Improving Precast Sustainability

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A sustainability software program is available for NPCA members to use for benchmarking sustainable development.

By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP

The NPCA Sustainability Committee has recently acquired a software program to help NPCA members determine how they are performing in terms of sustainability and monitor their progress through plant and process improvements. Why is this important?

Depending on where you live, the topic of sustainability may be a hot topic or may rarely come up. In the precast concrete industry, the importance of sustainability is largely determined by geography. In some companies, it is rarely addressed. In others, it is embedded into the culture. Where it does come up consistently across North America is in colleges, universities and trade schools. Sustainability is now a part of engineering, architectural and construction curriculum in most institutions. These future specifiers are on board and recognize the value of sustainable development.

The American Society of Civil Engineers adopted a policy statement in 2016 that reads: Civil engineers shall be committed to the following ASCE Principles of Sustainable Development.

Principle 1 – Do the Right Project. Assessing the proposed project’s economic, environmental and social effects on communities before proceeding with project.

Principle 2 – Do the Project Right. Engaging stakeholders and securing public understanding and acceptance of a project’s economic, environmental and social costs and benefits. ASCE encourages its members to address sustainability holistically (from concept to demolition or reuse) rather than adding a variety of “green” features onto a conventional project.

ASCE supports the following steps to achieve a sustainable project:

Perform Life Cycle Assessment from Planning to Reuse – Project participants should use rigorous life cycle methodologies that quantify the economic, environmental and social effects of the project.

Use Resources Wisely – Minimize use of non-renewable resources. Sustainable development shall include progressive reductions in resource use for a given level of service and resiliency. The feasibility of restoration, or return of depleted resources, shall be evaluated by the civil engineer.

Plan for Resiliency – Sustainability requires planning for the impact natural and man-made disasters and changing conditions can have on economic, environmental and social resources.

Validate Application of Principles – Civil engineers must guide project development and validate the application of these principles by using metrics and rating tools such as the Envision Rating System for sustainable infrastructure.

All of this plays well for our industry, as precast concrete has a long life cycle due to its durability. It is made of recycled material and is available with locally sourced raw materials. And it is resilient – able to withstand disasters where many other materials would fail. Having the right data can help precasters show project owners and specifiers the sustainable properties inherent to precast and help win bids that might otherwise go to competing materials.

The point here is adopting and continually improving the sustainability of your product and operations will position you to take advantage of this growing marketplace. It can also save you money by enhancing efficiencies in your operations. So, where do you start on this plan? Well, it’s like starting a diet. You step on the scale and obtain your starting point, or benchmark. For sustainable performance, we have such a scale and we invite you to step onto it to begin the journey.

Plant sustainability software

First, the Plant Sustainability Software tool is free to National Precast Concrete Association members. NPCA, the Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute commissioned the Athena Institute to create this data-collecting and benchmarking tool. It is Microsoft Excel-based and will work in versions 2007 or newer.

The spreadsheet can be used to quickly determine three environmental impact measures: global warming potential, primary energy consumption and water use. This will serve as a benchmark for each individual plant. Changes can then be monitored when implementing improvements in materials acquisition and production.

The scope of the tool is cradle-to-gate with the “cradle” being the earth and the “gate” being the finished product ready for shipment from the precast plant.

It starts with entering data regarding cementitious materials sourcing and usage. Information on the material source location and the manner it is shipped can be entered one time, and it does not need to be changed unless the source location changes. The total weight of cementitious materials used for a specific time period is entered for each type (Figure 1).

The next tab is for plant inputs, which requires information on other raw material usage and sourcing as well as water use, electricity consumption, fuel usage and waste transportation. Once all the information is entered, a nonverified Environmental Product Declaration will be generated based on those results (Figure 2). EPDs are being requested more and more on many projects. Information on these environmental labels can be found at

Plant tool

You also get a plant results summary that clearly shows global warming potential, total primary energy consumption and water use (Figure 3). These are also displayed graphically (Figure 4).

Imagine making improvements at the plant and watching these numbers drop over months and years. That’s a powerful marketing tool that goes beyond just making claims. You can also use a project calculator to measure results based on a specific project. This could be very valuable information for developers or agencies seeking specific sustainability-related targets.

The software is very easy to use with clear and concise instructions along the way and easy-to-follow prompts. Most of the work comes with filling out the software the first time. Subsequent reports will be easier to complete as long as most sourcing locations are the same. NPCA also has a webinar available online for any member considering trying out this software. Developer Jamie Meil goes through the tool step-by-step in a one-hour webinar.

Reporting as an association and as an industry

The data from each participating plant will also be anonymously collected by NPCA to track and evaluate our performance as an association. In addition, along with data from CPCI and PCI, it will be used to track, evaluate and report our performance as an industry. Eventually, we hope to collect enough data to enable NPCA to report periodically on progress by our members and give our customers yet another reason to make precast their material of choice.

NPCA is here for you

NPCA has been working hard over the years developing materials and acquiring tools to help members embark on or enhance their sustainability efforts. This sustainability plant program is designed to give members a snapshot of where they are and encourages continuous improvement. Please consider taking advantage of this valuable resource. NPCA professional staff members are available to help you through it every step of the way.

For questions on the sustainability plant software or any other sustainability-related topic, please contact Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, director of technical education and outreach, at [email protected] or at (317) 582-2328

Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of technical education and outreach.