GSA Lightens the Environmental Footprint of its Building Materials
March 30, 2022
Market insights from industry inform first standards for low-carbon concrete and environmentally preferable asphalt used at GSA job sites
WASHINGTON – With considerable marketplace feedback gathered from small businesses and other industry partners, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has issued new standards for the concrete and asphalt used in nationwide GSA construction, modernization, and paving projects. These standards are the first in the U.S. to apply beyond a local jurisdiction. They will help strengthen American leadership in clean manufacturing, catalyze clean energy innovation, and combat climate change.
“GSA is excited to deploy these groundbreaking standards as part of this administration’s all-hands-on-deck effort to catalyze clean energy innovation and strengthen American leadership on clean manufacturing,” said GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan. “The feedback we received from industry is proof positive that combating climate change is also an opportunity to boost American innovation. We were impressed by the industry’s overall ‘can-do’ response to our requests for information, and by the fact that over 44% of the manufacturers that responded were small businesses.”
Concrete is the most widely used building material, with over 500 million tons produced in the U.S. each year. And over 90% of U.S. paved roads are asphalt-surfaced, with about 420 million tons of asphalt produced in the U.S. each year. These widespread materials present an opportunity to lighten the environmental footprint of GSA’s building and paving projects, including upcoming improvements to land ports of entry along the northern and southern borders of the U.S.
“Prioritizing government procurement with lower carbon and cleaner construction materials means helping American manufacturers and workers make products that are more globally competitive – and better for the planet,” said Sonal Larsen, GSA’s Senior Advisor on Climate. “It makes sense to work strategically with our partners early on because the emissions from constructing a new building can contribute more to climate change than three decades of operating it.”
The new low embodied carbon concrete standard requires GSA project contractors to provide environmental product declarations (EPD), where available. An EPD is a standard, third-party-verified summary of the primary environmental impacts – including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – from a product’s extraction, transportation, and manufacturing. GSA also now asks its contractors to provide concrete that meets specific numeric limits for the amount of GHG emissions, or “embodied carbon,” associated with its production. GSA’s standard reflects a 20% reduction from national concrete GHG limits.
The new asphalt standard requires EPDs and at least two environmentally preferable techniques or practices to be used during the material’s manufacture or installation. Input directly from the asphalt industry helped shape a menu of widely-available practices to improve this material’s environmental footprint. These options include bio-based or alternative binders, recycled content, and reduced mix temperatures. Both standards will evolve as GSA and its partners build implementation experience.
GSA worked with key federal agencies and a wide variety of trade associations, nonprofits, and local government agencies to develop these new standards. Surveying the state of the market was essential. GSA posted two requests for information, one each for concrete and asphalt, on SAM.gov to gain marketplace insights. Over 130 industry respondents provided valuable input for consideration, including:
- Over 80% of the concrete manufacturers reported already producing or supplying low embodied carbon material, over 60% said they have developed a product-specific EPD, and over 55% said that their low embodied carbon concrete costs about the same as conventional equivalents.
- Over 80% of the asphalt manufacturers say they use recycled asphalt pavement in their products, over 60% use warm mix technology to reduce asphalt’s environmental impact, and over 50% said environmentally preferable asphalt costs about the same -- or less -- than conventional equivalents.
GSA will now include these requirements seeking more sustainable alternatives, where available, in solicitations for land ports of entry modernization and construction investments, and other building and paving projects across the country. These standards apply to all GSA design and construction contracts that involve at least 10 cubic yards of concrete or asphalt material, including the agency’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law projects. GSA is also implementing a whole building life cycle assessment approach for its construction and major modernization projects.
GSA appreciates the support of U.S. manufacturers and the sustainable design community as the agency seeks to promote “buy clean” actions across its real property portfolio and to help grow the market for more sustainable products and services, including from small businesses across the nation.
About GSA: GSA provides centralized procurement for the federal government, managing a nationwide real estate portfolio of more than 370 million rentable square feet and overseeing approximately $75 billion in annual contracts. GSA’s mission is to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services across government, in support of the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities. For more information, visit GSA.gov and follow us at @USGSA.