April 2024 Meeting of the NGO/Government Roundtable on Embodied Carbon

On April 18, Madeline Reeves, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer, White House Council on Environmental Quality, reported on the Federal Buy Clean Initiative and the leadership role of the federal government in reducing embodied carbon. Additional speakers included Walter Tersch from the General Services Administration (GSA), who reported on GSA’s Buy Clean work.

Carbon Leadership Forum’s Roundtable has the following objectives:
— Share news, strategic plans, resources, and tools related to embodied carbon.
— Report planning and future dates for conferences, webinars, and meetings.
— Inspire and facilitate ongoing communication and conversation among key leaders related to embodied carbon.
— Encourage convergence on shared embodied carbon terminology, data standards, benchmarks, and targets for embodied carbon reduction.


• Intro and Welcome from CLF’s Andrew Himes
• Madeline Reeves — Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer, White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The Leadership Role of the Federal Government in Reducing Embodied Carbon”
• Brad Nies — General Services Administration (GSA)
• Michelle Lambert — CLF Researcher, ECHO Project (Embodied Carbon Harmonization and Optimization)
• Milad Ashtiani — CLF Researcher. “Embodied Carbon Toolkit for Roadway Infrastructure”
• Kayleigh Houde — MEP 2040 Commitment
• Lisa Dulude — University of Washington
• Annie Bevan — mindful MATERIALS
• Scott Henson — ZNCC (Zero Net Carbon Collaboration for Existing and Historic Buildings)
• Tracy Huynh — RMI
• Rachel Stern — Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association
• Sarah Gregg — Natural Stone Institute
• Craig Walloch — Concrete Masonry and Hardscapes Association


Maddie Reeves, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer at the White House

  • The Federal Buy Clean initiative aims to leverage the federal government’s buying power to promote cleaner construction materials, focusing on steel, concrete, asphalt, and flat glass.
  • It aligns with President Biden’s executive order on federal sustainability, emphasizing using government influence for climate action.
  • Significance of decarbonizing industries like steel and concrete due to their substantial contributions to global emissions.
  • Federal Buy Clean involves prioritizing cleaner materials in federal procurement to send a demand signal to suppliers.
  • Supports job creation and clean energy goals, reflecting President Biden’s view of climate action as a jobs agenda.
  • Substantial funding, including $4.5 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, is allocated to support the initiative.
  • Various federal agencies, such as GSA and DOT, are actively involved in implementing the program, with GSA planning to spend over $2 billion on cleaner construction materials.
  • EPA leads efforts to develop a labeling program for cleaner construction materials and provides grants to support Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs).
  • FEMA’s involvement focuses on prioritizing cleaner materials for construction-related expenses.
  • Collaboration between government agencies, private sector entities, and international partners is crucial for achieving broader climate goals.
  • Addressing both demand and supply-side challenges in decarbonizing industries is essential.

Bradley Nies, Sustainable Design Program Expert, GSA Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings

  • Represents GSA on various committees and task forces related to low embodied carbon materials.
  • GSA, often referred to as the government’s landlord, manages a vast number of government assets across the states.
  • GSA’s work in low embodied carbon materials predates the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
  • Requirements for low embodied carbon asphalt and concrete were added to GSA’s facility standards guidebook (P100) in March 2022.
  • IRA of 2022 allocated substantial funding for low embodied carbon construction materials, with concrete receiving the largest share.
  • Criteria for determining substantially lower embodied carbon materials and the waterfall approach used to set thresholds.
  • EPA’s determination in December 2022 clarified eligible materials and defined substantially lower carbon.
  • Challenges and progress in the development and availability of environmental product declarations (EPDs) for materials like concrete, glass, and steel.
  • GSA’s funding for low embodied carbon materials does not have a waiver process and is contingent on meeting specific criteria.
  • Geographical availability of low embodied carbon materials, with steel being more accessible than concrete and asphalt.
  • GSA also implements whole-building life cycle assessment requirements to reduce embodied carbon in new buildings or major modernizations.
  • Information and tools related to GSA’s decarbonization efforts are available on the Sustainable Facilities Tool website.

Q&A for Maddie and Brad

  • Francis Yang: addressing non-road infrastructure, such as rail and water projects, in the B Clean initiative.
  • Maddie: ongoing considerations for expanding the scope of the initiative and increasing flexibility for supporting different types of projects.
  • Brad: added that GSA’s Green Proving Ground program tests innovative products and materials, including those related to embodied carbon, with the goal of incorporating successful solutions into building projects.
  • Katie Poss: GSA’s Green Proving Ground program and potential collaborations with DOE-funded manufacturers.
  • Brad: the objectives of the Green Proving Ground program and its focus on testing emerging technologies, including those related to embodied carbon.
  • Daniel Clark from the Department of Environmental Protection in New Jersey: setting thresholds for tax incentives for lower embodied carbon concrete products.
  • Maddie: leveraging forthcoming EPA work on defining clean materials and regional variations, as well as collaborating with industry associations like the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.
  • Brad: engage with industry associations and leveraging their tools and expertise to support the adoption of lower embodied carbon concrete products.

Michelle Lambert, CLF Program Affiliate

  • Embodied Carbon Harmonization and Optimization (Echo) Project Update:
  • Collaboration among multiple organizations gathering embodied carbon data from the built environment industry.
  • Three simultaneous tracks:
  • Governance Committee: Formalizing decision-making and publication processes.
  • Standards Framework Working Group: Evaluating standards and frameworks for suitability.
  • Carbon Schema Working Group: Developing an open Carbon Schema for data reporting.
  • Goals include aligning data collection fields across certifications and programs.
  • Anticipated publication of evaluations and schema by June or July.
  • Encouragement for interested individuals to sign up for updates on the Echo project website.

Milad Ashtiani, CLF Program Affiliate

  • Embodied Carbon Toolkit for Roadway Infrastructure:
  • Three-part document focusing on roadway infrastructure’s embodied carbon.
  • Provides basics of embodied carbon, including definitions and stages.
  • Discusses life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology and benchmarking practices.
  • Introduces strategies for reducing embodied carbon in roadway projects.
  • Offers a four-step recipe for carbon reduction and a list of reduction strategies.
  • Aim is to transition toward a near Net Zero embodied carbon future.
  • Toolkit available on the CLF website, with contact information for further inquiries.

Annie Bevon, Mindful Materials

  • CEO of Mindful Materials, a 501c3 nonprofit.
  • Focuses on connecting the community to the built environment and promoting sustainable products.
  • Works on removing barriers and confusion in the industry to establish sustainable materials as the norm.
  • Addresses five impact categories: climate health, social health and equity, human health, biodiversity, and circularity.
  • Highlights the need for a common language and clear market demand for sustainable building products.
  • Introduces the Common Materials Framework, mapping 650+ eco labels and standards to impact categories.
  • Releasing resources on April 30th focusing on the first 50 data points for manufacturers to prioritize.
  • Developing the Sustainable Product Data Hub to facilitate digital responses and data flow in the industry.
  • Aims to enable decision-making tools based on holistic impact data and drive investment in sustainability.
  • Ultimately seeks to establish a regenerative materials economy.

Tracy Huynh, RMI

Jessica Bristow, ILFI

  • In early April, ILFI launched new versions of our building certification programs: LBC 4.1, ZC 1.1, and ZE 1.1, with focused updates on aligning and refining our carbon requirements. Please check it out!
  • ILFI’s Living Future Conference is coming up soon in Atlanta on May 7-9 . I hope to see you there, and if you’re attending, I’ll be co-presenting this session on Thursday: Keeping Up with Carbon and Energy: How the LBC, Zero Carbon, and Zero Energy Standards are Evolving.
  • We’re already deep into new research, developing draft requirements for an Existing Building typology (i.e., little to no scope), particularly focused on portfolio needs, ESG reporting, operations, etc., and broader carbon-related improvements across all of our typologies. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss this with us! Email

Kayleigh Houde, Buro Happold

  • Member of the steering committee for the MEP 2040 commitment.
  • Focuses on embodied carbon aspect within the MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing) systems.
  • Highlights the importance of considering fugitive emissions, particularly from refrigerants, which are a significant carbon source and contribute to the global ozone crisis.
  • Advocates for the inclusion of MEP systems in whole building equations, similar to practices in the UK and Denmark.
  • Emphasizes the need to include the right components in MEP calculations, such as equipment, pipes, ducts, and refrigerants.
  • Discusses engagement with standards like ASHRAE 240P and efforts to ensure the inclusion of relevant items in MEP assessments.
  • Notes progress in obtaining Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for MEP products, driven by owner engagement.
  • Highlights the need for funding to support MEP products and the reliance on European EPDs for foundational studies.
  • Initiates foundational projects under MEP 2040 to establish guidelines for MEP assessments based on ASHRAE 240P rules and European EPDs.
  • Advocates for the inclusion of replacements and frequent equipment changes in MEP assessments to accurately reflect carbon impacts.

Lisa Dulude, Director of Sustainability, University of Washington

  • Update to the university’s Green Building standard, which previously focused on new construction and major innovation.
  • Highlights challenges in meeting water conservation targets due to stringent city regulations and shifts focus towards carbon-based energy targets aligned with state and city requirements.
  • Introduces the new Green Building standard, still pending official launch but undergoing soft rollouts with current projects across campus.
  • Describes the four types of projects covered under the new standard: new construction, partial renovation, system upgrades, and non-energy projects.
  • Emphasizes the inclusion of a new embodied carbon target of 500 kilograms or less per meter squared in primary materials for projects.

Scott Henson, Zero Net Carbon Collaboration for Existing and Historic Buildings (ZNCC)

  • Introduces ZNCC, an alliance dedicated to promoting responsible reuse of existing and historic buildings for a zero net carbon future.
  • Member organizations include APT (Association for Preservation Technology), AIA (American Institute of Architects), and others.
  • Advocates for improving the performance of existing buildings to effectively reduce upfront carbon emissions.
  • Describes ZNCC’s three guiding actions: curate, create, and communicate, facilitating monthly meetings with presentations on relevant decarbonization topics.
  • Highlights ZNCC’s involvement in various embodied carbon initiatives, including COP28 in Dubai and the Buildings and Climate Global Forum in Paris.
  • Mentions the development of the CARE tool, co-chaired by Lori Ferris, which enables users to compare the total carbon impacts of renovating an existing building versus replacing it with a new one.

Rachel Stern, Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association (CIMA)

  • Highlights the commissioning of a report by Builders for Climate Action, detailing the benefits and opportunities of cellulose insulation, as well as addressing concerns. The report is available on their website.
  • Development of a new biobased material specification within the C16 committee, focusing on building thermal insulation. This includes standards for products like straw insulation or hemp.
  • Discusses the formation of the Northeast Biobased Materials Collective, aiming to establish a trade association for all biobased materials, not limited to insulation products. Rachel co-chairs the Innovation working group within this collective.
  • Updates on the progress of the PCR (Product Category Rules) for building thermal insulation, expressing concerns about the potential influence of certain trade associations on the operational carbon section, which could lead to greenwashing opportunities.
  • Email

Sarah Gregg, Natural Stone Institute

  • Introduces the Natural Stone Institute and advocates for prioritizing natural stone in projects with green building goals.
  • Highlights the environmentally friendly process of extracting and processing natural stone compared to artificial materials like pre-cast concrete and engineered quartz.
  • Mentions industry-wide LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments) and EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) available for quantifying the embodied carbon of natural stone.
  • Emphasizes additional benefits of natural stone, including durability, recyclability, healthiness, and biophilic design opportunities.
  • Presents a case study comparing the embodied carbon of natural stone (Indiana limestone) versus pre-cast concrete in the Freedom Place project, showing an 85% reduction in embodied carbon with natural stone.
  • Embodied Carbon Comparisons with Natural Stone
  • Email

Craig Walloch, Concrete, Masonry, and Hardscapes Association (CMHA)

  • Represents the manufacturers of manufactured dry cast concrete products, blocks, and pavers.
  • Highlights the advantages of dry cast concrete in terms of embodied carbon compared to other concrete types.
  • Explains how dry cast concrete’s interconnected voids allow for carbon dioxide to enter, facilitating natural carbonation and the use of low-carbon systems.
  • Provides a comparison between dry cast and wet cast concrete, demonstrating the lower embodied carbon of dry cast concrete.
  • Discusses ongoing research efforts to further reduce embodied carbon in dry cast concrete and establish accurate baselines.
  • Mentions collaboration with organizations like Building Transparency and participation in the EPA grant application process to enhance industry-wide EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations).
  • Plans to update the PCR (Product Category Rule) in 2025 to include guidelines for carbon sequestration and carbonization.
  • Describes partnerships with low-carbon cement and concrete technologies, as well as involvement in carbon uptake measurement guidelines.
  • Emphasizes the importance of transparency and accuracy in providing data to stakeholders and the design community.
  • Expresses enthusiasm for the ongoing efforts in reducing embodied carbon in dry cast concrete.

Register for July 11th meeting of the Roundtable.