According to Oregon’s Consumption Based Emissions Inventory
, concrete generated approximately 887,000 million metric tons of greenhouse gas in 2015—the equivalent emissions from 190,000 passenger vehicles on the road for a year. Cement, a primary component in concrete is a major contributor this this amount, and according to the EPA, the cement sector is the third largest industrial source of pollution, emitting more than 500,000 tons per year of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide.
Fortunately, there is great potential to lower the impacts of concrete by using low cement mixes. DEQ is working collaboratively with industry to address challenges and develop solutions.
Why focus on concrete?
- Large greenhouse gas emissions – According to Oregon’s Consumption Based Emissions Inventory, concrete comprises approximately 1 percent of our total emissions in 2015 − a significant amount for one material.
- Large reduction potential – there are cost effective materials and methods for lowering the impact of concrete. Concrete producers are knowledgeable of these methods and can achieve up to 40 percent carbon reductions on certain mix designs.
- High demand – concrete has few substitutes in modern infrastructure and buildings.
- Locally produced – greater opportunity to affect change.
- Engaged industry – active measurement and disclosure programs at the national and regional level.
What is DEQ doing?
DEQ aims to reduce the environmental impacts of concrete consumed in Oregon. To accomplish this goal, we’re working with concrete producers in a voluntary program to help them produce environmental product declarations (EPDs) for each of their concrete mixes. EPDs are third party verified product footprints that report on a variety of environmental impact categories. Producers may use EPDs as a consumer facing label to help distinguish their product from others, gain “points” in rating systems or scorecards, or use the EPD for targeting internal process improvements. Put simply, EPDs are like a nutrition label for products – they measure and disclose a selection of the environmental impacts that occur during material production.
EPDs facilitate the reduction of environmental impacts by allowing purchasers to make more informed decisions based on the disclosed impacts of a concrete mix. This voluntary program is made possible through a partnership with the Oregon Concrete and Aggregates Producer Association (OCAPA)
. Through this program, DEQ provides free access to a web-based EPD tool, limited technical assistance, and a monetary reimbursement incentive for concrete companies.
This pilot project demonstrates the use of low carbon concrete mixes in residential foundations and slabs.
Stacey Foreman, Sustainable Procurement Program Manager, Portland, Oregon
Jordan Palmeri, Environmental Scientist and Policy Advisor, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
This case study provides information on the City of Portland’s first round of low-carbon concrete pilot projects, featuring sidewalk ramps within the City’s Bureau of Transportation. The goal of the pilot project was to understand how the mixes perform, both in terms of technical requirements and workability. Overall, the low-carbon mixes met the City’s concrete performance specifications, were well received by the concrete finishers, were cost-neutral or less expensive, and performed well in in the post- project visual inspections – all while reducing the carbon footprint of an average sidewalk ramp by 23- 34%.