By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
An update on the NPCA Sustainability Committee’s agenda and how it benefits the precast concrete industry.
In the past few years, superhero movies have dominated the big screen. The premise may differ, but every movie has the same basic plotline: A new threat emerges, and the hero finds a way to thwart it and protects the citizens from harm.
Instead of picturing the superheroes standing with hands on their hips and capes fluttering in the wind, imagine a lean, green fighting machine called the National Precast Concrete Association Sustainability Committee ready for action. Then a call for help! “Someone is asking for environmental information on a product!” Fear not, concerned member, the sustainability committee has you covered.
The sustainability committee is currently comprised of five dedicated members who have environmental product declarations ready for use on your next project. The committee is working to ensure your customers are aware of and educated about these EPDs and how to use them. In addition, they are writing a guidance document on the new LEED v4 program taking effect Oct. 31, 2016, and developing a sustainability webpage template that members can take and edit to fit their particular market. Also in the works is the creation of educational courses on sustainability and resiliency for members and specifiers to take live at NPCA events and via webinar. Finally, they are looking ahead at how to continually improve sustainability in the precast concrete industry. In other words, this committee is busy preparing for the inevitable: a construction industry that increasingly demands sustainably manufactured materials and transparency in how those materials were made.
Since 2008, sustainability committee members have served mostly as prognosticators in a mysterious domain. Is sustainability a passing phase? How will the industry adapt and how will it affect NPCA members? There was very little expertise and guidance, but there was a need. A relatively new program called LEED was gaining traction and some members were being asked to contribute. As a result, the committee created resources and an online calculator to determine LEED credits. Many members have since used these resources.
In order to better gauge trends in green construction, NPCA joined a group of other concrete related associations – the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative – to focus specifically on sustainability. NPCA has participated in this group for many years to anticipate how the concrete industry is conforming to the sustainability movement. Through time, one thing became evident: Specifiers wanted more information on the life cycle of materials. This led to the creation of a precast concrete life cycle assessment in 2010. This document, developed by NPCA, Precast/Prestressed Concrete Insitute and Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Insitute, contained information on environmental impacts due to material extraction through processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, maintenance, and disposal or recycling of precast concrete structures. The partnership with other associations proved valuable in the years to come. NPCA, PCI and CPCI have formed the North American Sustainable Plant Program and are creating exciting new resources for both specifiers and producers. This would not have happened without the foresight of the 2008 NPCA Board of Directors and the hard work of members.
What’s on the committee agenda?
The sustainability committee met recently during the International Concrete Sustainability Conference in Arlington, Va. Attending the conference was helpful for the committee because it enabled members to take a pulse of the sustainable construction industry and look into the future.
The committee is currently working to educate specifiers and members on the precast concrete EPDs. Webinars were presented earlier this year and NPCA will also be raising awareness at the upcoming Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Los Angeles. For more information on these EPDs, visit precast.org/epds.
The new LEED v4 system goes into effect on Oct. 31, 2016. It already has been in use, but this date marks the last day for using LEED v3. The new LEED program is vastly different. Precast can still contribute to obtaining credits, but through different means. To help members through this transition, the committee is currently creating a LEED v4 guidance document explaining how precast concrete products contribute to the new system.
Spreading the word about the sustainable and resilient properties of precast concrete has always been a challenge for the sustainability committee. They maintain a page on the NPCA website that expands on these points, but not every engineer or architect may visit it to get this information. Instead, they may seek the information from local precast manufacturers. However, this presents a problem. Many producer websites do not highlight sustainability. The committee’s solution it to create a sustainability web page template that can be copied, edited and attached to an existing member website. Member products are sustainable for many reasons, and these are worthy facts to brag about! Visit precast.org/sustainability for more information.
Since 2013, 44 entries have been submitted by 29 member companies for the NPCA Sustainability Awards. Fifteen of these entries have won in their respective category. The sustainability committee is responsible for managing this awards program, which means soliciting entries, finding judges and making adjustments to the program as needed. For the 2017 Sustainability Awards, the committee has made a few adjustments to the points in order to make them more applicable to the specific entry catagories. Entries for the 2017 Sustainability Awards are now being accepted (see the sidebar for more information).
Looking ahead, the committee continues to search for ways to help companies save money and resources by reducing waste, energy and water usage. Committee members are also working to create simple tools to help producers measure their impacts and progress and adjust processes.
Much has been done, but much more is to come. These five committee members are dedicated in advancing the precast concrete industry one company at a time. The sustainability committee urges you to advance your sustainability efforts by visiting precast.org/sustainability, opening a resource and doing your own research, or attending a live seminar or webinar. The committee and NPCA’s professional staff are ready to help you take that next step. Just call for help and the league of sustainability heroes will once again work to save your day!
For additional questions or comments, please contact Claude Goguen, director of sustainability and technical education, at [email protected] or at (317) 582-2328.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of sustainability and technical education.