Leading the way in green rebar fabrication: Perspectives from CMC | U.S. Green Building Council
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Published on
Written by
Posted in Industry

As a steel manufacturer and fabricator, CMC knows that our products represent a small but important piece of the grander vision that is green building, and we have always been proud to contribute to the development of LEED-quality buildings. At CMC, we work closely with our customers to help them achieve maximum LEED points on their projects by providing recycled content and sourcing distance information to meet requirements for LEED 2009 Materials and Resources Credits 4 and 5.

With the announcement of LEED v4, we knew that things would change. Sustainability has been a core concept at CMC since our company’s humble beginnings in metal recycling in 1915, so we knew it was not a question of if, but how, we would meet the new requirements. We welcomed the opportunity to review our operational performance and determine how we can make improvements to reduce our impact on the environment.

As word spread of the changes to come, we talked with our customers to learn about which LEED credits they would be pursuing, and it became apparent that they wanted to use our products for the new environmental product declaration (EPD) credit under the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization section of LEED v4. So we got to work figuring out how we could help them do just that.

We organized a team of marketing, technical, environmental and operations personnel to develop EPDs for all our products, and hired an outside expert to manage the process. To get ahead of the game, we spent the next six months conducting our life cycle assessment (LCA) concurrently with the development of the steel industry product category rules (PCR), instead of waiting for the PCR to be completed first. During that time, we also provided extensive feedback on the PCR through our industry liaisons, the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute and the American Institute of Steel Construction.

To be sure, the life cycle assessment was a challenge. The process digs deeply into the operations of a company, and the detail required is extensive. We were tasked with coordinating five steel mills and nearly 40 fabrication operations, asking employees from our operations, corporate shared services, accounting and environmental departments to take time after their usual workday to gather information and provide details on material inputs, finished goods output, waste and recycled waste, water and energy consumption and more.

The fabrication operations were particularly complex—energy and water consumption data had to be obtained by adding up consumption from the monthly water and electric invoices, and it was difficult to separate overhead consumption of water and energy (offices, bathroom, break rooms, etc.) from actual production, since they are all on the same meter.

Today, we are proud to say we have the first fabricated rebar EPD in the industry. It was a lot of hard work, but we knew how important it was to help prepare our customers for LEED v4, and we learned a lot in the process. Below are a few of our key takeaways; we hope they can help others who are just beginning this critical process.

1. Hire a consultant. The life cycle assessment is new to the sustainability industry, and it comes with a lot of new lingo. It helps to have a consultant to manage the process and answer questions.

2. Do a materiality assessment before you start. Identify the key pieces of information that actually move your needle. After gathering data from half of our fabrication operations, our consultant did a preliminary analysis and realized that only four of the 30 data points that we were collecting had a significant impact on the results. The remaining fabrication facilities that were slower to react were much more responsive once the information requirement was lowered to four points instead of 30.

3. Set firm but realistic target dates for phases of the project. Data collection took much longer than expected, so be prepared.

4. View the LCA as more than just a tool. In addition to helping to develop EPDs, it can also identify areas of operations where environmental impacts can be reduced.