It's been a rough year for our industry. So when I hear good news, I quickly try to relay it. Imagine my chagrin when in mid-October I was given an insider's tip on something great, but asked to keep it quiet until the results were officially announced.
Brian McCarthy, president of the Portland Cement Association, was my source. In a confidential discussion, he provided me hope. “I've just reviewed a preliminary research report that could be a game changer for our industry,” said McCarthy in San Marcos, Texas.
On Dec. 9, researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Concrete Sustainability Hub confirmed what McCarthy told me. At the press conference, the MIT team provided the preliminary results on two ongoing studies—”Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Highway Pavements” and “Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Buildings.”
John Ochsendorf, co-director of the sustainability hub and associate professor for MIT's Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, explained that the studies are groundbreaking in three key ways. They are more comprehensive than previous studies, including careful energy models of different building types across the country. They examine LCA and Life-Cycle Economic Costing to show potential emissions and fund reduction. Also, they create a roadmap for future building and infrastructure improvements.
These studies provide the framework needed by the scientific community, industry leaders, and public policymakers to determine the environmental life-cycle costs of paving and building materials over the lifetime of projects.
In simple terms, concrete pavements and structures contribute to reducing society's carbon footprint more than previously thought. MIT's research incorporates the best available data (using life-cycle modeling) and incorporates all stages of “cradle-to-grave” analysis to substantiate these claims.
The MIT announcement is more than reassuring, it's vindicating. When McCarthy tipped me off about the upcoming reports, he admitted that the oversight committee had some concerns about inviting the independent MIT review. But I think he's pulling his punch, as our industry has had decades of sound LSA research indicating concrete is an important sustainable construction material.
What I find most satisfying about the announcement is the integrity surrounding the research. Anyone challenging the results isn't taking on the concrete or cement industry. They are challenging MIT's integrity, an institution with a reputation of actively defending its researchers.
There's great value in new research. Green construction is no longer a buzzword; it's the norm. The MIT research provides evidence that concrete pavements and structures can not be discounted in their value to sustainability solely based on the CO2 emissions of cement operations. Concrete roads will reduce the carbon footprint of our society thanks to fuel efficiencies greater than roads built with asphalt. Concrete structures can save reduce society's carbon footprint due to the energy savings they provide.
The timing for this research couldn't come at a better time. In November, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an initiative to reduce fuel usage by the trucking industry. Just imagine if the EPA would adopt concrete pavement as the key element to attaining their fuel-reduction goal?
And who's to thank for this good news? You are. When times were better, our industry invested in research. Much of the funding for the MIT project has come from the RMC Foundation and the Portland Cement Association. This is an investment that continues to pay great dividends.
To learn more about the new reports and other activities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Concrete Sustainability Hub, visit www.whataretherealcosts.org