Congress can ‘build back better’ with low carbon materials

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As Congress debates the FY22 budget reconciliation bill, the country is on the brink of a generational investment to renew U.S. infrastructure. Policymakers can ensure that we ‘build back better’ with cleaner concrete, cement and steel that support the next generation of schools, roads, bridges and office buildings in the United States. United.

Whether federal agencies are looking to build high-performance green buildings, rebuild a road or school after a natural disaster, initiate a sustainable building pilot, make a community more climate resilient, or renovate existing federal buildings , they should seek to do so using low carbon emissions. construction materials. Congress can help cover any small premium by funding the reconciliation bill.

A group of NGOs and businesses sent a letter this week highlighting the opportunity and calling on congressional leaders to provide at least $ 6 billion in funding for the federal purchase of low-carbon materials in the project. law. The letter also called for funding to help industrial manufacturers generate high-quality data on their intrinsic emissions and direct investment to re-equip existing factories and build first-class factories capable of producing steel, cement and steel. ‘other very low emission materials using processing technologies. .

Under the status quo, industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are set to exceed those of the transport and electricity sectors over the decade. At the same time, the materials produced by these industries are essential to modern life and have little or no viable substitutes. Retooling and innovation to deeply decarbonise products and processes inside US factories are therefore essential to our national climate goals. As the largest purchaser of concrete and other building materials for publicly funded construction projects, the federal government has a unique opportunity to create early markets for low-carbon alternatives and drive initiatives. transformative changes in the industrial sector.

Although building materials generally represent only a small fraction of the costs of a total construction project, they are often responsible for most of its GHG footprint. The good news is that the NRDC and our partners believe that with better information on the intrinsic carbon emissions of these products, GHG emissions savings of 10-30% are available at very low cost. The best news is that deep decarbonization (over 60%) is available at a modest price of around 5-12%.

If a buyer as large as the federal government demonstrates procurement power to commercialize these low-carbon materials on a large scale, it has the potential to translate into significant emissions savings. We estimate that if all the cement and steel the federal government buys for public construction were 30-50% cleaner, it could reduce emissions between 9.2 and 15.4 million metric tonnes of CO.2 equivalent (MMt CO2e) by 2030. This is equivalent to removing 2-3.34 million cars from the road or eliminating the energy consumption of 1.1 to 1.9 million households for one year.

The indirect benefits of market transformation would be even greater. Indeed, as more companies embrace cleaner manufacturing processes to compete for the large pool of federally-funded construction companies, those same manufacturers will be selling low-carbon materials to buyers in the world. private market alongside the public sector, dramatically increasing emissions savings.

In his provisions of the Build Back Better Act, the Energy and Trade (E&C) Committee called the purchase of low-carbon materials as a key measure to decarbonize federal buildings as part of a large Federal Fund for energy efficiency managed by the Department of Energy, alongside the integration of clean energy and others.

Elsewhere in its bill, the E&C committee also defined low-carbon materials in a way that federal agencies at all levels can use to move forward. This definition explicitly refers to Environmental product declarations or EPDs – a well-established tool that captures the total emissions incorporated in a final product, such as concrete or steel. Buy Clean programs like the one in California are based on EPDs, which the government can use to assess the average climate performance of the industries covered, or which an entrepreneur can use to assess the carbon embodied in a product or set of products. Wherever the federal government seeks to purchase low carbon materials, agencies should use this definition so that EPDs are the accepted measure for carbon incorporated in all related but separate programs.

Importantly, the E&C committee included $ 250 million in grants to fund the generation of EPD for companies participating in the federal procurement process. This financial and technical assistance will facilitate the implementation of EPDs by manufacturers and help generate essential data to improve visibility on the life cycle GHG emissions associated with a range of industrial products. It is essential that this funding remains in the bill when it passes through Congress and that the Senate make an equivalent investment. Funds between agencies that support the sourcing of low carbon materials should also be harmonized so that suppliers of low carbon materials can participate at all levels rather than facing a patchwork of different requirements. .

We have a unique opportunity to ensure that billions of short-term infrastructure investments – across the range of publicly funded projects – go hand in hand with programs to purchase building materials and industrial construction at low carbon emission. This will not only achieve significant emissions savings, but also support good jobs and American manufacturing.


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