Policymakers have developed strategies to protect the climate while supporting sustainable industry as concern over greenhouse gas emissions has grown. The most effective policies are those that target large contributors to pollution.
Buy Clean is one of these policies. It aims to build a framework for evaluating and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with construction materials. Buy Clean policies could significantly reduce the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions if implemented.
What Is Buy Clean?
Buy Clean is a procurement policy that reduces the greenhouse gas emitted in the creation of construction materials. Current methods of tracking GHG emissions are flawed because they only take note of local emissions. However, many occur during design and transit, often in countries with little to no environmental regulations.
This gap creates a “carbon loophole” that makes current regulations powerless to protect the global environment. Many rules are localized, so companies may be outsourcing emissions even though they’re meeting local environmental requirements.
Buy Clean was created to close this loophole and reduce GHG emissions caused by the construction industry in the United States. As a procurement policy, Buy Clean is meant to govern which construction materials the government chooses for public projects.
In the 10 years between 2008 and 2018, 32% of carbon emissions associated with construction in the U.S. came from public projects. Although implementing Buy Clean policies at the government level won’t completely close the carbon loophole, it’s an easy way to reduce a significant portion of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the American construction industry.
How Buy Clean Could Reduce Emissions
China and the United States were responsible for 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. China’s industry runs primarily on coal, which is one of the worst fossil fuels for polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide.
Around 30% of U.S. building materials are imported from China. That means that even if the United States eliminated all carbon emissions associated with construction, the U.S. would still be adding to global GHG emissions by neglecting to consider outsourced emissions.
Buy Clean policies provide a better metric for gauging the total environmental impact of building materials, because they consider their creation and transportation. Similar to energy rebates, Buy Clean legislation would help to shift the construction industry toward more sustainable practices.
Part of the Buy Clean policy is required documentation of GHG emissions throughout a product’s supply chain. Environmental product declarations (EPDs) describe the impact of construction materials and would further incentivize better practices in the industry.
More information would also empower customers to make environmentally friendly choices.
How Effective Could Buy Clean Policy Be?
Over time, implementing Buy Clean policies for government and other purchases of construction products from the marketplace for building materials, and other sources could snowball and positively affect the entire industry.
However, redirecting government purchases alone would make a big difference – for example, the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will create around 200 million tons of CO2 if carried out without Buy Clean legislation.
In many cases, creating a more environmentally friendly product means higher production expenses. However, updating the production methods for construction materials like cement would only increase the overall cost by 2%, according to some estimates.
Other hidden costs may include completing paperwork, tracing and researching a product’s supply chain, and halting production while equipment is being updated. In some cases, construction companies may need to find a new supplier to reduce the GHGs released during the creation of their materials.
The environmental benefits of adopting Buy Clean policies for federal procurement of construction materials far outweigh the small investment it would take to get the directive rolling. Buy Clean legislation has already been implemented in California, but it has yet to be adopted by the federal government.
Cleaning up Construction Materials
Industry shifts are accomplished by making data available and allowing customers to invest in the companies whose policies they support the most. Buy Clean procurement legislation would lead to more information on how many GHGs are created in the construction industry.
This legislation would also direct significant funds toward companies actively working to reduce their impact on the climate. Given time, Buy Clean policies could affect multiple industries and create a new standard for reducing carbon emissions worldwide.