The Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality: How the U.S. Construction Industry Can Build More Sustainability

The U.S. is predicted to add 121 billion square feet of buildings by 2050, the equivalent of constructing New York City every year for the next 20 years. As cities and communities continue to grow and face more frequent natural disasters, there is an urgent need for efficient, durable and eco-friendly building and structural design in the decades to come. Concrete, the most widely used material in the world, is uniquely positioned to meet these infrastructure demands and sustainability requirements due to its durable and resilient properties, requiring minimal maintenance and repairs over its lifetime. The construction industry, as a whole, has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set a global example on building sustainably, advocating for updated technology and utilizing new approaches on existing structures through the use of concrete made with cement.

The Portland Cement Association (PCA), which represents America’s cement manufacturers, is leading the industry-wide ambition with its recent Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality that encompasses the critical solutions and opportunities to reduce CO2 significantly by 2050. This Roadmap is the biggest step to date in preparing the built environment to address climate change, eliminate barriers that restrict environmental progress and achieve carbon neutrality.

The PCA Roadmap outlines a portfolio of reduction strategies and immediate opportunities across the various phases of the built environment: production at the cement plant, each phase of construction from design through end-of-life recycling and recognizing the tremendous energy and carbon impacts once a structure is completed and placed into service. Each phase has specific role to play and allows various strategies to be implemented across the industry value chain including: replacing raw materials with recycled materials, increasing the use of alternative fuels, utilizing renewable energy, employing technologies such as carbon capture utilization and storage and adoption of new lower carbon cement mixes, like portland-limestone cement.

The Roadmap also encourages a rational approach that eliminates unnecessary overdesign from “one size fits all” specifications, keeps codes and standards updated with actual building performance and the latest developments in research and technology. Design tools including 3D modeling and virtual reality can help optimize materials specification. Zero-waste construction, sequencing, scheduling, zero-emission delivery and materials handling will be a key component in emissions avoidance. Once the construction and design industry re-discover the potential of readily available solutions and innovations defined in the Roadmap, builders can improve structural performance, energy efficiency, resiliency and carbon sequestration when developing projects.

Many of the solutions included in this Roadmap are products, technologies and approaches that are available today – and by bringing together partners across the value chain, we intend to shift mindsets and increase awareness and adoption of these methods. Collaboration with industry, private partners and policymakers will be imperative to realize the many solutions outlined in the Roadmap. As the industry looks to the future and the challenges it faces, the Roadmap is also an invitation for professionals across the built environment to come together to implement the actions, strategies and technologies that will support reaching the ultimate goal of carbon neutrality.

About the Author

Michael Ireland
Michael Ireland is president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association.

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