Global Efficiency Intelligence Report (September 2021)

The United States spends billions of dollars each year on government procurement. In 2018, the United States spent $110 billion in federal non-defense investments in physical capital that among other things, result in the development of infrastructure like highways, bridges, etc. which support the overall long-term growth of the U.S. economy. President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan aims to invest around $2.3 trillion this decade with $1.3 trillion going toward infrastructure spending. That means a substantial amount of construction materials including cement and steel will be used in government-funded projects.

Many governments around the world have already recognized the value of green public procurement (GPP) – otherwise often referred to in the U.S. as Buy Clean – as a policy instrument and are trying to leverage the money they invest in large contracts to achieve decarbonization goals.
In this study, Hasenbeigi, Shi, and Khutal estimated the CO2 emissions associated with cement and steel used in public construction projects and the potential impact of Buy Clean to reduce those emissions:

  • Approximately half of the annual CO2 emissions associated with cement consumption is associated with public construction which was around 36 Mt CO2 in 2018. Of this, around 25% is associated with government-funded projects using federal funds and the remaining is related to public projects using states and local governments-own funds.
  • Around 18% of the annual CO2 emissions associated with steel consumption is associated with public construction which was around 21 Mt CO2 in 2018. Of this, about 27% is associated with government-funded projects using federal funds and the remaining is related to public projects using states and local governments-own funds.

For the United States to meet its climate change mitigation commitment and stay in course to meet its Paris Agreement goals, it is crucial to address the carbon emissions embodied in public construction, especially for carbon-intensive materials such as cement and steel. While state-level Buy Clean policies are great to get started in the U.S., a federal Buy Clean policy is needed to have a larger impact especially in view of proposed infrastructure spending.

Despite the existence of several barriers to federal Buy Clean, policymakers can take advantage of international best practices to set up federal Buy Clean for construction materials, especially cement and steel. In this study, we looked at several international best practices on Buy Clean in other countries and made recommendations for the U.S. federal Buy Clean policy.

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