What the Government Doesn't Know Can Hurt You, and Other Reasons to File EPDs Now

For asphalt producers and road building contractors, now is a critical time to gather data and file Environmental Product Declarations as U.S. federal agencies will use them to set rules and guidance nationwide.

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According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the BlueGreen Alliance, last week a significant milestone transpired on the road to decarbonization for the United States and, importantly, the road construction industry. The GSA announced a six-month pilot of new requirements for the procurement of low-embodied carbon (LEC) materials as funded by the inflation Reduction Act.

Previously, the GSA received $2.15 billion to prioritize the purchase of LEC glass, asphalt, concrete, and steel, which collectively account for nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and represent 98% of the government’s purchased construction materials. These investments are helping GSA leverage its purchasing power to spur markets for products that have substantially lower levels of embodied greenhouse gas emissions associated with their raw materials, transportation, and manufacturing — all of which occurs before GSA purchases the products.

“Today, we are kicking off construction projects around the country that will put people to work on that vision, and create the demand for more climate solutions, like low-carbon steel, concrete and other materials, manufactured here and stamped Made in America," said National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi.

The six-month pilot was developed in coordination with the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other key departments and offices within the Biden administration and will go into effect immediately at eleven new GSA projects.

Why Filing EPDs Matters So Much

The federal government doesn't know the reality of what it takes to do what our industry does. They are relying heavily upon their partnerships with the private sector, as well as our large organizations like NAPA to share valuable data and insights about, not only what is required to achieve it's net-zero emission goals, but what is feasible. However, we know that what works for one part of the country, isn't always the same thing that works in other regions. The best way to combat future guidance from being skewed in one way or another is to start filing EPDs.

The goal is to have as accurate of data as possible. 

"Once adequate data is available in the market the GSA plans to establish GWP limits for individual manufacturing processes," according to the GSA website. "To promote innovation throughout the industry and lower emissions from all processes, the pilot also implements EPA’s Interim Determination, which establishes the definition of “substantially lower” greenhouse gas emissions based on EPDs."

As we've previously reported elsewhere on ForConstructionPros, the EPD acts as a label for your product, quantifying the emissions and other environmental impacts associated with making it. This means wherever that asphalt goes, it will carry that documentation with it, which is important in newly emerging procurement policies. At every level of government, from the federal all the way down to local policy stakeholders, customers will require contractors to provide these EPDs for the mixes that they deliver on a project.

“We applaud the GSA for their thoughtful leadership and for incorporating stakeholder feedback into this new, updated Buy Clean framework," said BlueGreen Alliance's Executive Director Jason Walsh in a statement. "Getting these policies right today will help to ensure a livable climate, cleaner air, and more manufacturing jobs for U.S. workers tomorrow. With this release, GSA and the Biden administration are taking decisive steps to help ensure that federal procurement—like all federal activities—serves to reduce GHG emissions, improve health and environmental outcomes in communities harmed by environmental injustice, and create good jobs for workers across the United States.

How To Get Started Filing Your EPDs

You might be wondering how to create your EPDs. Well, the easiest and most user friendly way to begin your EPD journey is by using NAPA's Emerald Eco Label online tool. We spoke to a handful of contractors who've already completed the process at least once, and the general consensus is that the process is not only helpful to the overall goals we've been talking about in this article, but that they also proved surprisingly useful for the contractors' own internal data purposes.

"Internal Benchmarking was the biggest motivator for our team," said Andrew Kowalski, Manager of Sustainability, Rogers Group Inc. (Nashville, TN). "We were trying to get an understanding of where each of our asphalt plants scores so that we can look for areas of improvement and implement them. Additionally, we want to be prepared for when upcoming regulations hit, and we are required to submit EPDs as part of the bidding process."

That "upcoming" time is now.