A new state law in New York promotes low-embodied-carbon concrete for public projects, and activists are hoping to get another bill passed this year that will push it further to meet carbon emissions goals.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill, known as the Low-Embodied-Carbon Concrete Leadership Act, on Dec. 22. It directs the state Office of General Services to establish a stakeholder advisory group that will set guidelines for state agencies procuring low-embodied-carbon concrete, also known as LECC.

The group will also examine LECC standards for strength, durability, permeability and other attributes, rather than requiring a specific manufacturing process or technology, and the Office of General Services commissioner will also look into the use of an expedited product evaluation protocol for LECC products. The law also mandates new provisions in all state agency contracts for LECC requiring contractors to certify that materials meet the office's standards. 

Helping New York Reach Goal

State Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Brooklyn), who sponsored the bill, says it will help New York reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050, and serve as an influence for other states as well as private industry. 

“We’re not going to meet our goals of reducing emissions if we don’t decarbonize the industry, and concrete is one of the most polluting industries,” he says.

 The Office of General Services may also consider incentives such as bid credits to encourage LECC use in state projects, according to the law’s text. An earlier version of the bill had included bidding incentives for concrete producers that could show they had high-performing concrete, but it drew opposition from some industry groups. A letter to lawmakers from the Concrete Industry Board of New York last April argues that the incentive would have had little effect on bids or carbon reduction, while creating “excessive paperwork” and adding unnecessary costs.

"The purpose of the proposed bill is to establish a low-embodied-carbon procurement standard for concrete in public construction projects, incentivizing emission reductions and resulting in new economic activity and job creation," the group's April letter states. "While CIB is supportive of this concept, we believe the standards and plan can be simplified in a way that will have greater impact for the concrete industry."

The signed version of the law also cuts a provision that would have given tax credits to concrete providers to cover the costs of adopting new technology dealing with its life-cycle impact.

Patrick Grasso is a partner at Urban Mining Industries, the company behind Pozzotive, a pozzolan made with recycled ground glass, which reduces the amount of cement needed and the amount of carbon dioxide produced. Pozzotive has been used in high-profile New York City projects including several buildings in Hudson Yards and all Second Avenue subway line stations.

Grasso says he's hopeful the bill's final version, along with tentative lower-carbon concrete specifications from New York's Interagency Committee on Sustainability and Green Procurement, will help promote options like his product. He says the legislation is an improvement from earlier versions because it removes the focus on carbon capture technology.

"Because of the combination of those things, I think we're in a better place than where the bill started," Grasso says. "It's more of a neutral approach to carbon reduction, rather than favoring any one technology or industry."

Chris Neidl is a co-founder of the group OpenAir, which is focused on carbon dioxide removal and has pushed for versions of the low-embodied-carbon concrete law in several states, including New York. He says the signed version of the bill “opens up the door for a successful piece of legislation that we expect to be introduced for this session.”

The future legislation aims to create an incentive that will pay concrete providers at the completion of a project if they can show third-party data proving they’ve exceeded the standards the Office of General Services sets, similar to the way contractors can earn a performance bonus for meeting certain goals around quality or completion time, Neidl says.

Building on a Prolific Model

“We think that, if the market and the private sector are incentivized to seek those out and add them, that’s going to be the fastest way to really drive innovation and push concrete toward minimal climate impact and, maybe one day, even a positive climate impact,” he says. “Instead of doing a big discount, we’re going to build it on a model that’s already quite prolific across states and the federal government.”

The stakeholder group working on the state Office of General Services standards will include two engineers, two architects, two construction industry representatives, two concrete testing and validation representatives, two civil engineering school representatives, one member from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, and representatives from the departments of transportation, state and environmental conservation. 

“I’m hoping that OGS and the board of experts will create a standard that puts New York in the driver’s seat to decarbonize concrete and take into account the global warming potential of the concrete that we’re producing," Carroll says. He adds that he hopes not just the state, but other project owners, will look deeper into how procured items are "produced and what the effect on the environment is."

Lawmakers in New Jersey have introduced a bill similar to the original version of the legislation introduced in New York, and Neidl says he expects it will pass.

“So we think the momentum is moving in the right direction,” he says.

In California, state lawmakers also passed legislation targeting cement sector emissions last year. As ENR previously reported, it requires the California Air Resources Board to develop a strategy for the sector to reach carbon neutrality by the end of 2045.