Buy Clean California Act Creates Incentive to Cut Carbon Emissions by Requiring EPDs


In 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Buy Clean California Act (AB 262) into law which encourages greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions associated with state infrastructure projects. AB 262 requires state agencies to consider embedded carbon from the production of construction materials, such as rebar, during contracting for state projects. The law will apply to all California state infrastructure, as well as University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) projects.

The bill arose as a recognition that construction materials contribute significantly to California’s annual GHG emissions (about 24 percent). Given this contribution to the state’s emissions, construction projects needed to be addressed for the state to reach its GHG emissions reduction goal of 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. A 2015 executive order from Jerry Brown ordered that state agencies “take climate change into account in their planning and investment decisions and employ full life cycle cost accounting to evaluate and compare infrastructure investments and alternatives.”  Life cycle cost accounting, as referred to in this executive overview, includes not only financial costs, but other impacts from the product life cycle as quantified by life cycle assessment (LCA).

AB 262 addresses the disconnect between the infrastructure contracting process, which previously did not account for emissions associated with materials, and the public goal to reduce statewide emissions by 40 percent. Furthermore, it provides recognition for manufacturers that are accounting for and striving to reduce the carbon footprint of its products.

AB 262 has three major requirements:

  1. The Department of General Services (DGS) must establish a GHG emissions performance standard to be used in all state infrastructure projects for common construction materials based on industry averages reported in Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), including carbon steel rebar, flat glass, mineral wool board insulation and structural steel.
  2. State agencies, UC and CSU projects will include GHG standards in bid specifications that are at or below the standard set by the DGS.
  3. Contractors awarded bids will provide EPDs for the specified materials to demonstrate that the materials meet stated GHG emission standards.

Timing and Effects

The DGS must set the GHG emissions performance standard by January 1, 2019. Industry standards, through EPDs, will be reviewed every three years and the DGS emissions performance standard will be adjusted as-needed. EPD requirements will apply to all projects initiated on or after July 1, 2019.

What does this mean in practical terms? Some manufacturers already have EPDs for its projects, but many do not. If manufacturers without EPDs plan to provide materials to California infrastructure projects, it will need to provide verified EPDs for its products as materials will be selected from a list of manufacturers who have EPDs. Fortunately, there is ample time for manufacturers to start and complete the EPD process before July 1, 2019. It is a straightforward process to complete when working with an experienced EPD producer and verifier. Product environmental impact disclosure is becoming standard practice for public and private projects, e.g., the buildings industry LEED v4 standard that awards points for products with EPDs. Therefore, having an EPD will provide value not only within the state of California, but across the U.S. and in other countries.

You might ask, “What is an EPD, and what do they do?” Fortunately, we’ve answered that question in a two-part blog called EPDs: What are they? and What can they do for your organization?  An EPD is a verified and registered document that shows the environmental impact results of an LCA, including GHG emissions. EPDs are intended to be a standardized way to communicate life cycle impacts for a given product in a clear and transparent document. They are based on product category rules (PCRs) which lay-out the methods for conducting the LCAs of products in the same category to ensure that all EPDs are produced and formatted consistently.

Procurement policies are trending toward increased environmental impact transparency, and EPDs are an excellent way to provide that information in an easy to understand and comparable format. Conducting an LCA on products can also help identify impactful hot-spots in the supply chain and manufacturing processes that can be targeted for meaningful reductions. Overall, the California Buy Clean act is great example of how California is leading the way toward climate change reduction and impact transparency.

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