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Concrete Credentials: How Concrete is Tackling Embodied Carbon

JUN 23, 2021 SEASON 2 EPISODE 2
Concrete Credentials is a new podcast hosted by NRMCA Executive Vice President Gregg Lewis, AIA, LEED AP.

In this episode, Gregg Lewis speaks with Bill Larson, Chairman of the Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition on How Concrete is Tackling Embodied Carbon. Bill is a-long time expert on concrete and how it’s become greener and more resilient each day. In their discussion, Gregg and Bill discuss the importance of embodied carbon and the strides the concrete industry is making to reduce carbon output.

Gregg Lewis:
Welcome everyone to our second episode of Concrete Credentials for season two. Today, I’m delighted to have, as our guest, Bill Larson. Bill is chairman of the Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition. He has recently retired after a long career in the industry, including more than 12 years as CalPortland‘s vice-president of marketing. Bill is also active with the activities of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. Bill, welcome to Concrete Credentials.

Bill Larson:
Thanks, Gregg. I’m very pleased to be here with you to share some information from my perspective about resilience in the built environment.

Gregg Lewis:
So I’ve been looking forward to this obviously for a while. You’re a busy guy, even in retirement, so getting a little bit of your time kept us from getting you on air here, so to speak. So I’m glad to finally have you at the other microphone. And there are a bunch of reasons that I’ve wanted to have you on here. But before we dig into those, what I’d like to do is just to be sure, because I know some of our listeners may only have a cursory idea or understanding of what resilience is. And what I’m hoping is that you can explain the nuts and bolts of this issue and why you think it’s important.

Bill Larson:
Absolutely. So some years ago, the Department of Homeland Security defined resilience as the ability to resist, absorb and recover from, or even successfully adapt to the adversity of a challenge or a changing conditions. And I think this pretty much sums up the challenge for us because we’re now living in a world, much changed from our past, and our ability to resist, absorb, and recover from extreme weather events and the ongoing impacts of climate change are being tested daily.

Our cities, our towns, our homes, and the physical infrastructure that stands our economy really need to cope with conditions that most of us have never experienced, or at least not experienced for an extended period of time. So under current building codes, many times we fall short of building for resilience; building to a slightly higher standard to ensure that these assets will have a better chance to survive and stay in service or be put back into service in a relatively short period of time, is what we’re striving for.

So, from what I’ve heard from many expert engineers and architects, the additional initial costs to build a structure to resilience standards is slightly higher than current standards but is paltry when you compare it to the need to remove and replace.

Gregg Lewis:
And I’ve heard the same thing, so that doesn’t come as a surprise to me, and perhaps it doesn’t some of our listeners at least. But I’m sure though that there aren’t a whole lot of people out there spending time thinking about this important element of community development.

Bill Larson:
You’re right. The challenges are really, that they’re real and they’re enormous. And that’s why many people and organizations in our sector have to come together under a building resilience coalition to further the planning, development and construction of buildings and associated infrastructure, better able to recover from and adapt to the growing impacts of an ever-changing urban and the physical environment.

Gregg Lewis:
I think in addition to that, I was thinking about when we look at communities across the US including obviously the Pacific Northwest, who are building with materials and systems that frankly just don’t adequately resist these threats, that process is defended because it meets the current codes and standards. And the argument of course, is that if we strengthen our building codes to improve the resilience of our buildings, it would stymie economic development and make many of these projects unaffordable. I’m curious from your perspective, how you would address the cost and affordability questions as it relates to the critical need to strengthen our communities.

Bill Larson:
That’s a great question. And I think really the answer is simple. I said, the cost to recover from or repair the damage caused by an extreme weather event or other disasters far outweighs the cost to improve our codes and make the changes needed to predict our homes and communities. That’s just talking about property damage. The cost of lives lost are forever changed and families torn apart is beyond measure. And that doesn’t include the loss of revenue or businesses and employees that worked in the affected buildings.

So what we have found from our expert designers in the field is that the dollar cost to build more resilient homes, offices, or factories is really minimal in terms, and often below 5%. But compared to the cost of recovery, repair or rehabilitation after a disaster, that’s far much greater. I might add that in more instructing stronger buildings and infrastructure, Evan Reis who is the executive director of US Resiliency Council, and he’s also a keynote speaker sponsored by the Building Resilience Coalition, says, “The difference between catastrophic devastation and manageable recovery following a disastrous event often can be traced back to decisions made decades earlier. So the need for resiliency planning has never been greater. And if we want to meet the new challenges that lie before us, we really have to build differently and we have to build better buildings, and build with more attention given to climate resiliency and rapid recovery from natural disasters.”

Gregg Lewis:
So really, the decisions that we make now are clearly going to have an impact a decade or decades down the line as has been true in decisions that have been made in preceding decades, years and generations, and what have you. I think about this along the lines of how the topics of resilience and sustainability intersect. And recently, and you know this certainly well enough, there’s been much discussion about reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment. I’m curious, from your vantage point, Bill, what is your perspective on what the cement and concrete industries are doing and can do to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Bill Larson:
That’s an interesting point to think about. From my perspective, if we want to lower the carbon footprint of the built environment, a great place to start is probably with the world’s most widely used building products, and that is cement and concrete. As was evident this week in the first of the series of webinars that PNBRC had put on called the pathways to resilience and carbon neutrality, great progress is being made in lowering greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and use of cement and concrete. And as you know, Greg Lewis, GHG emissions in these sectors are concentrated in the energy used in the cement production process and transferred when concrete is used to construct buildings and infrastructure.

It’s interesting, the leading cement manufacturers are reducing the energy footprint of cement production by using alternatives to fossil fuels. They’re using biofuels, waste biofuels, and other forms of renewable energy to generate that heat that’s really needed to make cement. Lowering the clinker content of cement by blending supplementary cementitious materials, which are called SCMs like pozzolan and slag, which is a waste stream by-product from steel production, is another way to reduce the carbon footprint of cement production and concrete.

Here’s a research that is showing us that fly ash and other SCMs can decrease concrete’s carbon footprint while increasing its strength and workability. So that’s a great point in favor of concrete. Portland cement can be blended with up to 40 to 50% of fly ash or slag, reducing emissions by ruffling the same amounts. And I think what we’re seeing now is the development of what’s called CCSS; Carbon Capture, Storage and Sequestration, which is another way to reduce the emissions from clinker production as well.

And these practices are really emerging in this industry. Research on the alternative binders for cement also holds a great potential for even greater reduction in carbon emissions. If we look over across the pond research, which is underway in Europe and across north America, has led to major advances in changing the basic chemistry of cement lowering both the heat required to produce it and CO2 emissions dramatically relative to the production of ordinary Portland cement. So we cannot do without concrete, but we can certainly significantly reduce the emissions produced from its production and use.

Gregg Lewis:
You covered a lot of ground there, and a lot of the great work that’s being done, not only within the cement and concrete industry specifically, but also some of our partners that are out there innovating whether that’s in the research or academic arenas or through new innovative startups that are trying to tackle some of these issues and find solutions that ultimately will benefit, not only the concrete and cement industries, but clearly the population as a whole.

You’ve seen this from a lot of different angles, both while you worked in the industry and with the work you’re doing now. What I’m curious about and hoping that you can share with the listeners here today is, this involvement that you’ve had, the development of the Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition, which includes members from the concrete and cement industry and many others, but both in the US and Canada, over the past three years, there’s been a lot of interesting work done by the coalition and its members. I’m hoping what you can do is give us an update on some of those issues and what the coalition has been attempting to address in its work.

Bill Larson:
I’d be happy to. The members of the association, the coalition, which is entitled the Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition, are really the face of the construction industry. Their member companies and the thousands of employees that the employer really wanted in this were fabricating and building the homes, the offices, the factories, the infrastructure that our economy depends on. So they’re right out there on the front lines. And they’re sensitive to the ebbs and the flows of issues that affect the construction industry, and are at the cutting edge of changes in the industry and in the marketplace.

I think one of the key issues the coalition sought to address was the increased use of wood in buildings higher than four stories, which used to be the previous limits in most jurisdictions under national, over across the border state and provincial building codes. Our members were concerned about the increased risks associated with mid-rise wood buildings, which are more vulnerable to damage from fire and less resistant to extreme weather events and climate change.

So we set out to make homeowners, civic leaders, architects, designers, and legislators more aware of the risks, and to correct some of the misrepresentations being made by proponents of the increased would use regarding safety and the alleged environmental benefits of wood. We also conducted research to back up our messaging. And that’s something that we can really look back on and say, the research is really what’s helped us to provide scientific data and other historic data that really supports the claims that we’ve been making.

Gregg Lewis:
You guys have been very active, I think, specifically, or at least that I’ve seen, specifically on LinkedIn, and there is a steady stream of really good reference material that you guys put out there. One of the pieces that I want to have you talk about a little bit is the PNBRC study from 2017, the title of which was, Carbon Sequestration of Forest-Based Wood Products. This is one that really caught my attention, and I think starts to point out the fallacy that’s being pushed and has been pushed by the wood industry about their environmental footprint. Can you give us just a brief overview of the study and some of its key findings?

Bill Larson:
You bet. It’s interesting because the study really is what brought us all together and really was behind the formation of the Building Resilience Coalition. It was one of our first efforts to really address the misinformation that’s often associated with the alleged benefits of building with wood. And up in that part of the world, that the Pacific Northwest is pretty much the bastion of the wood and timber industry. But briefly our research concluded that preserving old growth forests and extending harvest rotations towards a mean annual increment of between 90 and 117 years, maximizing utilization of harvested biomass, which isn’t occurring, and altering harvest practices to retain more live trees on site, would result in significant net carbon reduction gains.

So we started really looking into the wood industry and the claims that they were making one by one and started to really address them. And these findings confirmed that it often takes upwards of almost 200 years of forestry growth to replace the carbon that’s lost through conventional forest harvesting that’s through timber manufacturing and lifetime emissions of wood-based building products, as opposed to what is being claimed. We also noted that far too much biomass is being left to rot on the forest or is either burned for bioenergy or ends up in short life products, such as paper or pulp, which suggests that the carbon sequestration benefits of wood used in the built environment are really being overstated.

So we made several policy recommendations and they include things like developing targets for expanding forest carbon stocks to emphasize storage in ecosystems with high ecological potential to lower the risk of loss of carbon through climate driven disturbances. We offered employing no net loss to forests or a no net loss to forest carbon policies, increasing retention at harvest, such as leaving wider riparian buffers, leaving groups of standing live and dead trees along waters and watersheds, things like that.

Employing principles of adaptive governance in state forest practices to respond to climate change impacts and build forest carbon storages. So as you can see, this research really took us into the realm of forest management and harvesting practices, and which we believe that others are very much more qualified to pursue. And I think you’re beginning to see now, the world is beginning to see that what was thought to be really good practice to ensure that our forests are indeed carbon sinks, is now showing returns that under current practice, many of our large forests are actually chronic carbon emitters. So those are some great points that the research pointed out.

Gregg Lewis:
I’d seen a bunch of the more recent articles and stories coming really out of most of them. At least the ones that I’ve seen coming out of Canada are talking about just that point, that the case for how wood harvesting is as a renewable resource, ultimately beneficial from a carbon or climate standpoint, there’s actually a long-term deficit. And what it sounds like to your point is an outcome where the forests that are being logged are actually net emitters rather than stores of that atmosphere carbon. And I just don’t think that folks are getting that message to the extent that they probably should.

There’s a piece though, there’s certainly a lot of talk about trees storing carbon, and we’ve known that for a long time. One of the things that’s come out more recently, the research is bearing out, is that concrete also stores atmospheric carbon; so exposed concrete, regardless of where it is, in buildings or pavements, or what have you, that material is itself continuing to absorb carbon dioxide. And can you provide, from the research that you’ve done or you’re aware of, a few thoughts on how this is an important element of realizing the total environmental impact of concrete?

Bill Larson:
Absolutely. So Frank Came and myself brought to the forefront one of the least understood benefits of building with concrete. We’d heard about it for many years. I actually heard about it in a negative aspect of concrete, but the fact that concrete that’s exposed to the elements, it actually reabsorbed CO2 and permanently sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. And this process is called carbonation, or you may hear it referred to as re-carbonation lately.

Based on some of the early studies that were undertaken in Sweden and over in Europe, we set out to identify many of the factors that determine the rate of carbon reabsorption, and how to calculate how much CO2 is taken from the atmosphere over a lifespan of a building or an element of the infrastructure. But determining how much CO2 is absorbed per a given volume of exposed concrete has been difficult, and in part, because concrete varies significantly, according to how and where it’s used.

Also, although many measurement approaches have been tried, a global consensus of how to measure that carbonation really remains elusive. So there are many organizations that are now looking at this issue such as the Global Cement and Concrete Association based in London, UK, the Portland Cement Association here in the United States, Cement Association of Canada in Ottawa, Canada, and certainly the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. So the implications of this process of carbonation are really astounding. And the fact that carbonation is a stable process of permanent carbon sequestration really means that the built environment, as we’ve talked about earlier, is a significant carbon sink that could alter the net emission tallies of many countries. This fact really points out to me that we really don’t know the true impact or the true environmental impact of concrete. And we haven’t even figured out how do the environmental credits such as carbonation provides and applied against the CO2 global warming potential calculation. So there’s a lot of work still to be done in this field.

Gregg Lewis:
That’s carbon storage or the other term that I’ve heard was carbon uptake, where that exposed concrete it is absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon. That story is a great one, I think, in an important area of research for us to continue to refine what we know about that as it impacts the environment that we all share.

When I was developing questions for this segment, I only began then to realize how many of these different activities you’ve been very much involved with, Bill, during your career. And I want to talk about the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT that was established in 2009, but you’ve been a contributing member of the industry advisory council of the hub since then, which I did not know previously. What are some of the most important findings that you believe have come out of the research by the hub at MIT during its existence and during your involvement with that activity?

Bill Larson:
First of all, I really want to say that being involved with the industry advisory council for the Concrete Sustainability Hub at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has probably been one of the highlights of my career. It’s been a gratifying opportunity to really start looking at some of the scientific results of, and the proof basically that’s been generated by that hub on a lot of the claims that the cement and concrete industry were making back in the 90s and the early 2000s. But really a recent article that’s been coauthored by two of the professors and two of the research scientists over there, Dr. Randy Kirchain and Dr. Franz Ulm, makes a convincing case that climate resilience really is the new sustainability. And to ensure that climate vulnerable regions have access to sanitary and safe buildings, more resilient construction is essential.

So how do you manage the impacts of such an inevitable development around the globe? And quoting those two gentlemen, and I know them very well. “The simple, if obvious answer is to build wisely.” So let’s keep that in the back of our mind for the rest of our discussions today. But the more important point is to understand that sustainability and resilient construction are in fact totally compatible. So I would say that this is really the guiding principle behind the Building Resilience Coalition. And I think that one of the greatest achievements of the Concrete Sustainability Hub is that it has provided us with the science-based proof that building with concrete provides that much needed element of resiliency. The scientist at the sustainability hub have really demonstrated that resilient construction is more energy efficient, and that low impact construction materials and practices, including concrete, adds to the longevity of our built environment, which is enormous implications as we move forward into a more unpredictable climate future.

So, under the leadership of the former executive director, Dr. Jeremy, who’s just assumed another position over at MIT, and we wish him all the best, the important role concrete plays in ensuring the sustainability of the built environment has now been brought to the attention of architects, designers, engineers, and really more importantly, policymakers at all levels of government. And certainly Dr. Randy Kirchain, who I just referred to moments ago, is one of the presenters in the series of webinars that the Building Resilience Coalition is sponsoring in partnership with PNWER, the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region.

But for years, our industry had been claiming the benefits of using concrete that we surmised were true, but we really had no scientific proof to support our claims. So we, as an industry, simply did not make the claims in the first place. Unlike many of the claims that we’re seeing coming from the wood industry that are misinformation such as this one, this is the one I love so much is, cut down on old growth three, and simply plant the sapling, and wallah, you have carbon neutrality. So our industry was really cautious to make these types of claims. And because of the work done by the hub, we now have proven and tested scientific evidence to support many of our thoughts that we previously thought in the 90s and in the early 2000s.

Another thing of the hub that really fascinates me is something called pavement vehicle interaction or PVI. And PVI is a concept that looks at the interaction between a vehicle’s tires and the roadway surface on which it’s driving. It’s also known as rolling resistance, and there’s three factors relating to the road surface conditions and the structural properties that contribute really significantly to PVI. The first one is roughness, or how bumpy or smooth is the road. Texture is the second one, the abrasiveness of the road surface, and deflection is the third, and that’s the bending of the pavement under the weight of a vehicle.

So the hub research has led really to models that quantify excess fuel consumption due to PVI for pavement segments and pavement networks. So we are really now better able to offer improved pavement designs that create more rigid, smoother, and durable pavement that lasts for years longer than competitive products. So really substandard roadway conditions can lead to excessive fuel consumption, which is wasted fuel beyond what is required to move a vehicle from one point to the next. And excessive fuel consumption contributes to small greenhouse gas emissions and impacts drivers, states, and municipalities on a financial basis also.

So the hub research has really led to models that quantify excess fuel consumption due to PVI for pavement segments and pavement networks, and are working with DOTs across the country to offer improved designs, to minimize excessive fuel consumption. And the profound economic environmental savings of fuel and emissions and improved durability, actually creates another environmental credit of GHG reduction. But that credit also is not accounted for him for in current carbon calculator or embodied carbon calculations. So more work to be done there.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s amazing how much we’ve learned because of the work that’s being done at the hub. And I think it’s important to point out some of the funding that supports that hub comes from the Ready Mixed Concrete Research & Education Foundation among others. And the work that’s being done there, PVI and the rest of it, I think, is starting to inform the decisions that are being made in real time by policy makers and design professionals and others. And at least to me, it offers a real exciting proposition in terms of where we’re headed, not only with the research, but with the impact and the actual implementation associated with, or as a result of that research that’s being done there. So it’s great. And I think very satisfying to see how that research is translating into changes in the way that we develop our communities.

Bill Larson:
I totally agree, Gregg.

Gregg Lewis:
Yeah, hats off to Jeremy and the rest of the team there. And we do wish Jeremy well in his new endeavors. All of the stuff that the hub is doing is great. There’s stuff that the industry itself is doing as well that I think is equally important, in some cases more important from the standpoint of sustainability or carbon sequestration or reduced carbon output from the production of building materials. And one of those is the development of blended cements or Portland limestone cements, or other ASTM C595 products rather than just ordinary Portland cement. You’ve been involved in some of that I know with CalPortland, in your time there. Would you share, Bill, just for a minute or two, your thoughts on this particular greenhouse gas reduction strategy?

Bill Larson:
Absolutely. There are so many strategies that are out there now that really, I think, many of them are going to be proven very effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But really the many advantages of Portland limestone cement, which is referred to as PLC in many cases, it’s also Type 1L, and some of the other C595 blended cements like Types 1P, Type 1S, Type 1T, really are yet to be fully appreciated across the industry, or even by policy makers. For example, PLC produces concrete with the same or better durability and performance as ordinary Portland cement, but with a lower carbon footprint. So once PLC and the blended cements are widely approved and available across the industry, I think we’ll see a massive decrease in carbon emissions, increasing the limestone content or blending with other materials such as pozzolan or slag will increase carbon sequestration and reduce GHG emissions dramatically.

The Portland Cement Association estimated in one of their presentations recently that for 2019, if Portland limestone cement was substituted for ordinary Portland cement, the industry would have avoided an estimated eight million metric tons of CO2. So let’s put that in EPA equivalences so that the audience can understand that. That’s like removing 1.7 million cars from the roadway for a year, or the equivalent of providing electric power for greater than 900,000 homes, or even the carbon stored in 10 million acres of US forest. That’s just from a 10% reduction of CO2 that PLC provides, compared to ordinary Portland cement. So for the cement and concrete industries, I see this as low hanging fruit. I think blended cements will offer even greater carbon sequestration as they’re refined and produced in scale. And I think that what will set them apart from other carbon sequestration strategies is that they can be used in conjunction with many of those proprietary strategies that currently exist, and as well as the ones that are in development.

Unlike those strategies that are implemented during concrete batching, if you skip or bypass the use of a blended cement, you’re really not able to make up for it later. So it seems logical to include as many compatible sequestration strategies as possible and capitalize on compounding sequestration, doesn’t it? In my opinion, the use of blended cement, such as Portland limestone cement and other C595 hydraulic cements, will be the normal business practice within this decade. And I can envision ordinary Portland cement, as we know it today, becoming an extinct species of cement relatively soon.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s phenomenal, honestly, the rate at which these changes are taking place and the leadership that I see from the industry and from our member companies of NRMCA and PCA, that effort and those innovations, I think, bode exceptionally well for how concrete ultimately will contribute down the road for a sustainable future, and that excites me. Honestly, it makes me proud to be part of this industry and to work alongside people who are doing this phenomenal work.

I want to pivot away from the PLC discussion to just talk a little bit about some of the work that’s being done, and we’ve got folks like James Bogdan and Lionel Lemay at NRMCA that have been working on some of these things. Of course, there are many other folks. But you’ve advocated that the current product category rule for concrete needs to be revised to accommodate inclusion that construction products and materials now need to provide more information from modules A1-A3, C1-C4 and D. This is going to be for the techno nerds in our industry who are going to get this more so than maybe some others, but I think it’s an important point to hit on. Can you give us just a little idea of what that is and how and why this change needs to occur?

Bill Larson:
Sure. I think this sparked there a real interest in me because I was speaking to a lot of lifecycle specialists around the country, actually around the world. And we were talking about embodied carbon and some of the current practices, but yet I still wasn’t convinced and still I’m not convinced. And so I think this is really a really complex, but yet a really incomplete field or endeavor that we’re partaking on.

So, the importance to lower the carbon footprint of the built environment is incredibly commendable, but we really have yet to incorporate the full life cycle of carbon emission metrics of various building and paving products. So the benefits of environmental product declarations are more than evident, but the EPD tools really need to be consistent across the industry and fully compliant with product category rules.

I was reading this, and this is really what sparked my interest was, I was reading about EPDs in Europe, and as of June, 2019, Europe changed their reporting under the revised their specification, EN 15804 EPD standard so that all construction products and materials now need to declare modules at A1-3, C1-C4 and D. So that means unlike the US extraction, plus the manufacturer, plus transport, and then the countries phase, the end of life phase, and benefits beyond boundary module D. So what’s going to happen to that product ultimately?

So, in my opinion, the notion that a simple coefficient of embodied carbon can effectively differentiate between building products over the lifetime of projects is simply that it’s a notion, it’s not yet a scientifically reliable system allowing us to alter the product mix of a building’s design that really incorporates a finite, but yet a myriad of materials based solely on the initial emission data of the building process. So in my opinion, EPDs should require the reporting of benefits beyond the boundary of module D. Benefits and loads beyond the system boundary information module will really provide for inclusive reporting that considers future benefits or other impacts of the energy, the material, or carbon stored in these building materials. And so carbonation of concrete, really providing for permanent carbon sequestration versus landfill decomposition of forest-based products emitting CO2 and methane, occurs beyond that system boundary, and currently are not accounted for embodied carbon calculations.

I think, I really believe there’s a story to be told about how that material affects building performance, how it reacts to the effects of climate change, what happens to the materials over time? What happens to the materials during demolition or deconstruction? And is a profound release of CO2 and methane such as in a landfill disposal of wood or is there a credit effect due to reabsorption of CO2, such as carbonation in concrete recycling and reuse? So these considerations really are not included in the current carbon accounting.

Also, I think we need, to be more confident, that full cradle-to-gate lifecycle assessment tools are in place to give us accurate and verifiable metrics that guide resilient design and construction practices. In talking to a lot of these LCA experts they pointed out, and it’s very true, that there are far too building materials that are currently decomposing in landfills as debris long before their fulfillment of their design lives due to calamities like the infamous hurricanes Harvey, Andrew, Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, earthquakes, large scale multi-family structure apartment fires, Wildland Urban Interface fires called WUIs, and the seasonal land and mudslides that followed those types of WUIs.

So many of those structures were built to sustainable guidelines under our current building codes, but they were hardly sustainable considering the environmental price tag or reconstructing and placing into service new replacement structures. And I haven’t even mentioned the loss of revenue from businesses operating within those structures. Somehow cradle-to-grave does not seem to consider those unintended consequences, but they really must be considered in order to determine a true environmental impact of the building material. So really this is the little analogy that goes off in my head. It’s like awarding a gold medal to an Olympic marathon at the starting line based on whose uniform looks the nicest rather than to the one who endures all of the elements of the race and crosses the finish line with the best time.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s a great analogy, Bill. It can be seen as being so technically dense that I think maybe for some listeners or people who are trying to understand, architects are trying to understand how their decisions in selecting building materials are affecting the climate conditions around the world. And architects and other specifiers and developers and so forth are taking for granted, I think in a lot of cases, that the information that they’re getting particularly about wood is telling the whole story. And that accounting problem, the carbon accounting problem that you just pointed out, I think, is a critical one. And sometimes I think we maybe lose that a little bit in translation from the technical elements of that issue to the practical considerations when we talk about actually designing and building buildings.

So, the carbon accounting, it’s great to know that there’s more work being done on that front, that’s critically important. But also, I’d like to just say, from a community level focus, any good resilience effort requires planning. So we talk about accounting, but we also need to talk about planning. And that the coalition, the Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition, has developed the document pathway to resilience, a guide to developing a community action plan. Can you tell our listeners about that plan and what its key elements are?

Bill Larson:
Sure. So the coalition has published some really good articles on the need for resiliency planning, and we’ve uploaded several videos and some slide deck presentations that are readily available on the website. And if your listeners want to go to the website, it’s buildingresiliencecoalition.org, and then look under resources and you can take a look at some of the things that are going on there.

Regarding the pathway to resilience and the guide to developing a community action plan document, it’s available on the coalition’s website as well. But we can’t take credit for this, and we’re not going to take credit for the development of that plan. Instead, what we’re providing is a link to the guide which is developed by the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. And we’re merely a distribution partner to our followers in the Pacific Northwest. Our listeners actually can go to buildingresiliencecoalition.org/resilience and then scroll down to the link to the documents. And truthfully, it’s definitely worth a couple of clicks.

Gregg Lewis:
The work that you all are doing at the coalition, the benefit and the way that you’re getting the information out, it’s taking a lot of different forms. One of them, the one that you reached out to me about most recently and that is still going on for listeners of the podcast that might want to catch some of this, a free webinar series that you’re doing on resilience and carbon neutrality. I know there are a couple of more of those coming up. They can get that information, but I think they can also get and go back and tune into some of the previous webinars through a recorded format. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s going on with the webinars and how they can access that info?

Bill Larson:
Happy to do so you bet. We’re working really closely to provide a professional webinar series to what’s called the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, and we refer to them as PNWER, P-N-W-E-R. PNWER is a statutory public private nonprofit foundation that was created in 1991 by the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington, and also the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan with the Northwest territories and the Yukon. And PNWER is really a home to a variety of working groups on specific programming, including things such as the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience and the Legislative Energy Horizon Institute, transportation and infrastructure committees. They have economic policy committee in mining, agriculture, trade, and the list goes on and on. But each of these working groups provide opportunities really for collaboration and cooperation across the US and Canadian border for increased regional development.

So working with groups are the foundation of PNWER’s operations. These working groups are the groups that we’re focusing on. And so this is really a direct pipeline to policy makers and legislators who’s really going to be shaping our industries as well as our individual futures. And these are people who will be developing GHG reduction targets, carbon sequestration incentives, carbon taxes, or cap-and-trade programs. So they really need to know about our industry. And I’m very happy to report that through PNWER, and with the support of our national and global partner organizations, we are there to tell the story and not have any other competitive industry tell it for us.

So the first of our four part webinar series on pathways to carbon neutrality in the cement and concrete sectors took place this week, and it was a really huge success. We had three of the world’s top experts on cement and concrete outlining how low brick carbon concrete construction in the future will lower greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. That webinar featured Dr. Andrew Minson, who’s the director of concrete and sustainability construction of the Global Cement and Concrete Association, Rick Bohan, who’s the Portland Cement Association’s vice president of sustainability, and Adam Auer who’s the vice president of environment and sustainability for the Cement Association of Canada.

The next webinar takes place on June 15th, which will focus on concrete innovations and the environmental impacts of building materials. And that webinar, Greg Lewis, features your colleague Tien Peng, who is NRMCA’s senior vice president of codes and standards. Then follow up on June 20 seconds with sustainability solutions in the concrete industry presented by Dr. Randy Kirchain, who is the co-director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT.

And finally, we close the series with The Resilience Advantage: The Economic and Environmental Benefits of Disaster Resilient Design, featuring Evan Reis, who’s the executive director of the US Resiliency Council. So both Dr. Kirchain and Evan Reis have been keynote speakers at PNWER’s annual summits in 2017 and 2018, and are really very well received by PNWER. And if you’re interested in joining us for that free webinar, please go to buildingresiliencecoalition.org and click on the press release button and you’ll see the registration links there.

Gregg Lewis:
And they can also go back and listen to the earlier webinars?

Bill Larson:
Absolutely. And so all the webinars are being recorded and they’ll be available on both the PNWER and the PNBRC websites very soon. And we’ll be providing social media materials for all of our allied industry members to use also.

Gregg Lewis:
The work in the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region is a critical, I think, tie-in to the coalition’s work obviously. And one of the things that you’ve been able to do, I think, quite successfully, and I’d like you to talk a little bit about that, is tackling the public policy piece of this challenge that we all face. So, just thinking about the issues of resilience at the level of public policy, what are the approaches and solutions that you’ve seen as being successful and maybe those that you think we should look forward to maybe trying that haven’t been tried yet?

Bill Larson:
That’s a great question. So as you and I have both talked just a couple minutes ago, the consequences of decisions taken today by policy makers, community leaders and corporate executives can have major consequences down the road when a catastrophe strikes. So that’s why we go to such lengths to make everyone aware of the need for long range thinking when we design and build our homes, our workplaces, educational facilities, healthcare facilities, and all the physical and social infrastructure needed to keep us safe. We spend a lot of our normal life within the built environment; in our homes, schools, offices, and in our vehicles, so the choices we make in how we design, how we build and how we manage the built environment is critical to ensuring sustainability and resiliency. And they are also critical factors in preventing injuries or death and reducing economic and social disruption.

So it’s a message we need to bring home to our political and business leaders repeatedly. There are a few elected official champions who would challenge polling and advocate for stronger building codes. If you will stand up to stronger lobbies by advocating to build for resilience and dare to challenge the status quo. So we need to find those champions and support them and provide them the education backed up by scientific data. It’s a task that we simply must accomplish.

And so we’ve placed so much focus and attention on the impacts our buildings and infrastructure have on our environment, that mother nature is now showing us what impacts the environment have on our buildings and infrastructure. Quite interesting, isn’t it? So it’s time our public policy developers understand that building for resilience is also building for sustainability. The most sustainable building you could build is the one that doesn’t have to be repaired often, or torn down, or rebuilt due to a natural or a man-made disaster.

Gregg Lewis:
I’m listening to you talk about that, Bill, and it occurs to me this really is an all hands on deck situation. The clock’s ticking, and we need to address these things in a myriad of ways. And the policy front is certainly right up there at or near the top of places where this can be tackled more effectively than it’s been to date. And so I’m hopeful that some of our listeners are thinking on themselves, they’re hearing what you’re saying and they’re thinking, “Well, this, of course, this makes sense to me, this need is an important one for us to address,” but how does somebody, whether they’re in the industry or outside the industry, maybe they’re an architect or somebody else, and they understand the problem, they want to get involved, what is your suggestion as to how they can best do that?

Bill Larson:
That’s a real interesting and a timely question, because as the posts that we’ve been putting through social media, and we’re meeting a lot of people from around the world, in our regional area, in the Northwest, of course, but from around the world that are interested in some of the same ideas and things that we’re talking about now. So we’re really delighted to work with any persons or organizations that share our mission and our vision, our values.

So, our building resilience coalition really believes that we have a role to play in building better buildings. And that came from our research. That was actually, our first mantra that we came out with. It’s not this material versus that material, we have to build better buildings, and ensuring that our communities not only are more sustainable, but are also more resilient.

Our research findings are available throughout the website, on our social media portals; on LinkedIn and Twitter, and our members are prepared to work with anyone to build more resilient future. And so anybody who’s really interested in working with us, please contact us. You can send an email to us. It’s info@buildingresiliencecoalition.org. A simple way to get to us and we look forward to hearing from you.

Gregg Lewis:
Excellent. You covered so much ground in the last 40, 50 minutes or so that we’ve been talking, and I think it’s worth maybe just hitting on what you think if we were to distill this down. What is the key message that you’d like our listeners to walk away with after having listened to the podcast?

Bill Larson:
Well, thanks for that opportunity to talk. Yeah, I appreciate this very much. I really believe we’re turning the corner on many aspects of resiliency planning for the built environment. And as more and more people and policy makers come to understand that we have to build and design for a world that is quite different from our past, the inherent value of low carbon concrete will become very much more accepted. So it’s important to recognize that we cannot build to return to what we used to call normal, and we really can’t build to achieve a new normal, we’re building to deal with new realities that are anything but normal. So simply, how we live, we work, how we learn and relax are forever changed as a consequence of climate change and really COVID. So resiliency, recovery, adaptation, risk reduction and durability will become the signposts for the built environment. And that’s really our new reality.

So it will take time for governments, our civil society and industry players across the entire construction value chain to accept the use of low carbon concrete technology, to ensure a secure and prosperous transition to a really more resilient economy. But we can do it, and we are doing it.

Gregg Lewis:
From the start to finish there, I’m really grateful for you making the time in retirement, no less, to come. You’re doing some phenomenal stuff, and it shows, and we appreciate you sharing some of that with us so that the audience here can better understand the importance of these issues. You’re a great messenger, I think, to be out there talking about this and bringing this information forward. So thank you very much for taking time to talk with us today, Bill.

Bill Larson:
No, thanks, Gregg, for this great opportunity to meet with you and share the message that really unites all of the members of the Building Resilience Coalition. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you. You and I have some great conversations all the time, and I’m just grateful for your interest and look forward to working together with everyone that’s hearing this to build better buildings.

Gregg Lewis:
Fantastic. Thanks, Bill. And I’d also obviously like to thank the Concrete Credentials listeners, and we hope you will subscribe to Concrete Credentials, which is available wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks very much and we’ll see you soon.