by Meghan Lewis
Senior Researcher, Carbon Leadership Forum
2021 was a busy year for embodied carbon policy, and 2022 looks to be filled with even more policy action at the federal, state, and local levels to reduce embodied carbon. Read below for a few highlights, and check out our Policy Toolkit where we will continue to add resources and track policies in our embodied carbon policy map.
At the federal level, the Build Back Better Act (currently waiting for a vote in the Senate) appropriates over $4 billion to fund:
- An environmental product declaration (EPD) grant program to support product manufacturers, which would remove the financial barrier to widespread creation of EPDs across the U.S.;
- A Federal Highway Administration program to identify low carbon materials for transportation projects based on data from EPDs, supporting the adoption of low carbon procurement by departments of transportation across the U.S.; and
- Federal pilot programs for procurement of low carbon materials on General Services Administration (GSA) projects and projects administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These represent a huge opportunity for reductions: the GSA alone builds over 20 million gross square feet annually (learn more about opportunities for the GSA here).
On December 8, Biden signed an executive order that directs the federal government to achieve net-zero emissions from federal procurement no later than 2050, including a Buy Clean policy to promote the use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions. Read more here.
At the regional level, leaders at COP26 in Glasgow announced the launch of a Low Carbon Construction Task Force as part of the Pacific Coast Collaborative between California, Oregon, Washington, the province of British Columbia and the cities of Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. As described in the press release, the Pacific Coast of North America represents the world’s fifth–largest economy, so this task force represents a huge opportunity for accelerating innovation, investment, and market development for low carbon materials.
At the state level, state legislators introduced bills aimed at decarbonizing construction materials through procurement in nine states in 2021 (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington). The results included:
- Passage of the Buy Clean Colorado Act signed into law in July 2021;
- Passage of a version of New York SB542 targeting low embodied carbon concrete;
- Funding for (1) a study led by University of Minnesota to their state legislature on the potential for a state procurement program and (2) funding for a Buy Clean Buy Fair Washington reporting database and pilot projects in Washington State.
In 2022, there will be continued policy action on several bills introduced in 2021 that will continue into the 2022 session, such as California SB 778 (adding concrete to Buy Clean CA). Many of the 8 other states that introduced policies in 2021 will also continue to push for legislation to decarbonize state procurement, including (at a minimum) Buy Clean policies in Oregon and Washington.
States have a large procurement footprint, so in addition to laying the foundation for federal policy action and increasing access to EPDs for use in the private sector, these bills can have a large impact due to the significant purchasing footprint of states. Read more on the potential impact of procurement policy here.