Researchers are making significant strides in reducing embedded carbon in concrete, but public policies have been slow to adopt this more sustainable option, according to Matthew P. Adams, an associate professor and co-director of the Materials and Structures Laboratory at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Knowledge and technical data about greener concrete must be more widely dispersed to government decision-makers and industry to foster increased adoption of sustainable concrete, Adams says. “Building codes at the local, state, and national level are slow to permit the use of new technologies in building materials, despite extensive strength and durability testing,” he says.
“Many public agencies and engineering companies are afraid to embrace new methods without strong proof of their long-term durability and performance in real-world applications,” Adams says. But, making “accessible, easily digestible information” about the performance of greener concrete options, how best to specify these materials, and what materials are locally available to policymakers does have an impact, he notes.
For example, officials in the Village of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., committed to promoting the use of low-carbon concrete materials in building and infrastructure projects. They backed up new policy with education and support to the construction industry about low-embodied carbon concrete. These efforts led to multiple local projects built with more environmentally friendly concrete including sidewalks and a new elementary school.
The town’s success led to other New York communities passing similar resolutions. The New York State Legislature subsequently passed the Low Embodied Carbon Concrete Leadership Act to advance the use of greener concrete statewide. Such public policy actions will be needed to take full advantage of the promise of more sustainable concrete materials devised in labs, Adams says.