the opportunity created by this bill, it will send a clear signal that NY is striving to be a leader in decarbonizing an essential product that we all rely on. Not only will this help the state meet the goals of its ambitious Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, but it will boost the state’s economic development by attracting leading low-carbon tech companies that seek proximity to customers all over the place. along the local concrete supply chain. Otherwise, the legislature and governor should be prepared to be more proscriptive next year.
As the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Todd Kaminsky, summed up the desirability of Bloomberg, “It is very rare to have cement producers who only sell cement to one state. Once New York breaks the code for this, other states will want to. LECCLA can create powerful incentives to attract these investments to New York and ensure that local businesses are well positioned to capture the market for clean industrial products of the future.