Concrete producers serving the state of New York will soon be required to provide environmental product declarations (EPDs) for concrete mixes sent to agency projects valued over $1 million and using 50 or more yards of concrete or Department of Transportation (DOT) projects valued over $3 million and using 200 or more yards of concrete.
As per the recently established Buy Clean Concrete guidelines — effective from January 2025 — concrete producers will also be obligated to confirm that their mix materials stay under specified environmental impact limits.
|What is an EPD?An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is a report that quantifies the environmental impact — or carbon footprint — of a building product like concrete. EPDs have been described as the equivalent of a nutritional label on a food product but for environmental reporting on materials. |
EPDs were first created as a management tool used in LEED to ensure meaningful and transparent data on emissions was being used. EPDs are now widespread in construction — not just on LEED projects — as specifiers react to consumer demand and government requirements for sustainable building.
EPDs for concrete are created when an EPD service provider conducts a life cycle assessment of a concrete plant and materials to communicate verifiable and accurate environmental information. Architects, engineers, contractors, and property owners can then use EPDs to make informed decisions about the materials they select.
More: What Specifiers Should Know About EPDs
About Buy Clean Concrete
The Buy Clean Concrete guidelines were highly anticipated as they were signed into law in 2021 with the intention of accelerating the use and innovation of low carbon concrete in state projects.
In accordance with the new law, the New York Office of General Services in partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority oversaw the development of the guidelines.
They consulted with a group of industry stakeholders — including New York’s DOT, Department of Environmental Conservation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, plus licensed professional engineers, registered architects and construction interests — to gain insight on low embodied carbon concrete.
The project resulted in achievable initial carbon limits with phased reductions over time and will have some significant impacts on the wider concrete production industry in New York.
What the New Requirements Will Mean for New York Construction
Any New York State agency or DOT projects valued over $1 and $3 million respectively will require EPDs for any concrete used during construction. To put this into perspective, state projects like the Kew Garden Interchange in Queens, which concluded in 2022, will be the scale of undertakings that the Buy Clean Concrete guidelines target.
It's worth noting, however, that the guidelines grant exclusions for urgent assignments and those requiring high-strength or fast-setting concrete mixes, and do not apply to state authorities.
Kew Garden Interchange, New York State Department of Transportation
What This Means for Concrete Producers
Buy Clean Concrete guidelines demand innovation, adaptation, and a commitment to sustainable practices from every concrete producer serving the New York market. Producers will not only need to be transparent about their mix materials' environmental impact — they will also be challenged to ensure that their materials don’t exceed an environmental impact above set Global Warming Potential (GWP) thresholds.
To continue serving government projects in the state of New York, producers will have to create EPDs to prove the GWP impact of their mixes and adopt new mix designs and technologies to lower the carbon footprint of their concrete.
Creation of Product Specific EPDs
From January 2025, concrete producers will have to certify that their mixes achieve an environmental impact below New York State's set limits.
Doing this will require the creation of product-specific — or Type III — EPDs. They involve a complex life cycle assessment (LCA) of each unique concrete mix and look at many factors — including plant-related factors — that impact a product’s carbon footprint. They must also be verified by a third party like Athena, Climate Earth, or the NRMCA.
Production of Low Carbon Concrete
Concrete producers serving New York will also need to adopt new technologies and mix designs to remain competitive when bidding on projects covered by Buy Clean Concrete. After all, GWP is now effectively a bid criteria.
Concrete is made up of so many ingredients, so there are lots of ways to reduce the carbon impact of the individual components and processes. Most of the carbon reduction and carbon removal innovation effort is focused on three key areas: low-carbon fuels, low-carbon blended cement, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies like CarbonCure.
What Specifiers Can Do to Support Buy Clean Concrete
Specifiers play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between policy and practice. With the new mandates in place, it's crucial for specifiers to:
1. Require Type III EPDs as Standard
Requiring Type III EPDs on all concrete mixes and products will help specifiers to more accurately measure the embodied carbon content of construction materials on all projects — not just those covered by Buy Clean Concrete guidelines.
2. Permit/Prefer the Use of CO2 Mineralization
To lower the GWP of concrete, architects and engineers can specify the use of CO2 mineralization technologies like CarbonCure Ready Mix or CarbonCure Precast. Consider incorporating the following language into your master concrete specifications:
CO2 mineralized concrete is permitted (or preferred) where available, pending concrete performance criteria is met.
|What is CO2 Mineralization Technology?Embed this video: https://vimeo.com/716498146?embedded=true&source=vimeo_logo&owner=31712627|
3. Create embodied carbon goals
Specifiers can adopt the Buy Clean Concrete philosophy and place a GWP cap in their specifications by mandating that no bids above a certain GWP will be accepted. To determine a reasonable GWP cap for a specific project, use industry average EPDs and deduct 10% or 20% off the GWP to encourage the use of low carbon materials, technologies, and manufacturing processes.
|NOTE: GWP caps on concrete should be based on accurate information pertaining to the specific application and location. For example, it would be unfair to cap GWP based on a 3000 psi mix if the application will actually use a 6000 psi mix. Also, GWP data would vary widely from one region to another. Check the EC3 tool for comparables in your area.|
Buy Clean Concrete Will Expand Past New York
New York may be the first to launch specific Buy Clean guidelines for concrete, but many other states are hot on its heels thanks to the progress of broader Buy Clean requirements set by the federal government and adapted by many state governments.
Producers across the country should be considering Type III EPDs and low carbon innovations to give themselves a competitive edge.
To learn more about CarbonCure’s technologies for low carbon concrete, get in touch.