The ABCs of Green: Three Terms That Can Help You Find New Opportunities and Add Value
It’s official: the low-carbon movement is here to stay and concrete has been making its way into conversations in and outside of the industry. While concrete is strong, durable and resilient, the pressure to reduce CO2 in the mix is on and the entire industry must work together to make it happen.
If you’re a contractor, you may be unsure of how conversations around lowering concrete’s carbon footprint impacts you. As the call to reduce CO2 in the industry grows, general contractors and engineers are looking for new tools and products that are available. This means you have an opportunity to advise and add value in sales conversations. You just have to know which clues to look for, and which tools and products are available in your area.
As owners and those who plan and design projects hone in on how they can offer solutions to meet the climate challenges of tomorrow, contractors should be on the lookout for new terms and acronyms that can signal new opportunities hitting the market. Here are just a few that you should be aware of as the need for green building materials grows.
1. Embodied Carbon
What it is: Embodied carbon is carbon that’s present in all projects before the lights are turned on. The manufacturing of concrete, from mining aggregates, to producing cement, to hauling produces embodied carbon. Those who plan and design buildings will show preference toward manufacturers who look at their overall production processes and work to reduce CO2 in their products.
Why it’s on the radar: For the past decade, architects and engineers have focused on ways to reduce energy of the project after the lights are turned on. They’ve optimized lighting controls and heating, and they’ve been successful in getting owners to buy in to reducing what’s known as operational carbon.
Now, architects and engineers are turning their attention to a larger challenge: embodied carbon. The demand for knowing how every component of building materials are produced and transported is becoming more important as this movement grows, and it’s important to be proactive about embodied carbon.
What it is: GWP stands for Global Warming Potential, and was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to allow comparisons of the global warming impacts of different gases. GWP in concrete examines how much CO2 goes into the atmosphere for every yard of concrete that’s produced. Owners, architects and engineers may compare the GWP of building materials, and make selections based on this calculation.
Why it’s on the radar: Owners, architects and engineers are using GWP as a way to measure the goal of reducing CO2, and this term is making its way into high-level conversations and specifications. The goal over time is to reduce the GWP of any given construction project to zero. While the industry still has a way to go before they can easily reach this goal, they’re looking to specify a variety of products that can get them as close as possible.
What it is: An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products in a credible way. Think of it as a nutrition label for concrete that summarizes its environmental footprint.
Why it’s on the radar: EPDs help guide decisions around building plans. For example, an architect seeking to lower the carbon footprint on a project can use EPDs to choose the best products that offer the lowest possible Global Warming Potential. While many EPDs for concrete are general and use industry averages, some ready-mix producers and cement manufacturers are producing plant-specific EPDs to provide even more specificity and transparency.
Now that you know the vocabulary, what’s next?
Now that you’re familiar with some of the language, talk to your general contractors about what they’re seeing in the market and ask how you can help. Stay updated on whether products like recycled aggregates or ECOPact low-carbon concrete are available in your market. You can also check out resources like Architecture 2030, the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub and SE2050 to keep updated on new research, legislation and milestones in the low-carbon movement.