Central Concrete Supply Co. Inc, a business unit of U.S. Concrete Inc., is known for environmental initiatives such as reducing the carbon footprint of its operations. Now, the San Jose, Calif.-based producer is leading the industry in what could be the next game changer for concrete: Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
EPDs are a means of quantifying the environmental performance of building materials, similar to food nutrition labels. They disclose environmental data such as carbon emissions, water use, and embodied energy. For specifiers, EPDs represent the first tangible measurement of concrete’s impact on the built environment—a potential advantage over other materials. “The concrete industry is in an enviable position: We can produce higher quality concrete that’s also better for the environment,” says Jeff Davis, vice president and general manager for Central Concrete.
For six years, the 35-year industry veteran has been measuring the impact of Central Concrete’s products and operations, and working to share his process with the industry. In 2009, he was a founding member of the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) a group of researchers, associations, designers, and manufacturers dedicated to bringing life cycle assessments to concrete design and construction, and devising standards for reporting carbon footprints of products and building systems.
The group has already addressed two major requirements for measuring concrete’s environmental impact: standardized data and a scalable reporting process. In 2012, CLF released Product Category Rules (PCR) for concrete, which provide a road map for developing EPDs. “The heavy lifting has been done by Kathrina Simonen (CLF director and assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington) and her students,” says Davis. “Now, producers have a way to present data and measure performance, and designers can trust the results.”
Producers begin by conducting product Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), including factors such as raw material extraction, production, distribution, end use and disposal, and energy use. To complete this step, Central Concrete hired Climate Earth Inc., a Berkeley, Calif., consultant specializing in environmental metrics, to analyze its operations and products.
Mike Donovan, director of quality assurance and research for Central Concrete, along with Climate Earth, quantified the data and applied it to all of the producer’s individual mix designs. With more than 25 years in the industry, Donovan leads Central Concrete’s Quality Assurance Lab and supports U.S. Concrete’s National Research Lab in San Jose.
He relied on industry averages and international data to develop the producer’s first round of EPD’s, but encourages suppliers to provide more specific data. He will continually revise the EPDs when new materials or processes result in a 10% variation, according to PCR protocol.
The NRMCA served as a program operator to oversee the process, and Athena Sustainable Materials Institute provided third-party verification of Central Concrete’s EPDs to meet ISO Standard 14025 requirements.
The next challenge—educating specifiers—falls to Ryan Henkensiefken, P.E., Central Concrete’s business development engineer. Formerly technical services manager of U.S. Concrete’s National Research Laboratory, he helped develop the producer’s low-carbon concrete mixes, and co-invented Aridus Rapid-Drying Concrete. But his love of the outdoors may be what qualifies him best for his new role.
Henkensiefken meets with specifiers, hosts seminars, and promotes EPDs through various committees. “LEED v4 is generating more interest in EPDs, but some firms hesitate to specify them until they become more widespread. Ultimately, it’s up to producers to drive the process,” says Henkensiefken.
To help producers respond to the inevitable demand, the CLF is ramping up educational efforts and creating more resources for producers. The NRMCA also plans to create an industry average EPD for concrete, for which producers will be asked to provide mix design data.
In October, Central Concrete became a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council-Northern California Chapter’s Building Health Initiative, focusing on elevating green building as a public health benefit and promoting transparency standards for building materials.
“We are at the table with major customers of the construction industry, trying to solve the same problems,” says Henkensiefken. “Producers can become part of the conversation if we make an effort to be there.”
Visit www.centralconcrete.com for more on the producer.
Five Steps to Creating an EPD
San Jose-based ready-mix producer, Central Concrete, is the first U.S. producer to create self-declared Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for all of its mix designs. To-date, 1479 individual mix designs have been third-party verified, and the rest are undergoing the verification process.
“Creating an EPD for your first mix is the toughest to do,” says Jeff Davis, vice president and general manager. “Once you develop a formula for the first one, it’s a matter of crunching numbers – you can easily do hundreds, or thousands more.”
Producers can follow five basic steps:
1 – Determine which concrete mixes to evaluate
2 – Conduct a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) – measure “cradle to gate” factors such as raw materials and distance of transportation to determine the product’s overall environmental impact
3 – Crunch the numbers – apply values to environmental variables for each mix
4 – Declare the results – EPDs can be self-declared or verified by a third party. Third-party verification should allow the EPDs to meet the requirements of more green building rating systems. EPDs created as a category of products or as an industry average contribute to a partial credit in LEED v4. Product-specific, third-party verified EPDs should contribute to a full credit.
5 – Release the EPDs to market – based on established Product Category Rules, all third-party verified EPDs must be made available to the public.