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While Climate Change Wreaks Havoc in British Columbia, One City Fights Back with Concrete Action

While Climate Change Wreaks Havoc in British Columbia, One City Fights Back with Concrete Action

2021 has been a year like no other for municipalities in British Columbia. Record-breaking heat waves brought drought and crop failures. Fires destroyed homes, towns and huge swaths of forest. Torrential rainfall submerged entire communities, ripping out key transportation infrastructure connecting regions, and putting local food supply chains in jeopardy. 

B.C.’s devastating experience has brought a new urgency for municipalities to address climate change and decarbonize our communities. While world leaders strategize and pledge commitments, one city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island is taking action. Immediate, concrete action.

The City of Langford has adopted a low-carbon concrete policy to help decarbonize the built environment. Effective in June 2022, all concrete supplied to City-owned or solicited projects will be required to be produced using carbon dioxide (CO2) mineralization technologies, or an equivalent which offers concrete with lower embodied CO2. The policy also applies to private construction projects greater than 50 cubic meters (about 65 cubic yards). In addition, vendors are now required to submit Type III Environmental Product Declarations for concrete materials, providing transparent information on the total carbon footprint of the concrete proposed for use. 

A Environmental Product Declaration provides a life cycle assessment of a product and emissions created from its manufacture. It includes everything from the raw material extraction to the product’s disposal. Environmental Product Declarations provide a means to measure and disclose information on the environmental impact of purchased products and materials. Type lll Environmental Product Declarations are required to be verified by a third party, providing independent assurance of data accuracy.

Source: Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs): A Guide for Architects 

Langford’s Mayor, Stew Young, says building regulations are important drivers for change. “This is an immediate and critical change that local governments can be a big part of. While we have taken many steps to reduce our operational emissions, as a city, much of our impact comes from the materials that we buy. With this policy, Langford is extending its commitment to taking climate action,” says Mayor Young. 

Concrete is the most-used building material in the world. Its strength, resilience and versatility make it indispensable for infrastructure. As such, government is the biggest single consumer of concrete, accounting for approximately 40% of concrete use by volume. Concrete and its critical main binding material — cement — currently contribute 7% of carbon emissions worldwide, making it one of the largest emissions sources in the built environment. 

This presents an immediate opportunity for all levels of governments, and particularly for smaller regional governments, says Robert Niven, CEO of CarbonCure Technologies, a provider of carbon mineralization technology with more than 450 installation sites at concrete plants around the world.

“Government has the power to lead by example, and catalyze the transition to wide-scale use of low-carbon concrete. Cities can act faster because they are at the frontline of governance and can be more responsive to local governments and citizens. They can be dynamic and take action, like the City of Langford. While provincial, state and national governments talk about what they are going to do, local governments get it done.” 

CarbonCure Technologies is the world’s leading provider of the carbon mineralization technologies to which the City of Langford refers. Its technology injects captured CO2 into concrete during the manufacturing process. The CO2 reacts with the cement and chemically converts into a calcium carbonate mineral to permanently embed the carbon in the concrete. This adds strength to the concrete, which enables a reduction in cement content. So not only is CO2 permanently sequestered in the concrete, but also less carbon-intensive cement is needed in the manufacturing process. The quality and properties of the concrete remain unchanged. It’s the same concrete, just with less carbon. 

In Langford’s policy, other innovations and strategies can be employed to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, such as using fly ash and slag, as long as the concrete offers lower embodied CO2 than all other competing bids. However, it is the unique opportunity for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies that makes CO2 mineralization the preferred approach for the City of Langford. 

According to the Global Cement and Concrete Association, carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies are estimated to be the single largest decarbonization opportunity in the cement and concrete sector, accounting for more than one-third of all emissions reductions needed to achieve net zero production. Concrete producers are already leading the way by widely adopting these carbon mineralization technologies. Two local concrete producers near Langford — TRIO Ready-Mix and Butler Concrete & Aggregate — are already using CO2 mineralized concrete for their customers throughout the region and are advocates of this policy.

Travis Butler, President and CEO of Butler Concrete, says he appreciates the City of Langford’s openness to reexamining traditional, prescriptive specifications for concrete. “Having to follow a specific ‘recipe’ for concrete on civic and commercial projects leaves no room for innovation to improve sustainability. The City has demonstrated flexibility in how it specifies concrete, moving to performance standards that reflect scientific advances such as carbon mineralization.”

Stephen Hay, General Manager of TRIO Ready-Mix, also praised Langford for being a fast follower of the environmental evolution that is happening within the concrete industry. “Once a technology is proven effective and safe, getting on board early is an example of good governance,” says Stephen. “That’s what we need — and fast — if we’re going to address climate change.”

Ultimately, by adopting its low-carbon concrete policy, the City of Langford will be able to track climate impacts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions arising from local construction. Furthermore, it hopes to create a transferable policy model to catalyze policy momentum nationwide. 

In Mayor Young’s words, “This sets a new, higher standard for policymakers across Canada to rein in emissions and protect our communities from the worst impacts of climate change.” 

That’s something that B.C. and the rest of the world can use right now.

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