On-Site Magazine

Concrete faces increasing environmental demands

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March 1, 2013 by Canadian Ready Mixed Concrete Association

Materials supply companies are facing a new reality in obtaining access to markets and meeting the demands of the environmental consumer. Recent history has seen limitations on the construction of buildings and sites unless environmental assessments are conducted in order to measure the impact on the rehabilitation of a site or new construction. This assessment stage was viewed as an expensive requirement that may or may not have provided future protection from liability on the site. Today the paradigm shift focuses on material supply as part of the environmental impact of any project.

Certification programs such as LEED continue to raise awareness and the ready mixed concrete industry is taking a hard look at how to address this new reality. Concrete producers are seeing the impact of restrictions on aggregate pits, moratoriums on the construction of concrete plants, wash-out restrictions and many more related to the consumer’s demand for better environmental stewardship at the jobsite and for material compliance.

The Canadian Ready Mixed Concrete Association (CRMCA) is keeping an eye on activities in North America that will present a new reality in the marketplace for the sale and production of ready mixed concrete. Two new terms you will be seeing and hearing about in the near future, if you haven’t already, are Product Category Rules (PCR) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD).  A key component of both these elements is a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

In order to better understand where these two new elements are coming from, we need to look at the development process. The Carbon Leadership Forum is an industry-academic collaborative effort that was hosted by the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments. Their research is focused on developing the data, analysis and standards needed to accurately predict, report and reduce the carbon impact of building materials and products. The group has worked to incorporate LCA into industry’s best practices in order to quantify the environmental impact of the built environment.

In November 2012, they released the first PCR for concrete (http://www.carbonleadershipforum.org/). It essentially outlines the product standards for all concrete such as pre-cast, masonry and ready mix. Similar to many standards, it outlines the scope and limitations of the PCR as well as the boundaries for production, manufacture and supply of concrete in order to conduct the LCA on the product. Concrete boundaries are established from “cradle to gate,” as the end use of the product has a myriad of functions that may not be defined at the initial stages. A current PCR is valid for five years, at which time it will be reviewed and updated. The PCR provides definitions and explains the International and North American standards it complies with. It also defines what is not in the LCA boundaries for analysis. Another key component of the PCR is the definition of units to measure the LCA.

PCRs are very complicated, but the simple explanation is once a PCR is developed an EPD can be produced based on the relevant sections of the PCR. EPDs may vary somewhat with concrete mixes, depending on the materials used in the manufacture. An EPD is similar to a nutritional label used in food manufacturing, only it will outline such elements as global warming potential, water use or smog formation. The unit of measurement will be a cubic metre of concrete.

At this point, contractors may be saying this won’t impact me for quite a while, but the reality is that the next version of LEED 4.0 will be calling up EPDs next year. Another huge initiative is the Architecture 2030 Challenge For Products. This calls on architecture, planning and building industries worldwide to specify, design and manufacture products that meet specific carbon-reduction targets between now and the year 2030.

Clients are “driving the bus” on environmental impact and in order to stay competitive, the concrete industry needs to adapt. CRMCA, on behalf of the industry, will be a key stakeholder in ensuring its members stay profitable, maintain markets and
demonstrate their environmental responsibility to the rest of the industry, and the world.

Provided by the Canadian Ready-Mixed Concrete Association. Send comments to editor@on-sitemag.com

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