Concrete Steps Colorado Businesses Can Take to Curb Climate Change
The time is now to understand carbon emissions, and CarbonCure brings sustainable innovations to concrete manufacturing.
We cannot stabilize our climate without a strategy to decarbonize concrete. It’s the climate challenge we most often overlook — and yet, it surrounds us.
Concrete is the most used building material across Colorado, and around the globe. But it comes with some overlooked challenges: An estimated seven-to-eight percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions result from the manufacturing of concrete’s key ingredient, cement. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest source of emissions behind China and the United States.
Carbon emissions may not be visible, but Coloradans have certainly seen firsthand their impact. From chronic drought threatening our water supplies to wildfires devastating communities, climate-fueled emergencies and extreme weather events are clearly occurring more frequently across the Front Range.
Concrete producers across Colorado have already adopted technologies, like CarbonCure, that inject captured CO2 into fresh concrete and permanently lock it away as a mineral. This CO2 will never return to the atmosphere.
But we have the tools to fix this. If we act quickly, and in unison, we can make a real difference. The concrete industry, the design field, and broader business communities are all part of the solution.
From the Global Cement and Concrete Association to individual concrete producers across Colorado, much of the concrete industry has already embraced a wide range of innovations to produce low carbon concrete, including more efficient manufacturing, cement replacements such as ground glass, slag or fly ash, and new carbon mineralization technologies.
In particular, carbon mineralization in concrete offers potential for not just emissions reductions but also removal of legacy emissions. Concrete producers across Colorado have already adopted technologies, like CarbonCure, that inject captured CO2 into fresh concrete and permanently lock it away as a mineral. This CO2 will never return to the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the increased compressive strength that immediately results from this mineralization enables concrete producers to reduce how much cement they need in each mix. Less cement means less CO2; but it does not mean lower quality. These technologies provide the market with the exact same, high performing concrete product, but with a lower carbon footprint.
Beyond just concrete producers — architects, engineers and contractors, as well as developers and corporations, have an important role to play in this movement toward low carbon concrete and sustainable building across Colorado. Any new construction must account for both operational and embodied carbon emissions.
Signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in July, 2021 — the Buy Clean Colorado Act requires the state government to establish policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Embodied carbon refers to the CO2 emissions generated by building material manufacturing and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle of a building or infrastructure. Put simply, it’s the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational. And it matters because, between now and 2050, embodied carbon will be responsible for almost half of total emissions arising from new construction.
Coloradans value sustainability and want to support businesses that practice environmental stewardship. To meet this expectation, and market opportunity, here are concrete steps every Colorado business should take:
- Do Business with Green Businesses
From software to construction, sustainable vendors can be found across every major industry. Businesses that advance sustainability depend on rising market demand and reliable customer support.
- Use Sustainable Products
Many products can be harmful to the environment due to the processes that go into making them. Breaking this cycle takes effort. Do your research, and see what sustainable product options are out there. You may be surprised. Even asking about what’s available sends a signal to the market.
- Prioritize Performance
For new construction, prescriptive specifications for concrete mix designs are often overly conservative and remain a considerable barrier to sustainability. In Colorado, to ensure concrete durability, maximum water-to-cement ratio limits often result in increased cement content. But as more designers and developers adopt performance-based specifications, concrete producers can more rapidly adopt new practices and technologies to meet market demand for more innovative, low carbon mixes that maintain workability and other performance criteria.
Further accelerating this momentum in the market, the recent Buy Clean Colorado Act (HB21-1303, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in July, 2021) requires the state government to establish policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, limiting emissions from building materials in state-funded building and transportation projects, including concrete. With about 40 percent of all concrete going to public sector projects, including roads, bridges and more infrastructure, the government is concrete’s number one consumer.
Private or public sector, it’s time we rethink business as usual, including how we build our buildings. Every business has a different level of impact on the planet. And the journey toward sustainability will vary for everyone. But if we act collectively, even small, simple steps toward reducing our carbon footprints make a big impact.
Carly Paige is a Denver-based Technical Services Engineer for CarbonCure Technologies, who travels the state and region to support concrete producers as they adopt technologies and practices to manufacture sustainable concrete.