By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
At times, the National Precast Concrete Association Sustainability Committee acts as a precast prognosticator to foresee how green construction will evolve and impact our industry. Most member resources the committee creates are developed for emerging or future needs.
For example, in 2010, all indications showed that the construction industry was moving steadily toward sustainability with an emphasis on transparency. In response, the Sustainability Committee partnered with the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute and the Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute to develop a life cycle assessment of precast concrete structures.
A few years later, the committee worked with the same partners to create three environmental product declarations (EPDs) for precast concrete. The EPDs enable architects, engineers, building owners and other specifiers to understand and document the environmental impacts of precast concrete products.
Requests for EPDs were sporadic, but committee members wanted precast producers and suppliers to be ready when the frequency of EPD requests increased. Requests have increased, and recent legislative action may generate another boost.
In January 2017, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Susan Eggman introduced the Buy Clean California Act (AB-262), which would require state agencies and universities to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions or products purchased with state funds.
This is a first-of-a-kind effort to address environmental impacts with public infrastructure projects.
“California has been a leader in fighting climate change and AB-262 will further demonstrate our resolve by requiring our state government to consider whether products were made in clean or dirty factories when making infrastructure purchases,” Bonta said in a statement posted on buycleancalifornia.org.
Companies bidding on state contracts would be required to report greenhouse gas emissions generated by the manufacturing and transportation of supplies. Officials would then factor that information
into their decision when selecting materials and suppliers.
The bill would require that by Jan. 1, 2019, the Department of General Services would establish and publish a maximum acceptable global warming potential for each category of eligible materials. That list of eligible materials does in fact include precast concrete. On or after that date, successful bidders would have to submit a current EPD developed in accordance with specified standards. As of press time, the bill was still under construction in the California legislature.
A sustainable history
Sustainability-based laws are nothing new for the state of California. A previous executive order issued by California Governor Jerry Brown stipulates that: “State agencies shall take climate change into account in their planning and investment decisions and employ full life-cycle cost accounting to evaluate and compare infrastructure investments and alternatives.”
In this instance, “full life-cycle accounting” refers to the consideration of impacts across the entire life of a product, including raw material acquisition, manufacturing, delivery, installation, use, demolition, and recycling or disposal. This process is also known as an LCA.
The LCA enables decision makers to choose construction materials based on the entire picture and avoid selecting products based on short-term impacts and performance.
An LCA helps the end user:
- Compile an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases
- Evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs and releases
- Interpret the results to help decision-makers make a more informed decision1
What this means for you
The language in proposed bill AB-262 states: “An awarding authority shall require the successful bidder for a contract described in subdivision (b) to submit a current, facility-specific Environmental Product Declaration, Type III, as defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard 14025, or similarly robust life cycle assessment methods that have uniform standards in data collection consistent with ISO standard 14025, industry acceptance and integrity for each eligible material proposed to be used.”
Think of an EPD like a food label. It enables a comparison of environmental impacts based on the same key indicators – just like comparing calories, carbs or sugar from one box of cereal to another. ISO 14025 defines an EPD as quantifiable environmental data used to compare products that fulfill the same function. EPDs are created based on a Product Category Rule and an LCA. NPCA needed actual plant data to create EPDs, and 20 members stepped up and provided that critical information. Those 20 companies are now listed within the actual EPDs.
The EPDs contain information on potential production impacts such as:
- Global warming
- Smog creation
- Ozone depletion
- Primary energy consumption
- Material resources consumption
- Waste generated
There are three main types of EPDs.
Type I EPDs are written in compliance with ISO 14024 and are called environmental labels. They are often referred to as eco-labels. They are product-specific, third-party verified and endorsed to indicate the product has met set predetermined requirements and is environmentally preferable within a specific product category.
Type II EPDs are self-declared environmental claims and fall under the guidance of ISO 14021. These do not require third-party verifications and are also product-specific.
Type III EPDs are sometimes called industry-wide EPDs and should comply with ISO 14025. These types of EPDs present quantified environmental information on the life cycle of a product to enable comparisons between products fulfilling the same function. This EPD is what bill AB-262 requires and NPCA has EPDs available for members for the following: underground precast concrete products, structural precast concrete products, and architectural and insulated precast wall panels. These can be found at precast.org/epds.
The EPDs were independently prepared by Athena Sustainable Materials Institute in accordance with ISO 14025. They were also independently verified in accordance with ISO 14025 by ASTM International and Industrial Ecology Consultants. The EPDs are valid until 2020. The NPCA Sustainability Committee will be looking for more data contributors for the next version of these EPDs. Having your name as a data contributor gives you an edge when using them, so please consider signing up. NPCA professional staff will walk you through the process and provide a spreadsheet that will indicate what metrics need to be recorded.
NPCA members are always invited to share their experiences with the committee. As we learn more about this evolving tendency, the Sustainability Committee will continue to gaze into the green crystal ball and develop tools to position NPCA members to continue supplying sustainable products for a sustainable market.
For any questions about this or any other sustainability-related topics, contact Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, 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.
1 Science Applications International Corporation, & Curran, M. A. (2006). Life-cycle assessment: principles and practice. Cincinnati, OH: National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Office of Research and Development, US Environmental Protection Agency.