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‘Buy Clean’ policies have promise, but we first need to know which products are low-carbon

(ACEEE blog, 21 Dec 2020) Legislators and advocates are increasingly looking to spur demand for low-carbon products, which is a key step for reducing industrial emissions. In this approach, government purchasing power can help provide a market signal for products with lower embodied carbon (reflecting the impact of all greenhouse gases across extraction, manufacturing, and transportation to the purchaser).

Federal and state efforts have enormous potential, but implementation has proved difficult because key information is often missing. In fact, inadequate data poses a broader challenge and is hampering many efforts to cut carbon.

Data on the carbon content of materials and systems for tracking and transparently reporting information across supply chains are inadequate. There is variation in current rules for reporting, exemptions, and standards and how product lifecycles are estimated. These challenges make harmonization of targets difficult. We must address these barriers if we are to identify, label, and prioritize low-carbon products.

California’s efforts demonstrate both the potential for demand-side solutions and the challenge of data limitations. The Buy Clean California Act (effective in 2019) requires contractors that bid on infrastructure projects to disclose greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data for certain materials that they plan to use. These disclosures, called Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), allow government purchasers to take the embodied carbon of materials into account, in turn using the states’ purchasing power to influence manufacturers to reduce emissions.

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ACEEE blog, 21 Dec 2020: ‘Buy Clean’ policies have promise, but we first need to know which products are low-carbon