The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is looking to further decarbonize the U.S. economy with a new aim of reducing carbon emissions from building materials like concrete and asphalt. The GSA released two requests for information (RFIs) to gather industry insights on the national availability of concrete and asphalt materials with low embodied carbon, environmental product declarations, and superior environmental attributes. The GSA will also participate in a Buy Clean Task Force established by the White House to harness the feds’ purchasing power to support low-carbon materials.
Embodied carbon refers to emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout a building or infrastructure’s whole lifecycle. It includes carbon emissions created during the manufacturing of building materials, transporting them to job sites, and the construction practices used. Concrete is one of the world’s most pervasive building materials because it’s durable, cheap, and easy to work with. But concrete also has the hidden cost of high embodied carbon emissions. The cement industry accounts for around 7 percent of global carbon emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Cement production is the most significant contributor to embodied carbon in the global built environment, so GSA’s shift to finding better environmental alternatives is good news. “Building materials are a major contributor to global emissions, and we’re excited to hear from industry about innovative products and approaches that can reduce carbon pollution while strengthening our homegrown manufacturing base,” said Sonal Larsen, GSA’s senior advisor on climate.
Finding cement alternatives will be essential to lowering the carbon footprint of concrete. Cement, the ‘glue’ that holds concrete together, accounts for only 7 to 15 percent of concrete’s volume but about 95 percent of its emissions. GSA will likely look into Supplementary Cementing Materials, products that replace a portion of cement content, such as slag and fly ash. GSA’s purchasing power has a massive impact on the U.S. market, so real estate owners should expect to see more low-carbon alternatives to concrete and asphalt soon.