Biden trumpets green construction, manufacturing pledges

By Kelsey Brugger | 10/20/2022 01:34 PM EDT

Starbucks headquarters.

The U.S. flag flies above the Starbucks mermaid logo at the coffee company's corporate headquarters in Seattle. Ted Warren/Associated Press

General Motors, Starbucks and other major corporations are pledging to use more green materials for construction and manufacturing, a major piece of the administration’s climate action plan, the White House said Thursday.

The concrete industry alone makes up 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and, advocates say, has lagged behind other carbon-intensive sectors in going green. The White House has been urging local governments and private firms to invest in cleaner concrete and steel (Greenwire, Oct. 19).

“President Biden has ushered in an American manufacturing boom, with nearly 700,000 manufacturing jobs added during his Administration so far,” a White House release said, urging companies to rely on green products made in the United States.

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Biden climate adviser Ali Zaidi and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory met with 20 state officials to push lower carbon concrete and steel. Half of the cement — the main ingredient in concrete — used in the U.S. goes to public works projects like ports, highways and bridges.

The administration wants to use the government’s vast purchasing power to spur the advancement of low-carbon materials through its “Buy Clean” plan.

The Department of Transportation has said 25 states will receive the first highway “climate challenge grants” to support sustainable pavement. The effort is part of DOT’s “carbon reduction plan,” which includes $6.4 billion for states and municipalities over five years.

The low-concrete push got a major boost from the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated nearly $6 billion for a new Department of Energy venture, the Advanced Industrial Facilities Deployment Program. Lawmakers approved competitive grants for cement and steel plants to upgrade to produce cleaner materials.

The bulk of emissions in concrete comes from the production of cement, made by sticking limestone in a kiln heated up some 1,400 degrees Celsius, creating an emissions-heavy chemical reaction. There are ways to cut emissions — by mixing in alternative ingredients like glass and furnace slag — but advocates say the industry has been somewhat reluctant to initiate change.

One of the major buyers of concrete are tech companies. Microsoft, Google and other real estate giants are exploring using lower carbon products to build out data centers, said Radhika Lalit, a chief strategy officer with energy firm RMI.

Along with GM and Starbucks, 60 companies have committed to cut portfoliowide greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, according to the White House. Those include major building companies Lehigh Hanson and Central Concrete. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has also made pledges.

“Strong partners in the manufacturing sector are innovating and investing in scaling up production of lower-carbon materials,” the White House said. “Together, we can grow clean manufacturing jobs and reach net zero emissions.”

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